I recently recommended The Poisonwood Bible as an adult summer reading challenge. I love it when I stumble onto books that I otherwise would not pay attention to, because I learn things I never would have considered interesting otherwise. Driver ants – really? What would ever possess me to read up on Driver Ants . . . and THEN, to actually write an article about them! Thank you, Barbara Kingsolver, for taking me to the Congo and introducing me to Driver Ants.
In the novel, the village is overrun with a huge colony of driver ants. They consumer everything in their path, including weak or infirm humans left behind. They stripped the chickens clean, leaving only skeletal remains on nests of eggs. If an animal, such as a goat, was not untied from the hitching post, it would be devoured as well. The entire village fled, all the while getting bit on their extremites by these ants.
When the invasion of the ants was over, the villagers returned, happy that the ants had rid their homes of household and garden pests, such as mice, rats and snakes. They considered it their spring cleaning! And this novel was set in 1960 – not anciently, as one might suppose. How grateful I am for Rid-A-Pest!
In reality, this can really happen. The driver ants live in huge colonies, sometimes up to 20 million ants strong. They arch in columns that are measured in meters. The prefer earthworms, but eat any animal in its path. They particularly enjoy soft, moist tissue, like that of the lips and nostrils, which then follow into the esophagus, heading towards the lungs. Victims often die of asphyxiation. Gross, huh?
There were other things about The Congo in the last half of the twentieth century that I am continuing to study. I use the term ‘study’ loosely, as I have queued a few movies in Netflix.
The Netflix summary of “Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death” says, “By re-creating King Leopold II of Belgium’s brutal 19th century colonization of the Congo with modern-day actors, filmmaker Peter Bate presents a tragic chapter of European history that’s been largely forgotten. In the process of harvesting rubber from a vast forced labor camp nestled in the region — ruled with an iron fist by His Majesty himself — millions of innocent Africans would die for the sake of profit.
“Masters of the Congo Jungle” is a documentary narrated by Orsen Welles. Netflix says, “The film includes illuminating scenes of elephants, lions, hippopotamuses and gorillas in action, as well as sweeping landscapes and striking tribal rituals that draw their inspiration from the natural world.”
Patrice Lumumba was the man elected by the Congolese when they received independence from Belgium The United States was involved in his assassination, because Lumumba reached to The Soviet Union for help that other nations declined to provide. About the movie, “Lumumba,” Netflix says, “At the Berlin Conference of 1885, when Europe divided up the African continent, the Congo became the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium. On June 30, 1960, a young self-taught nationalist, Patrice Lumumba (Eriq Ebouaney), became the first head of government of the new independent state. He lasted only two months in office before being brutally assassinated. Raoul Peck directs this award-winning biopic.
I wonder if this will end my current interest in 1960 Congo. I hope so. You see, my time is very limited, and I am now on a journey to Eastern Europe that encompasses the 15th through 20th centuries. If you’d like to join me, check out ‘The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova.