International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs

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The International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs (ISSSC) is an organization imagined by Joseph Conrad in his novel Heart of Darkness (published 1899), by which he criticises the corrective impulses of his contemporary colonialists, mainly by mocking the Berlin Conference of 1884.

Heart of Darkness tells the story of Charles Marlow, an Englishman who took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. The novel is widely regarded as both critiquing the imperialist expansion into Africa, whilst also examining the themes of power dynamics and morality. Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium's King Leopold II. Marlow is given a text by Kurtz, an ivory trader working a distance into Africa along the Congo river. Marlow, a recurring character and alter ego of Conrad himself, describes that journal as “a beautiful piece of writing” or “vibrating with eloquence”, among others. Kurtz has already been described as a poet, so this description fits the conception of Kurtz as a man of artistic ability. Marlow finds a quotation by Kurtz in which he asserts that whites “must necessarily appear to them in the nature of supernatural beings – we approach them with the might of a deity”, one of a series of suggestions of that Kurtz regards himself elevated to a godlike position. The document is ended with the sentence, handwritten at a later date, “Exterminate all the Brutes!”.[1]

This text is the second which Marlow encounters on his journey up the river, the first of which is the Russian Harlequin's book on sailing with marginal notations which he originally mistakes as cipher as they are written in Russian.


  1. ^ Conrad, Joseph (1902). Heart of Darkness.