Did Africans pair with Europeans before colonization

colonialism When Europe ruled the world

For a long time, the kings only stepped on a step, interested in gold, spices and increasing power, but very hesitant to invest, because even then the coffers were tight. That is one of the theses that the Freiburg historian Wolfgang Reinhard puts forward in his recently published overview of colonialism - with the title "The Submission of the World".

In general, the image of colonialism in research is currently being revised. Because new aspects come to the fore, such as the role of the local elites who collaborated with the colonial rulers in the slave trade. In addition, the historians shed light on the short chapter of German colonial rule and its long-term consequences. That was not a harmless episode, if you think of the genocide of the Hereros in Namibia.



"Colonialism actually consists of alliances between the European and local elites to exploit the local lower classes."

Wolfgang Reinhard, historian, University of Freiburg.

"The most important successful slave rebellion that turns into a world historical revolution is that of Saint Domingue, i.e. today's Haiti from 1791 to 1803. Plantation slaves and free colored people succeed in smashing both French colonialism and slavery."

Michael Zeuske, historian, University of Cologne.

"These 30 years of German colonialism lead to considerable changes and upheavals in the African colonies ... and it leads to the first genocide of the twentieth century in German Southwest Africa, that is in Namibia."

Jürgen Zimmerer, historian, University of Hamburg.

Colonialism and its legacy

Three voices from historians who have spoken out in the current discussion about colonialism and its legacy: Professor Wolfgang Reinhard, a nestor of colonialism research, summarizes in his new work the "Global History of European Expansion 1415-2015" under the heading "The Submission of the World ".

But how did this conquest, which reached its climax around 1900 with the imperialist occupation of the last corner of Africa, actually get off the ground? More recent research, according to Reinhard, finds an identical model for the departure of the Western European actors - Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France and England - despite all the differences:

"There is a common denominator, which is that it was not carried out by the state from the start, but always with private interests at the beginning, networks of economically, missionary, and militarily interested people who then manage to take over the political authorities bring: Columbus was initially a private person and had great difficulty marketing his idea. And only gradually do the monarchs jump up and let people work on their own, and only gradually does the crown get involved, that's the model, that keeps popping up. "

Collaboration as a model for the slave trade

The explorers are followed by merchants, missionaries, researchers and adventurers: courageous, determined, convinced of themselves, greedy for gold and spices - all of this distinguished the European newcomers. Just powerful, they weren't. Even a conqueror like Hernan Cortez could not have conquered the vast empire of the Aztecs, a high culture, with his few soldiers. However, he succeeded in pulling native opponents of the Aztecs to his side and subjugated peoples initially collaborated.

Colonial houses in Paramaribo in Suriname, South America. (dpa / picture alliance / Jörg Carstensen)
Collaboration is also the pattern with which the huge slave trade from Africa to the New World, the so-called "atlantic slavery", was made possible, explains Professor Michael Zeuske. Zeuske teaches Latin American history at the University of Cologne and is an expert in slavery research:

"In West Africa the Portuguese never get a foot on the ground as far as the continent is concerned. They can only occupy islands off the West African coast. And for their services they get prisoners of war and women from the West African elites. The atlantic slavery is an infrastructure of the Violence that starts in the interior of Africa. So the people in the interior of Africa are condemned or enslaved, are then brought to the coast by the African or Arab elites, are sold there to Atlantic traders, people from America or Europe, i.e. slave traders, then have hell on the ships, then arrive in the ports of America and are sold there privately. "

Colonialism and slavery: two sides of the same coin

The transatlantic slave trade was a lucrative business, which from the 16th to the 19th century, with its dimensions of disenfranchisement and humiliation of people, blew up everything that had gone before. In its course ten million Africans were robbed or sold by black tribal chiefs to the white slave traders.

They were put in chains on the notorious slave ships, where they were crammed together like cattle in a confined space and transported across the sea to foreign lands. In addition to the physical torture, there was the psychological one. The displaced were also emotionally broken, torn from their families, their homeland, which they would never see again.

"They come to panning for gold - that is the main forum at the beginning - or pearl diving, so they find some treasure. They come to the plantations relatively early, that is, to sugar plantations, they come to mines, then they come as house slaves in the big cities and port cities, and they come as state slaves - it was called royal slaves at the time - in the infrastructure projects, that is, road construction, fortress construction, port construction. "

African slaves were transported to America on a ship and sold in the 19th century. (dpa / picture alliance)
Colonialism and slavery are two sides of the same coin. The enslaved blacks were the victims, but not as passive and compliant as they were partially portrayed by older research:

"Slaves are always actors, no matter how strong the attempts were to break them. Even under the most massive pressure, slaves defended themselves with suicide or with rebellions, that is, slaves were always resistant. That ranges from simple resistance, mostly flight , alone or in groups, up to real autonomous areas, where slaves who have fled practically settle in settlements that have a certain name. Then there is the attempt to make rebellions again and again, these rebellions are mostly unsuccessful, unless the church steps in and says they can stay on the outskirts if they meet certain conditions. "

50 million emigrants were drawn to the New World by 1978

In Haiti, slaves and free colored people succeeded in shaking off the yoke of bondage in 1791. In 1804 they asserted themselves against the troops sent by Napoleon and were able to wrest independence from the colonial power of France. Haiti supported the freedom struggles in mainland Latin America in Venezuela, Peru and Colombia.

Another colony, the USA, had fought for independence for a long time without, of course, abolishing slavery. The USA absorbed Europeans willing to emigrate like a sponge. Older migration research speaks of 36 million, more recent estimates even of 50 million emigrants who moved from the Old to the New World between 1820 and 1978, i.e. in a period of one and a half centuries. With 7 million emigrants, the Germans made up the largest national contingent, ahead of the Italians, British and Irish.

"The USA quickly turned out to be a success story, and when it started expanding across the continent, it was extremely attractive. You shouldn't overlook the fact that these things have a kind of chain effect, that is, when they are emigrants are somewhere, then they write letters and have contacts and attract others, there are very few people who emigrate completely isolated, these are always group processes, and one reckons today that I don't know how many millions of letters that were written from America to Germany and that had a very big effect on emigration. "

So-called displaced persons on the US transporter "Marine Flasher" wave goodbye when the ship leaves Bremerhaven on May 10, 1946. You were able to immigrate to the United States under the US immigration program. (picture alliance / dpa / UPI)
Here inevitably, comparisons to the current wave of refugees come to mind: Back then, too, there were politically persecuted people in Germany and Europe, but most of them were what is now belittled as economic refugees. Because the social upheavals of the industrial revolution, at the same time the enormous population growth, had plunged entire villages into misery.

Germany officially became a colonial power in 1884

The emigrants did not go to the actual colonies, but chose the promising young USA as their destination. This is where the comparison ends, because the USA was a decidedly immigrant country with space and a need for newcomers - albeit at the expense of the indigenous peoples who were exterminated or pushed back into reservations.

In the last third of the 19th century, the major European powers divided up the last unoccupied areas of the world. And the German Reich also wanted its share of the cake, wanted to become a colonial power. For diplomatic reasons, Bismarck had resisted for a long time, repeatedly declaring that the German Reich was saturated, but in the end he gave in to the pressure of business. Prof. Jürgen Zimmerer, historian at the University of Hamburg, has researched German colonial history:

"Germany itself officially became a colonial power in 1884.This was preceded by the unification of the empire in 1871 and the growth of a colonial movement in Germany that saw the possession of colonies as evidence of global political validity and coupled with it the commercial and economic interests of merchants, above all the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, which wrote to Otto about the Hamburg citizenship von Bismarck, the Reich Chancellor, requested that areas in West Africa be declared German colonies and placed under German protection. As a result, Cameroon, Togo, German East Africa in present-day Tanzania and German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) were declared protected areas in 1884/85. "

Namibia was designed as a settler colony, where thousands, and later hundreds of thousands, of Germans would settle. But the chapter of German colonial rule came to an end after 30 years: After the First World War, Germany had to cede all of its colonies. And when, in the 20th century, in the 50s and 60s, the subject countries fought for their independence, when the established colonial powers came to the dock, Germany appeared to be an uninvolved third party. In this country people looked back on the short colonial period with downright nostalgia for a long time. Under the veil of this transfiguration, however, a cruel crime by German colonial rule was also concealed:

"In 1904 the Herero and later the Nama rise against German colonial rule and are unexpectedly successful. Within a few weeks they succeed in driving almost all Germans out of South West Africa, only the larger fortified towns can hold out. And here comes." then basically reinforcements from the empire to south west Africa to avert this defeat and to punish the Herero for their resistance.

There is still no official word from Germany about the genocide of the Herero - not least because there are fears of financial demands for compensation. (BRIGITTE WEIDLICH / AFP)
Berlin decides to send an experienced, albeit controversial, colonial fighter who was noticeable in East Africa for his brutality: General Lothar von Trotha. His motto: 'To use violence with blatant terrorism and even with cruelty was and is my policy. I destroy the insurgent tribes in rivers of blood and rivers of money. Something new can only arise from this sowing. '"

Genocide of the Herero: a cruel crime by German colonial rule

Lothar von Trotha travels to South West Africa with his expedition choir. In August 1904 the general had the opportunity for the decisive battle:

"The Herero have all withdrawn to a high plateau in central Namibia on the so-called Waterberg. Von Trotha wants to fight a cauldron battle. But the Herero manage to leave this cauldron and flee northeast into the largely waterless Omaheke desert, that is it Arid area between what is now Botswana and Namibia. Von Trotha then has this arid area cordoned off by his soldiers and prevents the Herero who fled, especially women, children and old people, from leaving this arid area again and getting to the watering points Desert, thousands, tens of thousands of Herero are dying of thirst. "

There is current political dispute about whether this crime, this first genocide of the 20th century, according to Jürgen Zimmerer, can also be officially called genocide. The President of the Bundestag Jürgen Lammert wrote last summer in the "Zeit" of a genocide against the Herero. But there is still no official word from the highest political representatives, from the Federal Chancellor or the Federal President - not least because they fear financial demands for compensation.

Critical reappraisal of the German colonial era

In the larger context, however, it is about continuing a critical reappraisal of the German colonial era. And nowhere else is the 500-year history of colonialism so present as in the trading metropolis of Hamburg, Germany's gateway to the world. Despite all the differences of opinion in the city, the Senate decided to support this work, also in the field of science: Prof. Jürgen Zimmerer:

"As part of this decision to deal with the colonial legacy, Hamburg provided start-up funding for a research center 'Hamburg's post-colonial legacy', and part of this start-up funding is a scholarship program, where a doctoral student from Hamburg and a doctoral student from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania together here with us in Research and work in Hamburg, and practically from the start, bring Tanzania's perspective into everyday discussions. "