A Perhaps Controversial Thought About the Birth of the AIDS Virus?

[I would normally post something like this on my other blog, The Last Ditch, but since it’s about AIDS, which is sexually transmitted, I’ve decided to be a little bit of a shit disturber and post it here for a larger audience. I’m interested to hear your thoughts…]
I’ve been fascinated by the history of the Congo for some time now, thanks to the brilliance of Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghosts and the history of the first real genocide, the slaying of ten million Congo Africans during the rise of the rubber trade and height of African colonialism at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.
10 million Africans slaughtered for rubber. Never mind the millions stolen and forced into the slave trade from other regions, or those slaughtered when colonial interests take over.
I’m fascinated by genocides. I’m more fascinated by the horrors of Africa today, though. The legacy of that death and brutality.
It’s sadly funny, the justifications of whites and ‘manifest destiny’, how they felt Africans were “savages” who required a civilizing hand.
Now, Africa has descended into chaos — Somali pirates, Darfur’s genocide, South Africa’s rape crisis, and list goes on and on — and still you hear the pundits saying how Africa’s just a different kind of place. They’re uncivilized and brutal. It’s the African Way, they’ll say, in quiet, hushed voices that don’t get a lot of airplay.
It’s kind of like Bush saying the terrorists were in Iraq, so the war went there. And now, of course, terrorists are in Iraq. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yes, Africa has become a savage place.
We talk so much about head-shrinking (the psychology kind) here in the west, how our little childhood traumas stay with us for a lifetime.
But how about the systemic slaughter of millions of your countrymen for a little thing called rubber? How about the legacy of foreign invaders who put the heads of your people on stakes along the river to remind you to collect as much rubber sap as you can? After all, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a virtually-true account of legendary rubber trade captains, like Captain Leon Rom of the Force Publique, a Belgian military force in the Congo.
How long does THAT stay with a country? How long does THAT influence the society? How do you, as a people, get past knowing you were so devalued that a bucket of rubber was worth more than a life?
So… I think about these things sometimes, the societal ramifications of the ills of the past. It’s the historian in me. And no place in the world has greater, more horrific, or even more recent ills and horrors than that of Africa.
And I find it interesting now, that the BBC has run a story this morning stating that it’s the early 1900s, in Leopoldville, in the Congo, that now appears to be the birthplace of AIDS, when AIDS made the jump from primates to humans.
The rubber trade was at the height between 1885 and 1920, the very same years (1889-1924) they say AIDS made the jump. In the Congo. Where millions of Africans were brutalized, murdered, and forced into hard, brutal labour that often involved getting hurt or maimed as they tried to extract rubber for a growing rubber trade. (The main cause of the desperation for rubber? The need for bicycle and car tires as the transportation evolution began, oddly.)
Had these Congo Africans not been forced into this labour, would the virus have jumped from apes to humans? Had so much blood not been shed, and people not injured, in the jungles in those years, would AIDS have made the jump? Had the brutality of Western civilizations not been forced upon these people, would we even know of AIDS today?
Of course, the article focuses primarily on the growth of cities and how living in close proximity to one another would have been the main reason for its spread. But Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, was created as the hub of the rubber trade. It was Ground Zero for the genocide and slaughter of 10 million Africans.
It just makes one wonder, I guess, if we’re really aware of just how evil some of the evil we do really is. And just how far-reaching the consequences of our actions can be.
I’m not saying AIDS is entirely the fault of Belgian imperialists. I’m just saying we need to take this into consideration. We need to think about just how much that may have played a role. We need to accept that there could be more to this story than we’d like to assume.
But it breaks my heart a little to think this disease that threatens the entire continent of Africa, thus the world, may be yet another consequence of imperialism. And it bothers me that our legacy of imperialism remains that dirty little secret no one really wants to talk about.

9 thoughts on “A Perhaps Controversial Thought About the Birth of the AIDS Virus?

  1. Invisible G.

    There have been conspiracy theories that the American military introduced AIDS into Africa because it literally decimates the population. AIDS will react differently among different ethnic groups. In other words, AIDS is an ethnic cleansing tool. Reading that made me shiver.

  2. Scribe Called Steff

    Angus — Thanks!

    Invisi — They can trace the virus back to the turn of the century, there’s no way it’s the American military. There are conspiracy theorists about everything…

    I’ve looked pretty deep into the history of AIDS, through several sources, and the theory of hunters butchering monkeys in forests and open wounds from travelling through the brush getting infected blood into them are most plausible.

    The virus is thought to have been in existence for as much as 70 years before the first diagnosed case occured in 1959, after roads into rural areas began being created and used. It’s pretty interesting how population shifting and invasion of jungle communities with roads began the spread — or that theory, anyhow.

    Dervla Murphy, an Irish travel writer, wrote a book called Ukimwi Road — a road she rode the length of by bike — and it’s the road they believe specifically first went into AIDS-infected territory, because the spread all came from out of that area.

    (Ukimwi is the Swahili, I believe, word for the AIDS virus.)

    Everyone wants to blame the Americans for everything. Heh. But I don’t buy it, not for a second.

    I blame the Congo rubber trade, myself, for part of the spread. There’s too many coincidences.

    [And American military didn’t really get into the bioengineering till mid-century, I believe…]

  3. Mary

    AIDS derives from HIV, which originated from SIV of chimps. There are many theories of how chimp infected fluids passed to black Africans. Blacks of all countries have the highest rates of HIV/AIDS. In Africa where there are high concentrations of blacks. They tend to be more savage with low-intelligence levels, thus why the disease spreads so rapidly. Although, these same characteristics are found in blacks of countries all over the world.
    Think about it, black people want racism to exist because they can use it as an excuse for everything, and because blacks are the biggest beneficiaries if racism exists.
    How exactly would white people benefit from racism?
    … just imagine if there was a White History Month. I believe that Black History Month just causes more segregation and racism. it should be changed into American History Month.
    Blacks tend to be more racist because they can get away with it easier. They like to preach their 200 year old slave propaganda to take advantage of people.
    Stop using racism as a scapegoat. It is proper for me to blame you for your great great great great great grandfather’s actions?
    Think about it. Stop using racism to take advantage of people. Stop being an opportunist. Stop trying to fool Americans with your black slave propaganda. Millions of people do not try to sneak into the US just to become slaves.
    Black people in the US are a lot better off than black people in Africa. Would you rather be living in Africa? Be honest.
    FACT: It was the black tribes in Africa who caught black slaves and sold them to Americans.
    The most dangerous places in the US are places with high concentration of blacks. Blacks also have the highest cases of HIV/AIDS. The percentage of blacks on welfare are on highest of any other race in the US. The percentage of black criminals are also the highest of any other race. These facts seem very similar to that of black Africans. I guess these characteristics are genetic.
    Seriously, can anyone name at least one specific accomplishment of Obama that really qualifies him to be President of the US over McCain?
    It seems as if this is just Affirmative Action on its highest level. It seems that he is only still in this race because he is black. Obama is obviously using the race card because he has a lot to gain and nothing to lose.
    Are you automatically racist if you disagree with a black person??

  4. Shay

    Mary, I may be “white”, but am I racist if I strongly disagree with you?
    Steff, I’m impressed that you haven’t just deleted the above comment already, since it seems to be fairly off topic.
    But really, I just found this to be a fabulous post from you Steff; it gave me a lot to think about. Africa is a beautiful country and it’s tragic how much it’s been pillaged and de-valued by other countries.
    Shay’s last blog post..sneaky

  5. Stephen

    You start out with a nice fact about the connection between HIV and SIV. You are correct there.
    Then you label “black Africans” as “They tend to be more savage with low-intelligence levels” which is horrible in the fact that you used the word ‘they’ to describe a subset of FELLOW HUMANS, and degrade that subset by saying they are beastly idiots.
    AND THEN you have the audacity to be mad at anyone who dislikes racism, by saying that racism is a tool of those with color to use as an excuse for everything, when the irony is that you were blatantly racist in the previous paragraph.
    After that, you just let loose, and put on the white sheet and spewed your little diatribe.
    You are a despicable human being.
    Stephen’s last blog post..IDIOTS

  6. Panthera Pardus

    Okay, Mary…I’m really really hoping you were writing as either irony or Devil’s Advocate, but unfortunately I don’t believe that’s the case.
    I do notice that you only labeled one thing as ‘fact’, and that’s a good thing. It’s a half-fact, but if that’s the only way you can sneak a fact in there I suppose it works.

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