Storming the land to reap the harvest

Storming the land to reap the harvest May 27, 2023


Almost looks like ocean waves
A Wagenya fisherman at work, in a photograph from Jeffrey Mark Bradshaw


The Interpreter Foundation’s small team of filmmakers — Jeffrey Mark Bradshaw, James Jordan, and Russell D. Richins — is now back in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after being out in Kisangani and Wagenya, where they had very little Internet.  They spent much of Thursday at a school for the blind and went to see some of the students practicing for an upcoming “special olympics” event.  Jeff promises “More on that and other things related to the growth of the church here later.”  Taking advantage of the improved connection back in Kinshasa, Jeff sent me a trio of photographs, which I’m sharing with you here.

In the photograph above, a Wagenya fisherman is preparing the ingenious traditional fish snare that is used in the area:  In the rapidly-moving rapids the fish are drawn into the wide part of the snare and are then caught in the narrow portion from which they can’t escape.  Jeff reports that some of the men were out fishing in the middle of the river, where one misstep means that it would be all over. He also reports that virtually all of Kisangani — like all of Kinshasa — has restricted air space.  Fortunately, though, James Jordan was able to get some great drone shots there, while Russ Richins got some great footage from the shore.

The Wagenya Falls were, Jeff says, formerly called “Stanley Falls” in honor of the Welsh-American explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904).  They are part of the last of a series of seven rapids that mark the place where the Lualaba River merges into the Congo River. The combined rapids of the river are reputed to be the second largest waterfall, by volume of annual flow rate, in the entire world


Sign post for a trading post
This sign stands on the site of Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s trading post (1883-1887). There is nothing left of that trading post now, except for this sign, which is written in a different language on each of its four sides: English, French, Lingala, and Swahili.

I now quote directly from Jeff’s “general notes” about the area, which he sent to accompany his photographs:

The region surrounding Kisangani has a rich and complicated history that has been explored and romanticized in films, books, and plays — including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn’s The African Queen,  and A Bend in the River by the late Nobel prize-winner V. S. Naipaul.

Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler of DR Congo from the 1960s through the 1990s, restored the native name of Kisangani  to the city as part of his Africanization movement. Before that, it was known as Stanleyville. The name Stanleyville comes from the intrepid explorer and journalist for The New York Herald, Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904). Stanley is well known for having found the Christian medical missionary, explorer, and anti-slavery crusader David Livingstone, who had disappeared into the jungle near Lake Tanganyika, Stanley purportedly greeting him with the absurd question, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”  The 1939 film Stanley and Livingstone featured Spencer Tracy as Stanley and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Livingstone.

Stanley was eventually hired by the cruel Belgian King Leopold to establish trade and transportation routes down the Congo River from east to west from Stanleyville (now Kisangani) to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Because of Kisangani’s location at the confluence of two major rivers, including the uppermost section of the navigable waters of the Congo River that lead to Kinshasa, it was a natural trading center. Stanley had the influential ivory and slave trader from Zanzibar, Tippu Tip, appointed as governor of the Stanley Falls district.

The risible discussion of the supposed colonialist ambitions in the Congo of both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Interpreter Foundation continues, by the way, on the Peterson Obsession Board.  I was amused by an entry this morning in which one of that board’s foremost commentators on international trade and economics notes that, thanks to the entry into Africa of the People’s Republic of China (which, to his credit, he admits is not an unambiguously good thing), the economic prospects of the DR Congo are improving.  “But then as the momentum accelerates, the Mormons storm the land the [to?] reap the harvest. . . .  The greedy Mormon church is taking its cut of the prosperity, they aren’t the impetus to the prosperity.”  Honestly, it feels (to this outside observer, at least) as if one has entered some sort of bizarro alternate universe.


Stanley's former HQ
From this wider shot of the location of the sign marking the site of Stanley’s former trading post, you can get some perspective on a practically unknown historical relic, as also perhaps on the ephemeral character of human empires and glory.


And, while we’re (somehow) on the subject of the finances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, here’s a really good episode of Let’s Get Real with Stephen Jones entitled “Mormon” Church: Taxes, Trust, Transparency: Deeper Context.  It’s an hour and thirteen minutes in length, but I commend it highly to anybody who is actually interested in understand this matter.

Stephen Jones, the host of the Let’s Get Real podcast, is involved in a host of things and is a very funny guy.  (When he was a student, he was a member of BYU’s “Humor U.”)  Aaron Miller holds both a law degree and a master’s degree in public administration and is a member of the faculty at Brigham Young University.  He specializes in nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, and business ethics — precisely the fields that are relevant here.  Back in December 2019, in Public Square Magazine, he published “The $100 Billion ‘Mormon Church’ Story: A Contextual Analysis: Major headlines this week left a vivid impression in the public mind of a major scandal uncovered in the Church of Jesus Christ. A closer, more careful look suggests otherwise.”  It remains a must-read.  His calm, lucid, reasonable approach to what has been a very contentious topic is, to coin a phrase, a much needed breath of fresh air.


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