A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo
Nancy Rose Hunt is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, and the author of the prizewinning A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo, also published by Duke University Press.
Registers of Violence
Set in Leopold’s Congo, this sensory reading explores how this rubber regime was lived, perceived, investigated, and heard, especially in the Abir concession. Novel evidence on sexual economies anchors the analysis with the attempted rape of Boali, plus her testimony about her foot being cut off by the sentry she refused. A standoff between a deranged rubber agent and a chief who gifted him a sick woman opens venereal and nervous dimensions. Three sources enable. Roger Casement’s report is reread for sounds and silence; nervous laughter emerges. A Belgian investigator’s diary is read for Congolese claims; laughing white agents emerge, as does tittering sadism among Congolese sentries torturing woman hostages. Vernacular texts of 1954 demonstrate echoes circulating in late colonial social memory: a nervous state agent who committed suicide and a mobile, medicinal war charm that brought some victories but whose celibacy injunctions proved impossible to uphold.