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.
This proclamation was published in the Delhi Gazette in the midst of the “Great Mutiny” of 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–1857), whose restoration to full power was a main aim of the rebels. General disillusionment with the pace of change and the fear that British missionaries were, with government connivance, attempting to Christianize India came to a head among the British East India Company’s sepoy troops. A rumor started that the grease used in the paper cartridges of the Enfield rifle contained both cow and pig fat, an affront to the sensibilities of both Hindus and Muslims. The resulting mutiny (known to Indians as the Great Rebellion or the First War of Independence) resulted in a civil war dominated by mass atrocities—and ultimately in the imposition of the British “Raj,” or direct rule.
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.
Calico was a fine printed cotton cloth first imported to England from Calicut, on the western shore of the subcontinent, by the British East India Company. A domestic manufacture of calico-inspired textiles followed, as English artisans attempted to mimic the bright colors, careful weaving, and intricate designs of Indian cloth. This example commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a great British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806, was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral after an elaborate funeral service.
National Maritime Museum, London
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.
Jakob Walter (1788–1864), who fought in Napoleon’s Grande Armée for two stints, records the experiences of the average foot soldier. The poorly organized nature of early 19th-century armies meant that little besides bread was supplied by the state; even housing had to be provided by local communities. Walter’s goal was to record the details of his campaigns as objectively as possible, not to lay out moral commentary on his lot as a lowly soldier. He mailed his diary to his son; it fell out of view only to be rediscovered and published some eighty years later. Consider the stripped-down nature of Walter’s language and his hesitation to outwardly lament the difficulties he and his fellow foot soldiers endured. In the following passage Walter describes the political upheavals that marked France from the start of the July Monarchy, in 1830 to the revolutions of 1848.
From Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections. Trans. Alexander Teixeria de Mattos. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1896, pp. 85–7, 145–6, 149–54, 163–5, 180–3, 187–8, 230–1.
The reign of Qianlong (r. 1736–1795) marked both the high point and the beginning of the decline of the Qing dynasty. Several European nations, driven by their desire to corner the market on the lucrative Chinese trade, sent representatives to Qianlong’s court. In 1793, Great Britain dispatched Lord Macartney, its first envoy to China, to obtain safe and favorable trade relations for his country. In response, Qianlong composed a letter to King George III (r. 1760–1820) detailing his objections and conditions, which Macartney conveyed back to Britain. The terms of this letter underscore Qianlong’s subtle understanding of global economic conditions and the maintenance of a balance between the interests of various nations.
E. Backhouse and J. O. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–331.
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.
Gandhi wrote this book – called Hind Swaraj (1909) in his native language of Gujarati – on the steamer from London to South Africa, a voyage of ten days. The British banned its publication in India, but allowed Gandhi’s own English translation of the book (1910) to be published, on the assumption that few in India would be able to read it. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between a Reader, who represents the colonized in India, and an Editor, who represents Gandhi’s position.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
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
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) started his political career as a Corsican officer in the French army and rose to be the self-styled “First Consul of the French Republic, and later Emperor of France”—thus reviving ancient Roman means of rule. An ambitious man, Napoleon led many successful military campaigns against Western European nations who objected to his consolidated power; British Duke Wellington defeated his army at Waterloo (Belgium) in 1815, thus ending Napoleon’s imperial rule. This letter, written to his brother Jerome-Napoleon (1784–1860), the King of Westphalia, reveals a reformist side to the great conqueror: here, Napoleon advocates for enlightened rule over a grateful, liberated population.
From Trans. and ed. J. M. Thompson, Napoleon’s Letters. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1999, pp. 94, 190–1, 121–2, 194–5, 202, 218–9, 270–1.
The Qianlong Emperor
In 1793 the Earl of Macartney arrived in Beijing with a retinue of assistants and a baggage train of gifts carefully selected to impress the Qianlong emperor (1735–1795) with the ingenuity, utility, and scientific sophistication of British manufactures. Macartney was on a mission from King George III of Great Britain. His goals were to establish diplomatic relations between the two great sovereign powers for the first time and to negotiate agreements that would allow British traders access to coastal ports other than the established center at Canton, as well as relief from various fees, bribes, and fines that the Celestial Emperor’s officials imposed. The following document shows the emperor’s response. The British delegation was unsuccessful, and diplomatic relations were rebuffed. Half a century would pass before the irritating trade restrictions were repealed at gunpoint in the aftermath of the First Opium War (1839–1842).
E. Backhouse and J. O. P. Bland, Annals and Memoirs of the Court of Peking (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), 322–24, 326, 330–31.
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 March 1839, the Daoguang emperor sent Lin Zexu (1785–1850), a widely respected official with a reputation for courage and honesty, to Canton as an imperial commissioner, charged with the task of cutting off the opium trade—a trade which had proved extremely lucrative to British traders in the region. Lin confiscated vast opium stocks, ordered them burned, and made merchants sign an agreement that they would no longer sell the drug, on pain of death. British merchants appealed to their government for compensation—and for military action against Lin’s agents. This effort culminated in the First Opium War (1839–1842). In the midst of his anti-opium efforts, however, Lin also attempted to shame Queen Victoria (whom he believed was at the center of governmental policy in Great Britain) into cutting off the opium trade that was causing so much damage to the Chinese people, even though it generated profits for the British.
Chinese Repository, Vol. 8 (February 1840), pp. 497–503; reprinted in William H. McNeil and Mitsuko Iriye, eds., Modern Asia and Africa, Readings in World History Vol. 9, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 111–118
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.
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Santa Anna (1794–1876) is recognized today by Americans, and especially by Texans, primarily for his successful siege of the Alamo in March 1836. However, he also epitomized the caudillo type in nineteenth-century Mexico, dominating his country’s political life and weathering a series of highs and lows throughout his long career. Although he served as president for 11 nonconsecutive terms (some of only a few months) over a period of 22 years, Santa Anna is more famous for his military achievements and losses—including some extraordinary adventures. For example, in an 1838 battle against the French at Veracruz, Santa Anna’s leg was shattered by a cannon volley. The leg was amputated and buried with full military honors. Exiled multiple times, to Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, and even the United States, Santa Anna devoted his final years to compiling his memoirs, an excerpt of which is translated below. This passage details his turbulent political career—at least from his perspective—in the early 1840s.
Antonio López de Santa Anna, The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Anna, ed. and trans. Ann Fears Crawford (Austin, TX: Pemberton, 1967), 65–69.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall
When hostilities broke out between China and Britain in 1839, the British fleet was the most powerful in the world and in a high state of readiness. The Chinese had no real naval forces to contest the British, but a small Chinese squadron sailed out to confront the British men-o’-war. The underfunded and frantically assembled Chinese navy could not stand up to armored steam gunboats like the Nemesis, whose heavy pivot gun dominated riverside batteries and allowed British expeditionary forces to land wherever they pleased. The British methodically attacked and occupied forces along the Chinese coast from Guangzhou to Shanghai, and the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) marked an end to hostilities. However, the “heroes” of the Nemesis continued to receive attention for their victory over the Chinese, and a book detailing the ship’s voyages and military successes was rushed into print in 1845.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall, Narrative of the Voyages and Services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843, and of the Combined Naval and Military Operations in China: Comprising a Complete Account of the Colony of Hong-Kong and Remarks on the Character and Habits of the Chinese, 2nd ed. (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), 149–152, available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43669/43669-h/43669-h.htm.
Boxers United in Righteousness
The nineteenth century saw an accumulation of disasters for China. In two Opium Wars in the 1840s and 1850s, British invasion forced the trade concessions demanded earlier. These conflicts helped to prompt the immensely destructive Tai-ping Rebellion (1850–1864). Various official reform movements encountered too many internal obstacles to effect much change. China lost a war to Japan in 1894 and was forced to accept a series of “unequal treaties” and agreements that granted “spheres of influence” to European powers. In 1899 internal disorder escalated. This time a portion of the imperial court headed by the Empress Dowager backed the opponents of western domination. The Boxers, drawing recruits from throughout the north China plain, killed western and Chinese Christians and besieged the embassies of foreign powers in Beijing itself. In July 1900 an unprecedented multinational army of British, German, American, Russian, French, Japanese, Austrian, and Italian troops entered Beijing to restore order and rescue the hostages. The International Expeditionary Force smashed the native army, looted Beijing, and, under the watchful eye of the international press, engaged in “punitive picnics” to exterminate opposition in the countryside.
China had a long tradition of secret societies and popular support for “social banditry” to help the poor. The Boxers United in Righteousness, who arose in Shandong province during the famines described earlier, followed ancient forms of aid and famine relief for their recruits. But the Boxers combined their appeals for social justice with calls to “Support the Qing, destroy the Foreign.” Like resistance movements in other parts of the world, they saw their country’s disasters as caused by its toleration of foreigners, especially the Christian missionaries whose numbers were increasing as western control of China became more pronounced. Recruits to the Boxers undoubtedly believed the terrible rumors of bizarre western religious practices requiring mutilation of women and children. They used magical charms and physical exercise rituals to invite the gods to inhabit their bodies, making them invulnerable to the guns and explosives of western armies. As with other resisters, this faith proved illusory. The Boxers were easily dispatched by the soldiers of the West, as were countless Chinese peasants who were innocent of any role in this conflict between cultures.
Joseph Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. University of California Press (1987): 299–300.
Lajos Kossuth was a Hungarian political leader and lawyer. Born in 1802, he was a key participant in the Magyar nationalist movement. As the editor of a newspaper in Pest, he gained renown for advocating for an end to Hungary’s political and economic subordination to Austria, as well as widespread liberal reforms. His nationalism promoted the interests of Magyars over Slavonic Hungarians, a position which ultimately cost him his job, and contributed to the collapse of Hungary, after its 1848 revolution. During this revolution he was appointed to the Hungarian government and became Regent-President of the Kingdom of Hungary. With the collapse of the Hungarian government, in 1849, Kossuth fled the country and continued his struggle for full Hungarian independence from abroad. In this speech he warns of the mounting danger of Slavic separatism to the Hungarian nationalist movement.
From W. H. Stiles, Austria in 1848–49. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1852, II, p. 384–94.
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.