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What the Natives Really Want

In the covering Note to the Treaty of Versailles the assertion is made that the Allies had had an opportunity of convincing themselves that the native populations of the German colonies had vigorously opposed the idea of being again placed under the old dominion. This assertion must be disputed. Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say that the Allied Governments or their delegates to the Peace Conference had "an opportunity of convincing themselves" one way or the other. How many of the men who signed the treaty ever entered a single German colony or had made any independent study of German colonization? What they did was to instruct their agents and proxies to prepare an indictment showing German administration in the worst possible light, and the result was accepted as justifying a foregone decision.

Several of the Allied Powers had determined from the first to annex Germany's oversea territories, and all that followed in the way of justifying that step was after-thought and pretence. Not only do Germans say this: it has been said times without number by the spokesmen of disinterested neutral nations, and even in England and France many voices have from the first been raised to the same effect. Still more untenable is the assertion that the natives of the German colonies protested against being restored to German administration. Far from this, the behaviour of the natives, both in the war and after the war, shows plainly that they would infinitely prefer the continuance of German dominion to the dominion of the foreign Mandatories.

I have already demonstrated that the German colonies were divided among the Powers interested with no thought or regard whatever for the wishes of the natives, who were shared out like coin or counters, their tribal unity being broken up with callous indifference both to their traditional attachments and their economic interests. Mr. Lloyd George, in speeches made at Glasgow on June 26, 1917, in the House of Commons on December 20, 1917, and to the Labour Party leaders on January 5, 1918, had promised that the fate of the natives in the [163] German colonies should not be decided without their consent. How was that pledge kept? Some sort of inquiry as to the attitude of the natives in the colonies occupied by British troops was made by or through Government officials - the agents of the very men who had already decided the fate of the colonies, and the answers received were laid before Parliament in November, 1918, in the form of a Blue Book.1

The result of the inquiry was from the British point of view disappointing, and it appears in a still worse light when we consider

(1) That the purpose of the inquiry was to furnish a justification for the seizure of German colonial property by the British;

(2) That British troops had captured the territory in question by force of arms and were in complete occupation; and

(3) That the subjects of the inquiry were natives, who notoriously are given to currying favour with their patrons and easily yield to persuasion and the pressure of the moment.

The report disclosed the following facts:

(1) The result of the inquiry in German East Africa was absolutely unfavourable to England. The British Administrator himself expressly drew attention in his report to the fact that it was an error to suppose that the natives ever since the outbreak of war had yearned for liberation from their German rulers. He said that it would be injudicious to make open and general inquiry of the natives as to whether they preferred British or German rule, since this procedure at the existing juncture would arouse suspicion and would exercise an unsettling effect. He further declared himself to be opposed to the application of European theories of "self-determination" to the uncivilized natives of Africa, and said he thought that such application could be seriously suggested only by those whose acquaintance with the native mind was of the slightest.

(2) In the Cameroons, Togoland, and German South-West Africa the officials appointed for the purpose succeeded in [164] collecting a number of declarations of chiefs who wished - or professed to wish - that British rule should be upheld, and German dominion should not be reinstated. To what degree these utterances can be regarded as representing the actual feelings of the chiefs, still less how far they represent the opinions of the inhabitants of their villages or districts, it is impossible to ascertain. But everyone who has had anything to do with African negroes knows how little importance can be attached to such opinions, extorted as they were from natives by the representatives of a Power whose troops had occupied the land in time of war. One of these officials, who had been travelling in the Cameroons in order to collect the desired evidence, remarks of his own accord:

      "It is more than probable that many people will be sceptical of the value of these statements taken ex parte by a man patriotically, if not personally, concerned in the purport conveyed by them."

The official in question, who uttered such unquestionably sound common sense, nevertheless proceeded to claim entire sincerity for the protestations of the chiefs in his district. No doubt he acted in good faith in so doing, but the fact is incontestible that any representative of another Power which succeeded in taking these territories from the British by force of arms would at once be able to collect as much evidence as he wanted in his own country's favour and against that of the country dispossessed. Considering the circumstances in which the inquiries were made in the three colonies and the actual results obtained, the British had very little reason for satisfaction or encouragement; and the obvious explanation is that the natives in reality were at heart attached to German rule, believed that it would be reinstated, and were therefore only with difficulty brought to assent to a declaration such as their new masters wished to obtain from them.

(3) In the South Seas the results in German New Guinea were quite negative. The Australian Administrator there reported that in consequence of the isolation of the natives in many small tribes, living on various islands and with different dialects, it was impossible to acquire any reliable indication [165] of their wishes with regard to the future government of the colony. Such a negative statement means much more than it says. With regard to Samoa, the answer seems at first sight somewhat dubious. The Governor-General of New Zealand reported on January 10, 1918, that he had no doubt that the decision would be in favour of England if the wishes of the natives were to be ascertained. Only the Faipules (chiefs), however, would be empowered to transmit this decision: for a popular vote would be contrary to all Samoan custom. It was, however, to be anticipated that in such a case the money and influence of the Germans still in Samoa would be brought to bear to the utmost in order to wean the Samoans away from the English cause!

Only after another telegram from London did the Administrator cable to the effect that the Samoan chiefs had shown themselves "practically" unanimous in their desire to remain under British rule. The report of the Administrator, received later, shows that he had sought out individual chiefs. These chiefs held a meeting in the Toeaina Club of Samoa (according to the report a politico-commercial club frequented by the leading chiefs of all Samoan districts) and passed a resolution, subsequently communicated to the Administrator, that the meeting was unanimous in the desire that Samoa should remain under British rule. This club resolution is in remarkable contradiction to the petition later directed by the Samoan Council, the appointed representative body of the Samoan people, to the King of England, begging him to set aside the New Zealand mandatory administration. To this I shall return later. In the meantime, Mr. Massey, the Premier of New Zealand, in a speech made at the British imperial Conference in London (October 2, 1923), in which he spoke of the presumptive contentment of the Samoans, declared: "At first the native population of Samoa was somewhat doubtful as to whether the change (in the government) would be to its advantage."2 This shows plainly enough how little value can be placed upon the club declaration obtained by unknown means from the Samoan chiefs by the Administrator.

[166] It is not too much to say that no one with the slightest knowledge of native habits of mind, or even of the value of evidence, would attach importance to the opinions obtained in the circumstances described. There are English publicists - as one would expect - who from the first ridiculed the so-called investigation as childish in method and worthless in results, and relegated it to the limbo to which journalistic "stunts" belong.

Criticizing in the British House of Commons on February 19, 1925, the handing over to Italy of British territory in East Africa without consulting the natives,3 Sir R. Hamilton, a Liberal member, said "he agreed that attempts to consult the natives of areas in Africa as to whether they wished to be handed over from one Power to another were apt to be somewhat illusory." But this is true without any reservation whatever, and it applied to all undeveloped native populations, whether African or not. So the blessed principle of "self-determination" was again given the go-by.

In order to divine faithfully what were the real desires of the native population of the German colonies, it is necessary to bear in mind their behaviour during the war. It has already been mentioned that with scarcely an exception the natives in all the German colonies remained true and loyal to their masters during the war. It is important to consider what this loyalty really implied. Nowhere were there more than small bodies of Protectorate or police troops - just enough to maintain order and quiet in the country during time of peace. Soon after the outbreak of war, enemy troops broke into the colonies, in every case outnumbering considerably the few German troops, and infinitely better equipped. Is it not plain as day that these troops would have been hailed as deliverers, and that their appearance would have given the signal for a universal rising, or at least for great local revolts, if the natives had really [167] wished to free themselves from German rule? Would not the blacks, had they been forcibly subjugated by a brutal tyranny, have seized this golden opportunity to throw off the yoke? Would not the coloured troops themselves have mutinied, if German rule had been the hated one it has maliciously been pictured? For in all colonies, except German South-West Africa, these troops were drawn from the colony in which they were stationed.

The fact is that the Germans experienced no native revolts at all during the war, whereas the British had a rising in British Nyasaland and the Portuguese one in Mozambique. The Germans also had no mutinies, while the British in the first year of war were forced to contend with a mutiny of Sikhs in India. This is the more surprising when one remembers that the Germans, totally cut off from home supplies, and insufficiently furnished with troops and war material, were incomparably worse off in their colonies than their enemies.

These facts alone are the best proof that the natives did not hate German rule. But still stronger testimony can be cited. This is the positive proof supplied by the aid given to the Germans by the natives during the war under the most arduous conditions. I call special attention to German East Africa, partly because in this great colony more than in any of the others it would have been quite impossible for the Germans to maintain their position but for the unflagging assistance of the brave and loyal blacks, partly because in my position as Governor before and during the war I am personally able to vouch for all the statements made.

It is beyond doubt that the defence of the colony for so long a time was only made possible through the untiring devotion of the natives. The faithful co-operation of the black carriers was absolutely indispensable to the marching troops for the supply of food, for fresh stores of munition, etc. Marches far into solitary regions, lasting weeks or even months, were necessary in order to fetch food and other necessaries. Many thousands, even tens of thousands, of carriers were always on the move in various parts of the colony. There were so few Europeans that very often the caravans had only black [168] overseers. This was not all. Since there was no possibility of receiving new supplies from oversea, it was necessary for the colonists themselves to manufacture all the needful articles which had hitherto been imported. Hides were treated, leather tanned, shoes made, hand-spinning and weaving introduced on a large scale, in order to replenish the stocks of clothing. Quinine, wax candles, soap, substitutes for benzine and petroleum, and many other substitutes were manufactured. Bank-notes were made and coins were struck from gold and brass. All these things were possible only with the help of masses of natives, who were drilled to wonderful efficiency in their new tasks under German leadership.

Is it possible that a native workman could be brought to learn such perfectly unfamiliar tasks if he were possessed with the one thought of breaking away from a hated master? The idea is ludicrous. There were only a few thousand Germans, scattered in the midst of nearly eight million blacks, and threatened on all sides by strong bodies of enemy troops. It is obvious that no force which this minority could exercise, but only the sentiments of genuine fidelity and devotion, could have produced these results. Not only is the stand taken by the native population during the war a superb proof of their loyalty to the German Government, however, but it is also a vindication of the methods used by the Germans in governing them.

The strongest proof of devotion was that given by the Askari and carriers, who towards the close of the war left the colony with us, marching into Portuguese territory and later into Rhodesia. They left their homes, their relations, and their huts, and followed the Germans into a precarious future, enduring terrible hardships, privation, and danger. Even our enemies have not dared to declare that these warriors were actuated in this behaviour by the wish to subject themselves to another rule. They have found a new prevarication. They say that the Askari were a peculiarly privileged class! This is not true, but even if it were it does not explain why so many of the carriers endured with us to the end. They at least were certainly not a specially privileged class!

[169] The simple truth is that the natives, satisfied, and more than satisfied, with German sovereignty, desired nothing better than its continuance. Can it surprise anyone capable of manly and generous feelings that the German nation will never forget such fidelity, or renounce the right to return to the territory in which it was shown, whatever formal declarations to the contrary were exacted in its name under pressure of military menace, suffering, and starvation? Would Englishmen or Americans be guilty of such poltroonery, and if not, why should others?

After the war the native populations of the German colonies were, under the Mandate system, "bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game," in total disregard of President Wilson's Point 5, supposed to be a foundation-stone of the Peace, and also of Point 2 as originally formulated in his speech in Congress on February 11, 1918, viz.: "There shall be no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages." After the failure of the mock inquiry of 1918, no further attempt was made to fulfil Mr. Lloyd George's pledges that the native population should be really consulted.

In the meantime and subsequently native protests issued from various colonies, including several from the Cameroons and Togoland, against their transference from German rule.4 The protests against the surrender of large tracts of both colonies to France were particularly vigorous.5 The strongest protest of all was that already mentioned, the petition sent by the Samoan Council to the King of England in June, 1921.6 In the course of this impressive statement the united chiefs of Samoa "begged to be free from the control of the New Zealand Government on account of their continually increasing discontent with its rule." It is true that the appeal does not explicitly ask that Samoa might be given back to [170] Germany, for the Samoans, who are schooled in politics, may not have considered this a practical possibility. Assuming that the new territorial status could not be changed, they simply begged to be put directly under the Colonial Office in London. But the content of the petition, none the less, allows it to be clearly seen that the Samoans were thoroughly content under German rule and failed to appreciate the hypocritical pretence that the annexations were enforced in the name of the high-sounding doctrine of "self-determination" and "in the interests of the little nations."

The small community of the Samoan people is the only group of inhabitants of the German colonies which is sufficiently organized politically to be in a position to express its wishes in a united manner calculated to make a strong public impression. Such united protests are unthinkable in the other colonies, where the natives are on a lower plane of civilization and divided into numerous petty tribes. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence comes from all the former colonies that the natives are weary of Mandate administration and long for the return of the Germans. Could it, indeed, be otherwise? All the colonial territories which were blossoming under German rule are now being economically ruined. The earning capacity of the natives has been lowered, but taxes and tribute have not been minimized, but, on the contrary, have been increased in some colonies. The days of German rule appear to the natives, in these times of growing poverty and economic decay, as "the good old times," the return of which is ardently desired. The blacks also miss the many cultural advantages formerly offered them by the Germans. All this is abundantly evident from many touching individual letters which natives from the various colonies have addressed to their former employers, to missionaries, and others.

Various signs and occurrences in the colonies themselves have demonstrated the existence of this feeling. Wherever Germans appear in the Mandate regions they are at once greeted with every manifestation of joy, and their presence is heralded as a sign that the happier days of German rule will return. Such was the case when the first German steamers [171] appeared again in colonial harbours. They were greeted by crowds of many thousands of enthusiastic natives. This was also the case on the arrival of individuals who had been associated with the work of civilization among the natives. It may be sufficient to call attention to the reception accorded to the first three German missionaries (from the North German Missionary Society of Bremen) who returned in 1923 to the scene of their former labours in Togoland. Their journey through the Eweland and their arrival at the mission-station formed one long triumphal progress. Wherever they came, crowds of natives poured from all directions; whole villages turned out to welcome them; they had to pass under triumphal arches amid frantic cheering and waving of flags; and the chief of Apafu met the travellers with music. "There are our own again!" was the cry that rang joyously from all sides.7

These are a few facts symptomatic of the real as opposed to the make-believe feelings and wishes of the natives. The prevailing sentiment everywhere is totally unfavourable to Mandate rule, under which the natives have neither the economic nor the cultural advantages which German rule gave them in the past and can alone give them in the future. If a genuine, uninfluenced, and impartial plebiscite could be taken, Germany would need to have no fear as to the result of the native vote.

1Correspondence relating to the Wishes of the Natives of the German Colonies as to their future Government (Cd. 9210). ...back...

2Cf. United Empire, November, 1923, p. 649. ...back...

3This territory consists of a large part of Jubaland, in Eastern Kenya, bordering on the Italian dependency of Somaliland, and it was given to Italy in fulfilment of an undertaking contained in the Treaty of London, concluded with Italy early in 1915. By that treaty Italy stipulated for a cession of African territory in consideration of her entering the war on the side of the Entente Powers. - W. H. D. ...back...

4Some of these protests are reprinted in Dr. Poeschel's The Colonial Question in the Peace of Versailles (1920), p. 43. ...back...

5Cf. Le Temps, No. 1543, dated June 29, 1920, and West Africa of March 5, 1921. ...back...

6Reprinted in my pamphlet, The German Colonies under the Mandates, p. 83. ...back...

7Cf. Hamburger Nachrichten for November 13, 1923. ...back...

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

Dr. Heinrich Schnee
Late Governor of German East Africa