SearchScriptoriumArchives IndexSponsor

[101]
The Treatment of the Natives

The Notes accompanying the Treaty of Versailles contain grave accusations against the Germans with respect to the treatment of natives in the German colonies. The proofs advanced are the statements and allegations of German official and private individuals made before the war - many long before it - and the evidence of such German party men as ex-Deputies Erzberger and Noske. The material thus collected was first given to the world in three publications - as regards German South-West Africa, in the Blue Book submitted to the House of Commons in 1918; in regard to the other colonies, the British Foreign Office Handbook on The Treatment of Natives in German Colonies, which has already been mentioned, and the notorious and libellous pamphlet of Evans Lewin. Apropos of the Blue Book, the reader may be referred to the Star of Johannesburg of November 10, 1924, according to which General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, uttered the following words at Gobabis in the course of a journey through the mandated territory: "As to the historical Blue Book, he (General Hertzog) doubted whether anyone believed its contents. It was considered a war pamphlet - one among many that had gone into oblivion or soon would do so."

It is no pleasant task to rake up these old and long-forgotten "colonial scandals," as they were called at the time. I do not see, however, how this can be avoided. The charges based on them were repeated and used by our opponents during the war in an utterly one-sided and unscrupulous fashion. Many known truths were suppressed and many published refutations of groundless accusations were ignored, in order to prepare a "moral" pretext on which to excuse the seizure of our colonies. I feel myself competent to write of these things, since at the time of the "colonial scandals" I was Head of Staff in the Imperial Colonial Office. In that capacity I was personally engaged in following up and investigating the charges made: I studied all the ensuing documents; and I was also the author of the memorial which, at the close of the investigations, was laid before the Reichstag.

[102] The name "colonial scandals" applies to a number of accusations brought against individual officials and officers, which in part referred to topical events, but in part went back to the very beginnings of German colonization. A large number of these cases had already made their way through the courts or been carried to a conclusion by the administrative authorities. Other cases related to investigations only just begun or never brought to a close, and in others the charges were new and the investigations in the initial stages.

These "colonial scandals" caused a great deal of excitement and high feeling in Germany. After Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, the Secretary of State, had been called upon to assume charge of the colonial administration in 1906, a commission was appointed to investigate and clear up these matters in the most thorough fashion. This commission was composed of three experienced Prussian judges, two of whom belonged to the Superior Court (Kammergericht), the highest Prussian court of law, and one to a Prussian Landgericht, also a higher court. These were all officials of absolutely unimpeachable integrity, and moreover they stood in no official relation whatever to the Government or to the colonial administration. The three officials, in an investigation which lasted for several months, studied the entire question of the "colonial scandals" in perfect quiet and immunity from all outside influences. Secretary of State Dr. Dernburg, who at that time held the post of Acting-Colonial Director, had given orders that all documents in the possession of the Colonial Office, including those which for any reason whatever were marked in the archives as "Private," should be open to their inspection. I personally superintended their researches and saw to it that everything was made really and not merely formally accessible, and that nothing was kept secret from them. I am also an actual witness as to the exactitude and thoroughness with which this commission of judges went about its work, sparing no pains or labour to get at the real truth.1

[103] I append a declaration which this judicial Commission issued in respect to its activities:

      "In answer to various attacks in the Press, the Investigation Committee appointed by the Minister of Justice at the request of the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office issues the following official statement:
      "1. Before their investigations had begun, the Acting-Colonial Director, His Excellency Bernhard Dernburg, especially empowered the members of the Commission to demand any or all of the documents of the Colonial Office, even the most secret sealed documents, without exception, for the purpose of inspection.
      "2. The investigation proceeded along these lines. All documents demanded were at once unreservedly handed out to the members of the Commission, and no restrictions were placed upon their use.
      "3. With regard to the extent or the tendency of the investigations, no restrictions of any kind were placed upon the work of the Commission.
      "4. On the contrary, in arranging its work the Commission set up the principle that the extent of the investigation and the verdicts deduced from all evidence discovered should be determined only by the individual conviction of the members as judges. Every individual case has been judged according to these principles and the judgment reached by the judges were made according to their free and independent judgment, without any attempt whatsoever being made to influence them from any direction.
      "Berlin, April 12, 1907.
      "(Signed)
                  "DR. KLEINE, Councillor of the Superior Court.
                  "OELSCHLAEGER, Councillor of the Superior Court.
                  "WILKE, Councillor of the Superior County Court."

[104] This Commission, after the most exhaustive examination, and when necessary after supplementing the material in hand, delivered its verdict upon each individual case. The result of this judicial examination was then laid before the Reichstag in the form of a Report (Reichstag Print No. 288) on April 15, 1907. When this Report was discussed in the Budget Commission of the Reichstag, the entire mass of documents from the Colonial Office pertaining to it was at disposal, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies declared himself ready to furnish in person or through the mouth of his commissioner any further information desired by members of the Reichstag, so that there was no suggestion of any attempt at concealment. The Reichstag did not discuss the matter further, however, thereby signifying its opinion that these judicial reports were to be regarded as the final settlement of the scandals.

All these proceedings are utterly ignored in the Handbooks which were supplied as reliable and comprehensive sources of information to the Peace Conference Delegations in Paris, and also in all the various propagandist pamphlets and speeches levelled at the time against German colonial administration. In these publications and utterances the "colonial scandals" are represented in the light in which they appeared when the first charges were brought by members of the Reichstag and before any investigation had taken place. The charges are put forward as if they were proven and accepted facts, and the officials concerned as convicted criminals, guilty of established cruelties. This was by no means the case. Yet the suppressed verdict of the judicial Commission in a great number of cases was to the effect that "investigations have brought nothing incriminating to light," or "no cause can be established for proceeding against the accused in a disciplinary or punitive sense."

Many of the officials who had been unjustly accused were acquitted not only in a judicial but also in a moral sense, and occupied posts of honour for many years afterwards. In a number of other cases the Commission established the fact that the defendants had been guilty of breaches of the law, though in nearly all these cases penalties had already been imposed either through the courts or the administration. In [105] so far as acts of great brutality or cruelty had occurred, it was proved that these had been committed in almost every case by men not quite normal - those who had suffered from nervous shocks or strains incidental to tropical conditions of life, and the like - yet these cases none the less aroused the greatest indignation and repugnance among all classes of Germans.

As an illustration of the manner in which truth has been disregarded in making use of all possible accusations of ill-treatment of the natives, it should suffice to inform the reader that both in the Lewin pamphlet and in the official Handbook named, stories which had long before been proved to be mere inventions were again circulated as if they were true - surely, a method of controversy abhorrent to honourable men. One of the worst examples is that of the ogreish legend of the drowning of fifty small children in the Nachtigal Falls by one Captain Dominik. The author of this story, a West African trader, from whom the late August Bebel, who narrated it in the Reichstag, received his information direct, was brought to book in 1909, and declared before the judge that his charges were without any foundation in fact. All the leading German newspapers at the time printed long and detailed reports of the case and the evidence, and it is morally certain that the facts were made known by the British Press. Yet the calumny was resuscitated.

Let it be admitted that the past history of the German colonies was not free from cases of ill-treatment of natives and even acts of cruelty. Yet it is sheer pharisaism for other nations to cast stones upon the German people because of such occurrences. The colonial history of no nation is free from excesses, and indeed it would be easy to prove cases elsewhere exceeding in gravity anything to be found in the short history of German colonization. Even to-day analogous instances are constantly occurring.

Anyone with a fondness for the work would be able to draw up long and heavy indictments against the French, Belgian, Portuguese, and British colonial régimes by the use of authenticated material contained in parliamentary papers and speeches, [106] reports of law-court proceedings, and the like. Take only several quite recent analogies by way of example and also of warning.

The brutal treatment of the Moroccans by the French during the years immediately preceding the war is related in a striking little book entitled Light for John Bull on the Moroccan Question, by Charles Rosher (London, 1911). (See particularly the chapter on "Pacific Penetration.") Take, again, the cruelties in the French colonies which were reported by Deputy Boisneuf during the session of the French Chamber of Deputies on November 10, 1921.2 It is certain that nothing worse than these occurs in the history of any German colony. It is also a matter of common knowledge how the late Mr. E. D. Morel revealed in all its horrifying detail the terrible martyrdom of the natives in the Belgian and French Congo.3 In his book Present Conditions in the Congo (1911) the Rev. John H. Harris, organizing secretary of the English Anti-Slavery Society, summarizes the condition of things in the Belgian Congo under King Leopold as follows:

      "In most districts something was given to the natives, but it was of infinitesimal value, frequently being limited to a few spoonfuls of salt. This, however, was never regarded as payment, but merely a gratuity at the discretion of the white official, M. de Smet de Naeyer having publicly declared with brutal frankness, 'The native is entitled to nothing; what is given to him is a mere gratuity.' The medium used for extorting this flow of virgin produce ('rubber, ivory and gum opal') was force, which in the Congo expressed itself in hostage-taking, pillage, and murder."

Morel's protests against the brutal methods which were actually exterminating the natives of the Congo regions were crowned with success; the Belgians and French were compelled to revise their methods. Such methods of procedure, amounting to ruthless, unintelligent exploitation, cannot be given the name of colonization. It is needless to say that [107] nothing of that kind can be laid to Germany's account, nor, to be just, to that of Great Britain.

Nevertheless, according to Mr. Harris, just quoted, the condition of the Congo just before the war still left much to be desired. His book, Present Conditions in the Congo, consists of reports on his investigations in that region in 1911, and therein he states that while a great improvement had taken place in certain directions "much of the old régime remains, and what is of graver moment, the greater part of the personnel appears to be wedded to the corrupting principles of Leopoldianism." Taxation was excessive; he found a system of "justice" to exist which required aggrieved suitors to "tramp a distance equivalent to a return journey between London and Newcastle and even then keeps them waiting outside the court for over two years"; and forced labour prevailed on the rubber plantations. He writes:

      "A native chief expressed the opinion that the Belgian Government is going the same way as the old Congo State. 'First a little rubber in the hand; then baskets of it - failing which, the whip and the prison-house'" (p. 13 of report of December 6, 1911).

The significant remark occurs: "The very word 'rubber' is sufficient to strike terror into the mind of the average native."

Comparing Belgian with German colonies, Harris writes:

      "In comparing the position of natives in German Togoland with that of the Congo natives, it must be borne in mind that the former are generally speaking fairly well off, and receive large benefits from the German occupation, whereas to-day the greater part of the Congo territory is in a worse condition than when Stanley crossed it in 1877, and the natives themselves are completely impoverished " (p. 12 of report of August 23, 1911).

Harris writes in his Dawn in Darkest Africa: " Belgium finds herself in possession of a colonial colony... whose native tribes everywhere mistrust her administration." So her Allies, in the discharge of their "sacred trust," have given her more African territory and more native tribes to govern!

This writer has also much to say of Portuguese maladministration in colonial regions. Referring, in the same book, [108] to the West African possessions of Portugal, he records the "widespread plantation slavery in Angola, San Thomé, and Principe," endorses the estimate that half the population of Angola was then "living under some form of slavery," though the admonitions of the British Foreign Office had led to an improvement, and speaks of the system of flogging still prevalent. He writes:

      "The island of Principe has a horror all its own, for it is infested with the dread sleeping sickness.... The slaves of Principe present an even more melancholy appearance than do those of San Thome. They appear to have an instinctive knowledge that they are confined in a death-trap and their appeals for liberation are piteously violent."4

In his introduction to Mr. Harris's book the late Lord Cromer wrote under date October, 1912:

      "In spite of the long-standing friendship between the two countries, in spite of historical associations which are endeared to all Englishmen, and in spite of the apparently unequivocal nature of treaty engagements, it would, I feel assured, be quite impossible, should the African possessions of Portugal be seriously menaced, for British arms to be employed in order to retain them under the uncontrolled possession of Portugal so long as slavery is permitted."

Further, in his book Portuguese Slavery: Britain's Dilemma, published in 1913, Harris writes:

      "It is maintained that the pages of this book establish, first, the existence of slave owning and slave trading; secondly, that this is a crime committed against international law; thirdly, that it is the imperative duty of the European Powers to demand the cessation of this crime, but that it continues to flourish under the protection of Great Britain."

I am willing to hope charitably that the abuses recorded as existing in the colonies of Great Britain's ally in 1912 did not exist in 1917. But what shall be said of accusers who in that year had to go back to the beginning of the century in order to make out their "justification" for appropriating Germany's colonies, though these have been held up by English authorities [109] as offering to the natives better conditions than Belgian, Portuguese, or even French colonies?

Both Morel and Harris have been frank and fair-minded enough to condemn regrettable episodes and excesses in British territories, as English people must know better than I. How far Mr. Morel is an acceptable authority on these or other matters in England I do not profess to know, but I would protest with every right that it is not for people who still persist in crediting the often frivolous and more often baseless charges which were brought in pre-war times by German Social Democratic deputies and journalists against the Government of our colonial empire - which, to be sure, many of them never wanted, and would have given away to the first applicant - to pooh-pooh and reject Morel's countercharges as necessarily fictitious, and say: "We are prepared to believe anything said by a German Socialist and Labour man against Germany, but we will believe nothing whatever that an English Socialist and Labour man may say against us and our Allies." Such a method of controversy should be repugnant to every decent mind, and moreover its very employment is a confession that the case defended is weak and not very creditable.

To go, however, to other witnesses, during the session of the British House of Commons of July 4, 1923, Mr. Snell, M.P., brought a charge to the effect that in Kenya, British East Africa, in the course of the last few years natives had either been whipped to death by whites or had died in consequence of ill-treatment. One case occurred in 1920, the delinquent being only convicted by a white jury of "simple hurt," and a still worse in June, 1923, the white murderer in this instance, when likewise tried by a white jury, being sent to prison for two years. This native was flogged by a white settler until he was tired, and then by two black employees in turn until their victim collapsed. A detailed account of this shocking case (with two others), written by Mr. Harris, with the title "Flogging in Kenya," appeared in the Manchester Guardian of November 16, 1923. Dr. Norman Keys also deals with this case, and the subject of white cruelty to natives generally, in [110] his book Kenya, published in 1924, adding:

      "Such floggings are neither rebuked by the general opinion of Kenya nor punished by the law, while men like Kitosh (the murdered native), who try to escape from brutal masters, are hunted down by the police, severely punished, and compelled to complete their contracts of service" (see pp. 159-69).

It was in relation to Kenya that the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in the House of Lords on May 20, 1925, admitted that there had been "scandalous cases" of ill-treatment, though he protested justifiably against generalizations. Lord Buckmaster, who followed him, was not so lenient, for he stated:

      "Certain events which had happened in Kenya recently had undoubtedly shocked everyone who had been made acquainted with the facts. He agreed entirely that it would be a serious injustice that all these acts - some of which were acts of unredeemed brutality - should be regarded as symptomatic of the general conduct of the settlers in that country. They obviously were not. He knew that such cases might not infrequently occur where white people in tropical countries dealt with the native population. But the thing that had seriously affected his mind was the fact that when the people who committed these acts were brought before the court they were not justly and adequately punished. It did not appear that their conduct was publicly reprobated. The natives at present had no security in the reserves that they occupied. They had no guarantee that further parts of their land might not from time to time, as it was thought fit, be taken away and allotted to other settlers.... He was most anxious to see that the natives were not allowed to be used for the creation of wealth which they did not share. In the past there had been a policy of attempting to put pressure on the natives to induce them to leave their reserves and to work for the white man. He wanted an assurance from the Government that that pressure was going to cease. Things had been happening in Kenya which could never have happened in India and had never happened in any other part of the Empire. He wanted to be assured that those things would not happen [111] again and that we should do everything to discharge to the native population the solemn duties which we had undertaken on their behalf."

Lord Balfour wound up the discussion in a speech in which he uttered the ambiguous words: "Without dogmatizing, we must assume that one mission which we had deliberately undertaken was that of benefiting the natives by civilizing the country in which they lived and by making them sharers in that civilization." It is only necessary to add that while the indictment made against German colonial administration in part goes back thirty years, the condition of things revealed by Lord Buckmaster as existing in a British colony refers to the present time.5

Let us be honest, however, and admit that such episodes will always occur so long as "man's inhumanity to man" is a factor to be reckoned with. The record of every colonizing country is stained with dark blots, for the most benevolent colonial administration in the world cannot wholly protect all its black subjects against harshness and abuse. All that it can do is to prosecute delinquents with the utmost diligence and to see, as far as is possible, that all evil elements are eliminated. That this was done by the German Government, especially in the years preceding the war, can be disputed by no one who is conversant with the actual facts. It is a Frenchman, Alcide Ebray, who writes in La Paix malpropre, published in 1924:

      "Whoever has studied colonial history at all knows that every nation committed misdeeds against the natives and that no nation is entitled to accuse another in this respect. It would not be possible to prove that Germany ill-treated natives in a higher degree than the other colonizing Powers."

It is the weakest part of the indictment manufactured by our assailants that in the diplomatic Notes addressed to Germany and in the Handbook on the treatment of the natives of her protectorates the charges of oppression, cruelty, and the like are made generally, and levelled against the entire colonial [112] administration since its earliest beginnings in 1884. Cruelty to the natives, arbitrary requisitions, punishment by whipping, insufficient protective laws, and bad treatment of the chiefs are said to have been characteristic of the administration, and to have led to grave native rebellions and sanguinary punitive expeditions.

In order to prove these charges a number of cases are cited and members of the Reichstag are named as evidence. But the greater part of these accusations lose point when the condition of the German colonies before the Germans took them over is compared with their condition immediately before the World War. Previous to 1884 the colonies were savage countries where every man's hand was against his neighbour and "war of all against all" was the rule. The native tribes were continually robbing and murdering one another. In many parts of East Africa the wandering nomads persistently made plundering inroads upon the peaceful agricultural tribes. Coming from the wild interior, these nomads would break through to the coast, destroying in their progress all the foundations and promise of an incipient civilization. On the other hand, the Arab slaving expeditions would invade the interior from the coast, creating fearful havoc. In the other German colonies in Africa similar conditions prevailed. In German New Guinea cannibalism held sway, and native hordes systematically raided one another in order to obtain human flesh. In many parts of the contiguous islands the head-hunters laid waste the coasts in their terrible and murderous expeditions.

What a different picture the German colonies presented at the outbreak of the war, after only thirty years of colonization! Peace and order reigned everywhere in the Protectorates. Robbery and murder from tribe to tribe had entirely ceased. The native went peacefully about his work. Often enough it was precisely the tribes which were formerly most warlike, most feared, and most given to robbery and plunder, which had settled most perfectly into the new order of things, and which toiled most whole-heartedly at the work of colonization.

It goes without saying that such an absolute change in the [113] manner of life of barbarous populations could not take place without scenes of bloodshed between the native tribes which had hitherto dominated and their new rulers. The nomadic tribes which had been accustomed to increase their herds by the simple device of plundering expeditions, and the native chiefs whose existence was established upon the oppression of their subjects by sword and fire, were neither of them disposed to give up their rights without a struggle. Serious fighting was necessary before the Germans could enforce peace. But has this not been the case in every colony with a similar population? The English who had serious battles with the Zulu Kaffirs in South Africa are scarcely entitled to blame the Germans for finding it necessary to fight the relations of these very Zulu Kaffirs in East Africa in order to keep order in the country. There is enough in the annals of every colonizing Power to warn all nations of the folly and danger of throwing stones at each other and trying to pose as immaculate; for however ingenious such attempts may be, the fact remains that it is mere posing all the time.

Considering the atrocious charges which have been fabricated by malicious pens in order to discredit Germany and justify the seizure of her colonies, our critics must expect to hear of counter-allegations, and if fair-minded they will not allow self-pride to blind them to established facts. Nevertheless, in recalling past unhappy episodes in British colonial history, I do not do it for the purpose of making capital out of them, but only in order to suggest that equity, not to say wisdom, requires of our accusers a similar restraint.

Did not Mr. Gladstone, at the time of the Zulu War, charge the British Government of the day with responsibility for the slaying of ten thousand natives for "the only offence of attempting to defend their independence and their homes"? Is the story of all the countless Indian frontier wars so glorious that every one of them can to-day be recalled by humane Englishmen without regret or compunction? Many hard things have been written by English pens about the Matabele wars of twenty years ago; and it is not to be denied that there was a time, and it was not long ago, when the Boers of South Africa [114] said just as hard things about the British as Germany's malicious critics say to-day about German colonial administrators, though many of the latter have no need to fear comparison with the best of any other country.

J. H. Harris, in his book The Chartered Millions,6 published only in 1920, attributes the Mashona and Matabele rising to the robbery of the natives' land and cattle, a labour system "synonymous with slavery," and an inadequately controlled police, among other causes, and says that in the hostilities the casualties (including the wounded) amongst the white settlers, police, and troops numbered 344. But he adds:

      "The losses amongst the natives were frightful: probably the avenging of the whites has nowhere in British history assumed such terrible proportions. Men in Rhodesia give an involuntary shudder as they recount the way in which the Mashonas who fled to the caves for protection were treated. Those who wish blood-curdling stories can easily find them in the reports of both natives and white men " (p. 130).

See also on this subject Some Incidents in the Life of Cecil Rhodes, by Vere Stent (Cape Town, 1925), relating Rhodes' meeting with the delegation of armed Matabele chiefs and warriors on August 21, 1896, and the terrible indictment of cruelty, cattle-thieving, and lust brought against the whites by the delegation. "It is all true," said to Rhodes one of his companions, when the recital ended.

To come to quite recent times, the action of the Mandate administration in South-West Africa in proceeding against the Bondelswarts with air-bombs, which killed many women and children among the surprised Hottentot tribe, caused a great deal of indignation throughout the world. There was the bombing of the Waziri tribesmen of an Afghan village of which the Manchester Guardian of June 23, 1923, wrote in a leading article headed "A Modern Atrocity." Here compensation had to be paid, since the wrong people were killed. There was also the Indian Amritsar episode which, though subse- [115] quently repudiated and condemned by the British Government, has never ceased to be defended by a large and influential section of the English people. More lately there was the bombing of the Iraq, facetiously described by the British Air Ministry as a "slight air action" in May, 1924, because a disaffected chief refused to surrender. When the last-named incident was discussed in the House of Commons a Labour member said: "That is what the Germans did to us. We called them Huns, but we are Christian soldiers."

Or, to take the case of France, since the French in the Western Soudan conquered the native chiefs by means of sanguinary battles, and are doing the same thing in Morocco to-day, can they blame the German administration in the Cameroons for the fighting which was necessary in order to secure peace in that colony? Surely no one can object to the "little wars" waged against native tribes in New Guinea, which had the amiable habit of falling upon a neighbouring tribe, making a number of prisoners, and carrying them off to be fattened for a cannibal feast? These practices could never have been put an end to by peaceful means.

With regard to revolts and punitive expeditions, an examination of the facts proves at once that the German colonies have by no means had more than their share as compared with the colonies of other nations with a similar native population. On the contrary, it is probable that the comparison is greatly in favour of the Germans. The largest colony, German East Africa, had no revolts at all since 1906 - full eight years of absolute peace in all parts of the colony. The neighbouring British colony cannot say as much, for British East Africa suffered repeatedly from revolts during this period. In 1906 occurred the revolt of the Nandi, in 1913-14 the rebellion of the Kismaji, and before this a revolt of the Massai. In British Nyasaland there was a native revolt during the late war and British Government officials were assassinated. Nothing of this kind happened either in German East Africa or in the other German colonies.

The Handbook here criticized mentions three great rebellions, which were coupled with heavy loss of life to the natives, and [116] which are all said to have been avoidable. These were the Arab revolt in German East Africa in 1888, the Maji-Maji revolt in 1905, and the Herero rebellion in German South-West Africa in 1904 - all events, be it noted, going back from twenty-one to thirty-seven years ago. The author erroneously ascribes the Arab revolt to arrogant behaviour on the part of the officials of the German East Africa Company, whereas it was really due to the taking over of sovereign rights on the East African coast by that Company. The Arabs, who had hitherto been masters there, saw in this step the beginning of their complete subjection, and feared that the German measures against the slave trade might destroy one of their chief sources of gain. This revolt could have been avoided only if Germany had relinquished the establishment of her authority and abandoned all measures against the seizure of slaves. The crushing of this revolt was effected by Hermann von Wissmann, a man known throughout the entire world as an honourable officer and gentleman, as well as a renowned African explorer. He proceeded with energy, but avoided all unnecessary bloodshed.

The Handbook asserts also that the Maji-Maji revolt in Tanganyika (German East Africa) was due to hatred of the natives, induced by the hut-tax and by forced labour upon the European plantations. The disproof of this assertion is contained in the fact that the revolt was limited to the southern part of the colony, in which there were very few European plantations, whereas the northern part of the colony, in which lay the large plantation districts, as well as the chief centres for recruiting labourers, was completely free from the rebellion. At no time was the hut tax in German East Africa higher than in neighbouring Kenya, and it was levied with due consideration for the districts which were economically weak or backward, such as the region of the revolt. In reality, the revolt arose, as has been proved by ex-Governor Count Goetzen, through a movement which was spread by a native wizard. The revolt took its name from the water (Maji) which the magician carries as an aid to his spells. It is true that the crushing of this revolt entailed a relatively large sacrifice of native life, [117] since the rebels, depending upon the efficacy of their magic talisman, revealed a most unusual degree of tenacity and contempt for death, just as the Soudanese dervishes against whom Kitchener fought did under frenzied psychic influences, with the same decimating results. But the suggestion that these losses were occasioned by cruelties on the part of the Germans is an unworthy fabrication.

In relation to the third revolt, that of the Hereros in German South-West Africa, this was occasioned through the gradual penetration of the white settlers, in whom the natives saw a menace to their continued possession of the land. In this respect it resembled the revolts with which white settlers had had to contend in North America, in Australia, and in South Africa. The Herero revolt began with a massacre of all German settlers who happened to fall into the hands of the rebels. The Herero developed unexpected powers of resistance, so that the despatch of considerable bodies of troops from Germany became necessary. They were defeated only after long and wearisome fighting, and it is true that a part of them fled into the sandy wastes, where they died of thirst.

The British Blue Book misrepresents the facts to such a degree as to make it appear that the Herero tribes had been persistently and cruelly oppressed by the German colonists and that the crushing of the rebellion had been a mere war of extermination. These charges have been completely refuted by the before-mentioned German White Book, which, nevertheless, does not attempt to conceal the fact that at times military methods were adopted in combating the revolt which were not sanctioned by the German Government and were formally repudiated. These measures may be explained, if not excused, by the bitterness occasioned by the massacre of the German settlers. Let it not be forgotten, however, that many a native tribe in the colonies of other nations has been almost or completely exterminated. We shall see how many of the Rifis of Morocco are left when France has completed her present work of "civilization" in that country.

There exists, however, the testimony of the Herero themselves, which goes to prove that the opinion of these natives [118] with respect to German rule and German methods of warfare was and is in reality utterly different from that which the English Blue Book - intended as it was to prepare public opinion for the seizure of German South-West Africa - had concocted from all sorts of dubious sources. Such testimony exists not only in the form of utterances of Herero chieftains in the years following the war, but the funeral of the chief of the whole Herero peoples, Samuel Maharero, on August 26, 1923, took such a form that it amounted to a direct tribal manifestation in favour of Germany.7 All the ceremonies, even to the smallest details, were modelled after the German pattern. The Herero came to the funeral almost to a man in German tropical uniform and in German colours. The German helmet of the Protectorate troops, with its black, white, and red cockade, was everywhere in evidence. Many Herero had sewn black crosses with white edges on their sleeves, and declared that these were meant to represent Iron Crosses. Several Herero declared to Germans who were present that they were also Germans, and wished to bury their chief with German honours. Can anyone imagine that the Herero would behave in this manner if they had been treated in any such fashion as the English Blue Book alleges and were filled with hatred for their former rulers? Would they not rather have sought to avoid everything which could remind them of the days of German rule?

It is not quite clear what can be meant by the charge of "arbitrary requisitioning" which is brought against the German colonial administration in the Note to the Versailles Treaty, and confusion in the mind of the prompters of the Note must be assumed. It may refer to the charge levelled in the Handbook and various official propagandist writings that the native police soldiery were allowed to have things their own way in their dealing with the other blacks and that they used this liberty for purposes of blackmail. The nature of the negro is such that cases of the abuse of authority by native police-soldiers or other officials will always occur wherever such men are immune from the direct supervision of their superiors. [119] But it is absolutely untrue to say that this evil was encouraged, or even consciously tolerated, in the German colonies and that the negro was there allowed any kind of licence. On the contrary, when any such case of abuse of authority became known, the delinquent received exemplary punishment. Recognizing the danger of employing natives, even those with a record of many years' service, in independent positions, the German Government avoided it as much as possible. If, in spite of all these precautions, "arbitrary requisitioning" took place, it can only have been in isolated instances, and the culprits were clever enough to escape the attention of their superior officers. It is certain that such things have not occurred oftener in German Protectorate territory than in the colonies belonging to other nations.

In the various pamphlets directed against German colonization, great attention is devoted to the alleged excessive resort to judicial punishment by whipping. The whip or cane is used in all colonies where there are primitive races to deal with, the native territories under British and French rule not excepted.8 It is really impossible to do without it altogether, for the native in many respects resembles a child. Efforts to substitute punishment by fines or imprisonment for whipping produced most discouraging results. The sharpest criticism of the use of the lash is always heard from those who have had no experience in dealing with primitive races and are inclined to apply to them the European standards proper for absolutely different conditions.

Whatever may be thought of punishment by whipping, however, it is a fact that Germany did not employ this measure more frequently than her neighbours. All nations are subject to the same social phenomenon, namely, that the first settlers in a new colony are men of abundant energy, without much understanding for the soul of the native. When these settlers receive positions, either official or private, which put them in [120] command of a number of blacks, they are apt to exceed their authority, particularly in the matter of whipping. Germans make no attempt to conceal the fact that in the early years of their country's colonizing activity such cases of abuse occurred, and that an exact control by the higher authorities was rendered difficult, if not impossible, by the lack of means of transport. But this stage was left behind within a comparatively short time.

A report to the British Government from its Embassy in Berlin, written in 1894, barely ten years after Germany had acquired her colonies, stated:

      "The power of punishing their labourers is doubtless exercized by many masters, but it is never recognized by the German authorities, and complaints are often brought by the workmen to the courts, accusing the masters of ill-treating them, or of withholding their wages. These appeals for protection to the judicial authorities are rightly regarded as a great step in advance, and a special inspector has been appointed to look after the welfare of the poorer workpeople and to report any ill-treatment which may come under his notice. A few years ago no labourer would have dared to bring a civil or criminal action against his master, now they do so... a sure sign of the civilizing influence exercised by the Government and the missions over native public opinion"(p. 37).9

By way of contrast let the reader ask himself what was going on in the colonies of Belgium, to mention no others, at that time and far later.

It was precisely in relation to the punishment of the lash that both the Colonial Secretary in Berlin and the various Governors of the colonies laid particular weight upon most careful restrictions. So far as whipping was deemed unavoidable, all possible measures were taken for the protection of the natives, and any ill-treatment of natives by private persons was proceeded against with the utmost energy.

All these efforts were crowned with success. The conditions [121] which prevailed in the German colonies in the years immediately preceding the war were by no means less favourable than those prevailing in similar colonies belonging to other nations. One important difference must be mentioned, and it is to Germany's credit. An accurate register was kept of all cases in which punishment by whipping had been inflicted in the German colonies, particularly since Secretary of State Bernhard Dernburg, in 1907, issued more drastic orders for the protection of the natives in all the colonies. There were also other regulations to this end. The official who had ordered the punishment was obliged to be present in person, or to send a representative. In addition, a doctor or Red Cross official was obliged to be in attendance. This form of carrying out the punishment of whipping was naturally chosen in order that the negro might be protected in every way from abuse; yet in certain propagandist pamphlets the facts are so maliciously distorted that these supervisory measures are so represented as to suggest that brutal officials found pleasure in being present in order to contemplate and gloat on the sufferings of the prisoners! Such protective regulations are not found to the same extent in the colonies of other nations.

It would be a great mistake, however, to suppose that simply because the official German annual report contains careful statistics of the numbers of whippings inflicted (whereas no such statistics are to be found in the yearly reports of other colonies), there was little or no whipping in other colonies. My predecessor as Governor of German East Africa, Baron von Rechenberg, when travelling in British East Africa before the war, was shown the register of punishments in some of the principal towns of the colony (Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu), and ascertained that many more natives were punished by whipping in that colony than in the neighbouring German colony, but the British public could not know anything of this. Moreover, in British East Africa whipping was not regarded as a punishment to be inflicted by a judge, but as a mere police measure which an official could employ with or without supervision as he thought best. Similar arrangements prevailed in other foreign colonies.

[122] The natives in the German Protectorates were also protected against being whipped or otherwise ill-treated by European planters or their servants. Special Labour Commissioners were appointed who were entrusted to keep watch upon the conditions of employment.

The anti-German propagandism works itself up into a particularly violent state of righteous indignation when it reports that the Germans had also caused women to be whipped in the Cameroons and in German New Guinea. This is supposed to be a specially significant illustration of German methods with natives. As regards German New Guinea the accusation is simply false. In proof of it the Handbook cites the speech of the Social-Democratic Deputy Ledebour, delivered in the Reichstag on March 26, 1906. According to this, Herr Rose, the Commissioner of the Colonial Administration, who has spoken before Ledebour, had acknowledged the truth of the charge. Reference to the official shorthand reports of the Reichstag10 shows that Herr Rose had done no such thing, but that Herr Ledebour had misunderstood him. The matter was cleared up at once by an interruption. In addition to this, anyone who examines these official shorthand reports will find that no one else had reported that women had been whipped in German New Guinea. In fact, this had never taken place in the colony.

In the Cameroons there was really one case of this kind. In 1893 a Herr Leist ordered some soldiers' native women followers to be whipped. An investigation followed, and this official was dismissed the service.

In so far as I myself have been able to ascertain, this is the only case of women having been condemned to whipping in any German colony. The whipping of women was strictly forbidden in all Protectorates. According to the regulations which had long been current, no sentence of whipping or beating might be passed against females of any age.

What is the state of affairs in other colonies? One would imagine, from the indignation aroused by the two isolated German cases, one of which, said to date from twenty years [123] ago, is pure invention, while the other goes back thirty-two years, that such a thing as whipping native women was unknown elsewhere. In view of all that has been said against Germany, it is somewhat astonishing to read that to this day in the British colony of Nigeria, in the Mohammedan provinces ruled by an Emir, women are regularly whipped for breaking their marriage vows or for slander, and that the British Government raises no objection. The usual number of blows, dealt upon the back with a whip of rhinoceros hide, is one hundred. (In the German colonies the highest number of blows allowed to be dealt to a healthy full-grown man was twenty-five, which might not be repeated until two weeks later.) These facts are reported by the Governor of Nigeria himself, Sir Hugh Clifford, who made them public in a speech before the Council of Nigeria as late as December 29, 1920.11

The only reliable basis for forming a judgment as to whether the administration of justice is in accordance with the needs of the population is the degree of confidence reposed in it by the population - in this instance, the natives. In all parts of the German colonies the number of natives who voluntarily brought their disputes before a German court of law for settlement was continually on the increase, and the parties often came from long distances to seek justice. From a technical and legal point of view, there were, no doubt, many loopholes for criticism in the German method of doing justice. The procedure was not hedged about with all the formalities which are at once the guarantee and the hindrance of justice in the law of Europe, making every process a long and tiresome business, almost impossible for the poor man to undertake. The German method in the colonies was of a patriarchal character. The officials in charge were expected to use their knowledge of human nature and familiarity with native customs and usages rather than lose themselves and bewilder the litigants in the technicalities of a Europeanized procedure. But the method was independent and effectual. Although a Court of Appeal was lacking in most of the colonies, and only the more important judgments were laid before the Governor for [124] ratification, the procedure was better fitted for the needs of the natives than a slow and complicated legal procedure would have been. I can speak with some experience, for I have myself administered justice in two colonies, and had the chief supervision of the law in a third. Various German judges, who also had seats in the Reichstag, fought for the introduction of a different system, but this opposition arose from a theoretical desire for legal correctness rather than from a practical knowledge of native needs.

It has been a favourite ground of complaint that German law in the colonies punished offences committed by blacks against whites more severely than those committed by whites against blacks. This phenomenon repeats itself in all colonies with a mixed population, and since the judges work independently, it is a matter in which the Government is practically powerless to interfere. Nevertheless, the colonial administrations did their best from the first to prevent inequality of justice, and so long [ago] as 1897 the British ambassador in Berlin (Sir Frank Lascelles) reported to Lord Salisbury:

      "The Imperial Chancellor has issued regulations by which strict conditions are laid down for the administration of justice by Europeans where natives are concerned, and there appears to be no room left for the abuses which had to come to light in former years. A further decree has settled the conditions under which contracts can be made with native labourers, in which every regard is paid to considerations of humanity. German and foreign authorities appear to agree as to the great progress made in the suppression of the abuses connected with slavery in German East Africa."12

Nor can it be said that white men's injustice was commoner in the German Protectorates than in those of other nations. One instance may suffice. The French Colonial Minister declared in the session of the French Chamber on December 21, 1922: "I know from personal experience that in the past the administration of justice was insufficient and inadequate when it came to the question of punishing crimes committed against the natives."13 In the British colonies even to-day [125] - particularly in Africa - there is also a great difference in the judgments passed by the courts upon blacks and whites. For Germany it can at least be said that the endeavours of her colonial administrators were always directed towards affording the natives every possible protection, even in such cases.

Further, the propagandist Handbook under criticism states that the chiefs in the German colonies were in general degraded to mere agents of the Government, and that all those who were not powerful enough to withstand the attacks of their masters were systematically ill-treated, whipped or imprisoned for trifling offences. This accusation cannot be better countered than by quoting the judgment of one of the most prominent, best informed, and most experienced of English colonial experts, the ex-Governor Sir Harry Johnston, who wrote of German East Africa during the war in the Daily News:

      "As a matter of fact, German rule, from the 'nineties right up to the outbreak of the war, was by no means unpopular in East Africa. The leading native chiefs were treated as we treat the Indian Rajahs, and the Arabs became so thoroughly reconciled to the German dominion that they became powerful allies of the Germans."14

Again, one may compare with this accusation an official British report on the Tanganyika Territory (German East Africa). In the first report, which covers the period from the conclusion of the Armistice to the end of 1920, there was an adverse criticism - premature, as will be seen - of the German system of Akidas (coloured district overseers), but in the second report, for the year 1921, we find the following conclusions:

      "The continuation of the German system of employing Akidas, paid native officials, has been fairly successful in the administration of the coastal districts. Here the tribes lack tribal organization and the Akida is generally connected with the people by descent. In up-country districts, where tribal cohesion is greater and where the Akida is often an alien, the policy has been to control the people through their own [126] chieftains, replacing the Akida when possible by a headman of the people's choice."

This policy, even to the concluding words, coincides precisely with that followed by ourselves before the war in the districts in question in German East Africa.

The accusation of the degradation and ill-treatment of chiefs is no less untrue with respect to the other colonies. In the Cameroons, the Protectorate with the second largest population, it was the policy of the German administration, as clearly expressed in the Orders issued by the Governor to the local authorities, to strengthen the position of the chiefs, in order to rule the natives indirectly through their agency. This is the exact opposite of what the hateful propaganda of our enemies has declared to be the usage and the intent of German colonial policy.

The protest of the Akwa chiefs of the coast tribes of the Duala, of which much is made in the propagandist Handbooks, depended in the main upon the fact that in order to effect the necessary improvements in the most important seaport a partial sequestration of property and transplanting of the people had to take place. The resulting complaints aroused more attention than their importance merited, for they were brought before the Reichstag and the public in printed form before they had been examined and they thus furnished ready-made material for "colonial scandals." In the event a large proportion of the charges proved upon investigation to be absolutely unfounded, while all just complaints were remedied.

The real relations of the Cameroon chiefs to their German authorities have been clearly attested by the war, and also in part by later events. Almost without exception the chiefs and their people remained loyal to the German Government. When, after the gallant defence made by the Protectorate troops, these as well as the members of the Government were forced, under the pressure of the numerical superiority of the British and French troops, to beat a retreat into neutral Spanish territory, no fewer than 117 Cameroon chiefs, with their followers, accompanied them, refusing to desert the Germans. [127] On February 2, 1919, these chiefs, then in Fernando Po, addressed a petition to the King of Spain, begging him to use his influence at the conclusion of peace that they might continue to live under the German Government.15

Similar evidences of loyalty might be cited from Togoland; while the attitude of the headmen of the Herero in South-West Africa has already been mentioned.

Finally, with regard to the South Seas, it should scarcely be necessary to remind the reader of the excellent relations which obtained between the Samoan chiefs and the German Government. These chiefs sent a petition after the war to the King of England, begging to be freed from the Mandate government of the New Zealanders (see below). In German New Guinea, where a state of anarchy prevailed among the natives which prevented the establishment of any recognized chief, the Germans set in office chiefs of their own selection, and thereby successfully brought the natives themselves into play to help in bringing about orderly conditions.

I have no wish to exonerate or cloke any German who can be rightly accused of indefensible acts, and even if it were not dishonest so to do, it would be against my feeling of justice and seemliness, but the spokesmen of other countries must be equally honest and fair. The foregoing explanations and refutations, however, will have made it clear that the charges levelled against German colonial methods as a whole are baseless and mere fictions of the imagination. This cannot, unfortunately, be said of isolated cases, though even as to these a large part of the so-called facts paraded by the Handbook and other pamphlets are pure inventions, and this had been proved and acknowledged even at the time when these publications were written. Nevertheless, cases remain in which individual offenders were certainly guilty of ill-treatment of natives. Not even the progress of culture had been able to lighten the dark spots which lurk in human nature. Cases in which white men, pioneers of civilization, have degraded themselves by ill-treating the natives, fill the reader with regret [128] and indignation. Such cases have occurred in the colonies of every nation, but if comparison be made with the proceedings of the Belgians and the French on the Congo, Germany can claim that she has had far fewer cases of this kind than these colonizing nations. The great difference between the cases under German rule and similar cases under other nations is the extraordinary campaign against our colonies as such which was launched and joined in by certain of our parliamentary parties and their Press. In order to find instances of similar violent outbursts against colonial dignitaries to those which were levelled in the German Reichstag against Karl Peters, it is necessary to recall the time of Clive and Warren Hastings in English colonial history. It was only upon the young German beginner in colonization that malice concentrated its attention in the twentieth century. The older colonial nations had all had their dark "pasts," but time had charitably called oblivion upon them.




1Sir Harry Johnston refers to the earnest endeavours of the Government to stamp out excesses and bring offenders to book in his book The Colonisation of Africa (1899), where he writes:
      "Unfortunately, as amongst some officials of the East Africa Company, so amongst a few of the Government servants in the Cameroons, there were instances of great cruelties committed about three years ago, cruelties which led to a serious revolt among the negro soldiery. Germany wisely did not hush up these affairs, but investigated them in open court and punished the guilty" (p. 258).
      Of how many colonial Powers could the words last quoted have been said then, or be said to-day? ...back...

2Cf. L'Humanité of July 20, 1922, and Le progrès civique of October 29, 1921. ...back...

3E. D. Morel, Red Rubber, Great Britain and the Congo, etc. ...back...

4Dawn in Darkest Africa (1912), p. 181. ...back...

5The manner in which British and French colonization compares with German is examined in detail in a book entitled The Treatment of Native Populations in the Colonial Possessions of Germany and England (2nd edition, 1919). ...back...

6Written, he says, "with the object of showing how grave has been the injustice to 800,000 native people of Southern Rhodesia and how urgent is the need for such reparation as may still be possible." ...back...

7Cf. Landeszeitung für Südwestafrika, August 25 and 27, 1923; and Hamburger Nachrichten, November 4, 1923. ...back...

8The judicial regulations in French Equatorial Africa and other French colonies do not mention corporal punishment amongst the legal punishments; but in actual fact flogging is still administered both in French Equatorial and French West Africa. Cf. How Natives are Treated in German and French Colonies (1919), p. 12, etc. ...back...

9Report on the German Colonies in Africa and the South Pacific (C 7582-7), 1894. ...back...

10For the year 1906, p. 2298. ...back...

11Cf. West Africa, February 26, 1921. ...back...

12Foreign Office Report (C 8649-3) for 1897. ...back...

13Dépêche Coloniale et Maritime of December 23 and 24, 1922. ...back...

14Quoted from Secretary of State Dr. Solf's Germany's Right to recover Her Colonies (1919), pp. 31-2. ...back...

15Printed in Hans Poeschel's Die Koloniale Frage im Frieden von Versailles. ...back...








German Colonization Past and Future:
The Truth about the German Colonies.

Dr. Heinrich Schnee
Late Governor of German East Africa