Exterminate All the Brutes

by Sven Lindqvist

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What does Exterminate All the Brutes reveal about the part played by European missionaries in European colonialism?

European missionaries played several parts in the European colonization of Africa. On the one hand, some saw the horrors of what the Europeans were doing to the native population and wrote about it. On the other hand, it was more common for missionaries to go with the intention of converting the natives to Christianity and to denigrate their civilization.

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The legacy of European missionaries in Africa, according to Lindqvist (and others), is a complicated and controversial one. Lindqvist does point out the several missionaries were understandably shocked and horrified by the exploitation they saw in Africa. A true Christian understanding of the "other" would to have a Christ-like love for them and not see them as inferior. The first missionary he introduces, Edward Sjoblom, who spent time in the Belgian Congo, is a good example. He wrote a book describing the brutal treatment of the Congolese, which was exemplified by the beating and whipping of "workers." Since the missionaries were on the front lines, so to speak, they were well-equipped to write and report on what they saw, which would then influence European opinion of the imperial project.

However, for every missionary who spoke out against colonialism, there were many more who supported it, and missionaries were in many cases the vanguard of colonialism, arriving to bring "civilization" to the supposedly savage races of Africa through Christianity, education, and Western culture. It was seemingly a forgone conclusion that these emissaries of God were convinced of the superiority not only of their religion but of white, European culture. The second missionary Lindqvist introduces is a more representative figure. E.J. Glave, who kept a diary, saw the necessity of being harsh with the natives to get them to work and keep them in line. While he too is eventually sickened by what he sees, his conclusion is that "we must not condemn the young Congo Free State too hastily or too harshly."

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