The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
Between 1837 and 1845, more than five thousand Dutch Afrikaner settlers moved into the South African interior, followed by even larger numbers after 1845. Their timing was opportune, for they crossed the frontier in the immediate aftermath of Shaka’s wars (the mfecane), which had depopulated and destabilized the region to such an extent that the Afrikaners encountered minimal initial resistance. The majority of voortrekker wagon trains headed due north, across the Orange and Vaal rivers, to establish new farms, communities, and ultimately two independent Afrikaner states. But one wagon train, led by Piet Retief (1789-1838) in 1837, split off from the others and headed eastward toward the coast, where there was better rainfall and access to the sea. Their route, however, took them right to the frontiers of the mighty Zulu empire, which was now ruled by Shaka’s half-brother, Dingane. Retief and a party of seventy men visited Dingane in early 1838 to seek his permission to settle in his kingdom, but the Zulu leader saw the arrival of whites as a serious threat, and he decided to launch a preemptive strike. Retief and his party were initially welcomed at the Zulu capital, but at Dingane’s command, they were all slaughtered. Dingane then sent his regiments to attack the wagon train, killing an additional 250 voortrekkers.
Temporarily defeated but not deterred, the Afrikaners decided to send a punitive expedition against the Zulu later that year. Led by Andries Pretorious, the Afrikaners assembled a force of five hundred well-armed male volunteers, two cannon, and fifty-seven wagons to confront a massive Zulu army that may have been as large as ten thousand. At the Battle of Blood River on December 16, 1848, the Afrikaners dealt the Zulu a stunning defeat in one of the most decisive military encounters in the history of colonial Africa. Lashing their wagons together in a defensive laager (“a mobile fortress of wagons”), the Afrikaners turned back successive assaults by Zulu regiments before launching a counterattack. When the battle subsided, more than three thousand Zulu lay dead on the battlefield—but not a single Afrikaner had been killed. One of the participants in this campaign was Sarel Cilliers (1801–1871), who led the men in daily prayers and Sunday worship. Cillier’s account of the battle highlighted the ferocity of the struggle, as well as the religious fervor that inspired the Afrikaner combatants. In later years, Cilliers became famous and revered as the “Father of the Covenant,” the holy promise that the Afrikaners made to God prior to their great battle with the Zulu.
Charl Celliers [Sarel Cilliers], “The Journal of the Late Charl Celliers”(1871), in John Bird, ed., The Annals of Natal, Vol. I: 1495–1845 (Cape Town: C. Struik, 1965), 238, 243–47.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
Amda Seyon was a fourteenth century king of the Solomonid Dynasty, which ruled Ethiopia from 1270 until 1974. The name of the dynasty, Solomonid, derives from the Ethiopian belief that the kings of Aksum (whom the Solomonids believed were their ancestors) were descended from King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba. The kings of Aksum and the later Solomonids were Christian, and their king Amda Seyon, led them into warfare in 1329 against Muslims in the neighboring state of Ifat (in north-east Ethiopia). The Solomonids also fought against other neighboring states, including Christians and animists; however, the Glorious Victories of Amda Seyon portrays the war between the Solomonids and Ifat as a religious war between Christians and Muslims. The following excerpt features the king encouraging his army to fight on, paraphrasing the book of Psalms in the process.
The Glorious Victories of Amda Seyon, King of Ethiopia, trans. and ed. G. W. B. Huntingford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 67, 69-71.
Jantshi ka Nongila
Shaka was born in 1787, the illegitimate son of Senzangakhona, chief of the Zulu. Treated as an unwelcome outcast by his father and his kin, he sought refuge among several neighboring groups before distinguishing himself as a skilled and innovative soldier in the Mthethwa army. King Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa was so impressed with Shaka that he helped him seize the Zulu chieftainship after the death of Senzangakhona in 1816. When Dingiswayo was killed by his archenemy Zwide, Shaka avenged the death of his friend and mentor by destroying Zwide’s regiments in 1818. Shaka used this occasion to submit the large Mthethwa confederation to his personal rule, and the Zulu emerged as the dominant military and political power in the region. During the 1820s, Shaka continued to expand and consolidate the Zulu empire. Through a series of wars that became known as the mfecane (“the time of sorrows”), widespread areas of southern Africa were devastated by warfare, famine, and social dislocation as residents tried to resist or escape from the Zulu regiments. At the height of his power in the mid-1820s, Shaka was visited by British traders, who were duly impressed with the size and power of the Zulu kingdom. Although Shaka was wary of the English, he did initiate commercial and diplomatic relations, and he sent personal emissaries to meet with the British king. But in 1828, Shaka was assassinated and succeeded by Dingane, his half-brother. Dingane ruled in much the same manner as Shaka until his power was broken by an armed force of white settlers at the Battle of Blood River in 1836. This selection is from Jantshi ka Nongila, the son of one of Shaka’s military intelligence officers. In 1902, when Jantshi was around 55 years old, he recounted his tales to James Stuart, an English colonial civil servant who had a keen interest in recording and preserving the language and history of the Zulu people. The edited selection of his testimony highlights Shaka’s frontier battle with Zwide, and it illuminates the traits and behaviors that made the Zulu king a great and feared leader.
James Stuart interview with Jantshi ka Nongila, February 9–19, 1903, in The James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighboring Peoples, Vol. I. de B. Webb and J. B. Wright, eds. and transl. University of Natal Press (1979): 174, 185–87, 189, 195, 198, 201–02.
Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), who took his pen name from a command shouted on riverboats, was the quintessential American writer: his major works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are classics about the American experience. A humorist, Twain borrowed and responded to current political material in his works. This essay provides a satirical yet scathing depiction of King Leopold II of Belgium, whom Twain condemned as a heartless imperialist for his destructive policies in the Belgian Congo. Consider how Twain gets his point across while nonetheless speaking from King Leopold’s point of view.
From King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, By Mark Twain. Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905. Second Edition
Ismail ibn ‘Abd al-Qadir
The religiously inspired uprising against the British in Sudan during the 1880s is associated with the figure of the self-styled “Mahdi.” However, the primary motivation of Muhammad Ahmad Ibn Abdallah (1844–1885), who took on the title Mahdi (“rightly guided” or “messiah”) was to reform Islam from within. Similar to other early modern Islamic reformers, beginning with ‘Abd al-Wahhab in eighteenth-century Arabia, the Mahdi aimed to eliminate Sufi brotherhoods and remove the (to his mind) abominable medieval aberrations from Islam. The Mahdi’s anti-imperialist stance against the British was thus incidental: the British happened to occupy Egypt and to be moving on the Sudan in the midst of his anti-Sufism campaigns. The British focused on the siege of Khartoum in 1883, but this contemporary biographer of the Mahdi focuses on the renovation of Islam.
Haim Shaked, The Life of the Sudanese Mahdi: A Historical Study of ‘Kitab Sa’adat al-Mustahdi bi-Sirat al-Imam al-Mahdi’ (The Book of the Bliss of Him Who Seeks Guidance by the Life of the Imam al-Mahdi) (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1978), 66–68.
In 1652, the Dutch East Indies Company established a small settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to serve as a refueling station for its fleet of ships engaged in the Asian spice trade. The settlement was originally intended to be of limited size and duration, but Dutch emigration steadily increased throughout the eighteenth century, reaching an estimated population of more than fourteen thousand by 1793. As the pioneer settlements grew, so too did their conflicts with the local Khoisan people, seminomadic cattle herders who resented the foreign intrusion on their pastures. With superior weaponry, Dutch settlers defeated Khoisan resistance, seized their cattle, and forced many Khoisan to leave the region or remain as servile herders for the whites. At the same time, the Dutch East Indies Company began to import black slaves from West Africa to perform other forms of manual labor. Thus from the very beginning, the success of whites on the African frontier was dependent on African land and labor.
In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain seized the Cape from the Dutch in 1814 to prevent its possible capture by the French. Following the war, the British officials and settlers began to consolidate their rule at their new “Cape Colony,” establishing their own laws, language, and customs to replace those of the Dutch, who now called themselves Afrikaners (“Africans”). Afrikaner disaffection with British rule reached a peak in the 1830s, when large numbers of Afrikaners decided to leave the Cape Colony in an event that has become known as the Great Trek. In a scene reminiscent of American history, Afrikaner farmers and their families packed their belongings, hitched up their oxen-led covered wagons, and set out to find a new life beyond the known and established frontier. One of the leaders of the wagon trains was Piet Retief (1780–1838), a well-respected leader of the voortrekkers [pioneers]. Eager to present his reasons for leaving the Cape, Retief explained his motives in a brief letter titled “Manifesto of the Emigrant Farmers,” published in a colonial newspaper in 1837. In the reading selection that follows, Retief ’s specific grievances and intentions reflect his attitudes toward the British and the Africans, as well as his own sense of Afrikaner identity.
Piet Retief, “Manifesto of the Emigrant Farmers,” Grahamstown Journal (February 2, 1837), in G. W. Eybers, ed., Select Constitutional Documents Illustrating South African History, 1795–1910. New York: Negro Universities Press (1918): 143–45.
Twice Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965) led his country in uncompromising opposition to Nazi Germany during World War II. In addition to his prodigious political activity spanning a half century in government, Churchill was also a prolific writer—he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. His work The River War recounts his participation in the Mahdist War, an insurgency by Sudanese against Anglo-Egyptian colonial power. This selection describes the bloody Battle of Omdurman (1898), which established British control in Sudan. While ten thousand Mahdists were killed, the British force under Kitchener lost fewer than fifty men. Consider how evocative imagery and selection of information reveal Churchill’s point of view.
From Winston Churchill, The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1902.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)