"a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling"
People gathered in the forest, at the passage of the steamboat Roi des Belges (1888)
Public DomainPeople gathered in the forest, at the passage of the steamboat Roi des Belges (1888) - Credit: Alexandre Delcommune

Such cursory descriptions of the Congolese people in Conrad's novel may appear to support Chinua Achebe’s accusation of racism  – of reducing Africa and its people merely to a ‘setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor’.

However, Conrad was not writing an ethnological study. The fact that Heart of Darkness first appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine may have relevance: the only African group mentioned by name are the Zanzibaris since, at this time, Zanzibar was a British protectorate and therefore more likely to be familiar to the typical Blackwood's reader.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has over 250 recognised ethnic groups, of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest groups  – Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande – make up about 45% of the population.

 

 

Bakusu Chiefs, Stanleyville (c. 1905)
Public DomainBakusu Chiefs, Stanleyville (c. 1905) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack
Group of Yie-Yie Women (Uelle) (c. 1905)
Public DomainGroup of Yie-Yie Women (Uelle) (c. 1905) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack
Women of the Sango Tribe, Banzyville (Ubanghi) (c. 1905)
Public DomainWomen of the Sango Tribe, Banzyville (Ubanghi) (c. 1905) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack
Bangala women (c. 1905)
Public DomainBangala women (c. 1905) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack