Two rather small and blurred photographs taken in Congo Free State at the beginning of the 20th century, one showing a cheerful man on horseback, the other showing the same man sitting on a chair, surrounded by a group of other men. Local men can also be seen on both pictures: on the first picture holding the horse, and on the second picture standing behind the men seated around the table.

These photographs are from the photo album of Vilho Tuominen (aka Kongo-Ville), one of the Finnish men who were hired to work on the riverboats of the Congo River around the early 20th century. Tuominen was born in 1882. He worked as an engineer on riverboats for Congo Free State during the years 1906-1909. He also received medals for his service: from King Leopold II of Belgium in 1909, from King Baudouin of Belgium in 1954 and from the Kingdom of Belgium in 1959.

Knowing what was happening in this part of the world during the time, I can’t help but feel a chill when I look at these photographs, no matter how cheerful and peaceful they might seem. I keep wondering what Tuominen must have witnessed during the time he spent in Congo Free State, and hoping that he never took part of any of it himself.

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