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The European View of West Africa and Colonialism
as expressed in Historic Encyclopedias


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Jiwan
Term Paper, AP European History Class, June 2009



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. White Man¡¯s Burden ?
II.1 Low Standard of Civilization
II.2 Missionary Work
III. Benefits from West African Colonies
III.1 Trade
III.2 National Status and Wealth
IV. Looking Back : Abuses of Colonialism
V. Selection and Evaluation
V.1 Keywords
V.1.1 Sierra Leone
V.1.2 Guinea
V.1.3 Lagos
V.1.4 Dahomey
V.2 Periods
V.2.1 Pre-1880s
V.2.2 Post-1880s
VI. Conclusion
Notes
Bbliography



I. Introduction
            Writing reflects not only the writer¡¯s thought but also the social atmosphere of the time period. Looking through documents from the past, one can easily detect the difference of writing styles, word meanings, and important values embedded between those of the past and the present. What is more surprising is that the disparities can also be found in Encyclopedias.
            European countries had colonized many parts of the World - including West Africa - during the 19th centuries. They had justified their invasion of West Africa by suggesting pretexts: 1) low standard of the regions¡¯ civilization 2) need of missionary works. However, what was hidden was a greed for their own benefit: 1) profit from trade 2) high national status and wealth. The main goal of this paper is to investigate over how the above reasons are suggested in the encyclopedic articles of the 19th and early 20th century. However, one condition which has to be carefully considered is that the number of colonies has increased since the 1880s. Hence, this paper would also pay attention to the difference of views between before and since 1880s.

II. White Man¡¯s Burden ?
            Under the centuries of experience over slave trade, many Europeans came to think that they are superior to black people. In their minds, the blacks were born-slaves. By the late 19th century, many European countries, armed with such thought, colonized many parts of West Africa. Europeans asserted that they are dominating over West Africa because the inhabitants had low standard of civilization and ¡°false¡± religious beliefs. A poem of Rudyard Kipling, ¡°The White Man¡¯s Burden¡±, in 1899 later justified their claim. (1) Nevertheless, those were just in name. Colonies were apart from helping poor indigenous people. Still, Europeans emphasized their help and the desperate situation of West Africans.

II.1 Low Standard of Civilization
            What came to many Europeans¡¯ head when they thought about black people was their ¡°barbarian¡± life. They thought that it is only themselves who can teach those ¡°inferior¡± people how a life really should be like.
            In order to prove that European decision to colonize West Africa was a righteous decision, 19th century encyclopedia focused on ¡°inferiority¡± of West Africa. The trend is especially evident since 1880s due to increased number of European colonies in West Africa. Below are excerpts from encyclopedic articles after 1880.

            It was rather idleness of searching protection that led to enlargement of [Sierra Leone]. (2)
            [In Dahomey,] weapons are honored and adored. ... Killing is not a crime to them. ... It is notorious that their ceremonies, especially funerals, carry human victims. (3)
            Despotic rule prevails in many parts in Guinea. ... hundreds of human victims are demanded (4)


            Often the information was exaggerated. Nevertheless, in order to present a cause for European action, there were no choice but for them to show, even if distortion were necessary, that West Africans were in lower condition than them and they needed European help.
            In addition, the encyclopedias have emphasized on how much Europeans accomplished to improve life in West Africa.

            [Sierra Leone was] established in 1787 in order to prevent the slave trade and to introduce Civilization in Africa. (5)
            In 1890, 20 postal service institutes, 1000km long telegraph line, and railroad improved [transportation in Dahomey.] (6)
            The native custom of burying the dead under the floors of the house prevailed until 1874, when it was prohibited by the British authorities. (7)
            The Principal buildings are a large government house, the law courts, the memorial hall erected to commemorate the services of Sir John Clover, used for public meetings and entertainments, an elaborate club-house provided from public funds, and the police quarters. There are many substantial villas that serve as quarters for the officers of the civil service, as well as numerous solidly-built handsome private buildings. The streets are well kempt; the town is supplied with electric light, and there is a good water service. ... [A small village of Kotonu] has consequently the advantage of being a town laid out by Europeans on a definite plan.
(8)

            Europeans also thought West African politics was below the standard level of civilization. When describing West African tribes and empires, 19th century encyclopedias became highly critical.

            The most horrible rule lies in powerful Empire Dahomey. He who has to speak with the king should creep near. The temples, erected to honors of deceased monarchs, are built out of cements moistened with people¡¯s blood. Widows are killed under the jubilation of mutual approval. Generally the Dahomeys are the wildest and cruelest of all Negro and treat its women abominably. (9)

            Although it was true that human sacrifice was common in Dahomey, the article is emphasizing on the issue to an extreme extent. The biased words such as, ¡°the most horrible¡±, ¡°wildest¡±, ¡°cruelest¡±, and ¡°abominably¡±, lead the readers to think that Dahomey¡¯s politics is inferior to Europe¡¯s. Not only that, the article allocates 169 words out of the article¡¯s total 1329 words in explaining about such aspect of Dahomey. It seems as if there is only one reason for allotting approximately 10% of the whole article solely on cruelty of the West African Empire: to laugh at their ¡°unreasonable¡± political system and to justify farther colonization. In fact, Dahomey actually became a colony of France in 1894.

II.2 Missionary Work
            Europeans thought that there was superiority even in religion. Although now many think that religion is a matter of personal taste, Europeans didn¡¯t think so back in 19th century. They claimed that they should spread the Gospel to ¡°ignorant¡± West Africans and lead them into the ¡°right¡± religion. Most of the times, those who pioneered many parts of West Africa before the full-scale colonization took place were missionaries. Often, missionary work was successful. They not only spread the Gospel but also helped indigenous people with education, construction, and overall welfare.

            Freed slaves are taught by missionaries in one of the 62 schools in the country, and there were almost 8,000 in 1857. It also has senior schools which teach Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. (10)

            Europeans showed high pride on their incessant effort and eventual success in missionary work. It is written that the success of the English, American, and German missions [in West Africa] was grasped though continual trial. (11) Due to the establishments, the inhabitants turning into Christianity numbered about 40,000 in the Gold Coast by 1911. (12) Nonetheless, missionary work was not planned for free of charge in the minds of the heads of many European countries. While missionaries¡¯ intention might have been pure, it was mere a nominal reason for their interference of West Africa.

III. Benefits from West African Colonies
            There is no such thing as a free lunch. The phrase was used by Robert A. Heinlein to explain economy, but same rule can be applied into West African colonies. If there were no possibility of gain from West Africa, Europeans wouldn¡¯t have been so aggressive to settle down and ¡°enlighten¡± those in the area. White man¡¯s burden was a mere excuse to what they were aiming for: economic gain. Europeans didn¡¯t satisfy with a limited return from trading. Towards the end of 19th century, Europeans started to turn their heads to more profitable method of extracting the maximum out of West Africa: colonization.

III.1 Trade
            In almost every encyclopedia articles about West African countries, there is always a mention about trade. Although slave trade was described as ¡°shameful¡± and ¡°unfortunate¡± (13), other kinds of trade in West Africa were indeed fostered from many countries in Europe. This was because the trade brought huge interests to Europeans. Since the early exploration era, minerals like gold and iron had attracted huge popularity in European Continent. However, they didn¡¯t content with a mere trade; they attempted to actually ¡°own¡± the products they had traded. Making a colony was the solution to their greed. By colonizing the West African region, Europeans were no longer importers but exporters of the goods. Colonial trade was a huge success. Britain gained 35,000 Pound Sterling from its colony in Sierra Leone in 1856. (152,900 Pound Sterling of import and 180,400 Pound Sterling of export) (14) The income rapidly increased to 500,000 Pound Sterling in 1893. (15) Other regions like gold coast had also brought Britain huge earning. Gold coast, present Ghana, was famous for its gold production, hence the name. Britain gained 1,164,676 Pound Sterling solely from gold export in 1907. (16)

Decade Sierra Leone Gold Coast Lagos Dahomey
1810s location, trade - - -
1830s location, geography, inhabitants - - -
1850s location, trade, inhabitants, climate - - -
1880s location, trade, inhabitants, geography, climate, missionary work, arms location, inhabitants location, trade, geography location, trade, inhabitants, geology, climate, arms
1890s and beyond location, trade, inhabitants, climate, arms, living conditions location, climate, trade, inhabitants, geography, location, trade, geography location, trade, inhabitants, geology, arms, missionary work


            Articles were focussing on valuable resources and identifying productive regions (Pepper Coast, Ivory Coast, and Gold Coast). Not only that, those have also verified which are the best trading cities and harbors.

            [Guinea is] produces rice, cotton, sugar cane, melon, ginger, pepper, tobacco, color wood, etc. Europeans especially like to trade gold and ivory instead of cloth, linen, and weapons with indigenous people. (17)
            There are Europeans existing in Lagos due to its excellence as the richest trade city of Upper-Guinea. (18)
            The low, swampy coast [in Sierra Leone] allows easy access for ships. (19)
            Sierra Leone river forms a perfectly safe and commodious harbor accessible to the largest vessels. (20)


III.2 National Status and Wealth
            In the colonial era, Britain was known as a nation where sun never sets. The phrase was used to explain Britain having owned colonies throughout all over the world. It was since then that Britain rose up as a dominant power in Europe. Establishment of colonies, at that time, meant ascension of national status among European countries. They conquered West Africa not to complete their obligation toward West Africans but for their own glory. Under the circumstance, European countries tried to maintain even a tiny portion of land and to gain national pride. Since the territorial boundaries were of sensitive issue in colonies, encyclopedias were also careful in defining the possession of colonies.

            The boundary between the German colony Cameroon and the English Niger district passes of the mouth of the Rio del Rey at the right bank of the river to its yet unknown source ... (21)

            Colonies also guaranteed accumulation of national wealth. Industrial revolution which took place between late 1700s and early 1800s made European countries to produce large amounts of product in a relatively short time. However, as time passed by, the countries weren¡¯t able to consume what they had produced. The problem could have led to a serious economic disaster. Thus, what came to their mind was to sell the product to the colonies. By forcing West Africans to buy their product but yet still plundering goods from them, Europeans gained huge profit. Nonetheless, the phrase, White Man¡¯s Burden, made it easy for them to quickly disguise their misconduct as ¡°helping¡± West Africans to experience using civilized products in Europe and to develop them. Even the forced purchase of European products could be explained as a warm care of Europe for West Africa to be civilized.

IV. Looking Back: Abuses of Colonialism
            Now we have the 21st century. Colonization in 19th Century has become an antique event - from about two centuries ago. Still, it is meaningful to find out that Europeans are now more or less regretful about their past misbehavior and trying to establish fair trade with West Africa. In fact, [Ghana, former Gold Coast in West Africa,] was the first sub-Saharan African country to obtain its independence from colonial rule (22). Nevertheless, there are a lot to go. Europeans have yet to abandon all their greed toward West Africa. West African countries are yet to be suffering from political, economic, and social problems from recent independence.

V. Selection and Evaluation

V.1 Keywords
            For proper research, suitable keywords are demanded. Keywords had to satisfy some conditions. First, they should represent West Africa. This paper is an investigation of West African colonies; hence, the keywords should be related to West Africa. Second, they should be broad enough to show the situation and European view of 19th century. In this process, many keywords were filtered. For example, Ashanti and Fanti, names of West African tribes, were too narrow keywords. After going under the process, four keywords remained: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Lagos, and Dahomey.

V.1.1 Sierra Leone
            Sierra Leone was colonized earlier than other European colonies in West Africa. European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. Its capital city, Free Town, became a British Colony in 1808. (23) Sierra Leone stands as a great representative of some colonies established before 1880s.

V.1.2 Guinea
            In 19th centuries, the boundary of Guinea meant more than what it is today. Guinea could have been said to represent whole West Africa in 19th centuries. Often, Guinea was linked with Gold Coast, the region famous for gold production. Guinea became a French colony in 1890. (24)

V.1.3 Lagos
            Lagos became a British colony in 1861. (25) It was to become the capital of Nigeria. Lagos was famous for its well established facilities. It was one of the largest cities in West Africa.

V.1.4 Dahomey
            Dahomey was one of the strongest West African Kingdoms. As a result, it was often described as violent and cruel in 19th century encyclopedias. Because of its strength it took a great effort for France to establish a colony in 1894. (26)

V.2 Periods
            Before 1880 only 10% of Africa was controlled by European Powers. (27) However, as Europeans countries had ¡°scrambled¡± for colonies in West Africa, most of the regions were colonized by the late 19th centuries. It would be interesting to analyze European view of West Africa by dividing 19th centuries into to parts: pre-1880s and post-1880s

V.2.1 Pre-1880s

Encyclopedia Sierra Leone Guinea Lagos Dahomey
Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811 location, George Bay Company, resources location, climate, resources, discovery - -
Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865 location, geography, climate, resources, trade, mission, inhabitants location, geography, climate, resources, inhabitants, trade location, resources, location, climate, empire, inhabitants,


            Before 1880s, articles in the encyclopedias were on the level of discovering about West African regions. The information was limited - perhaps due to lack of observation - and less credible.

V.2.2 Post 1880es

Encyclopedia Sierra Leone Guinea Lagos Dahomey
Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896 location, geography, climate, resources, trade, history location, geography, climate, resources, trade location, resources, trade, colonial establishment location, geography, climate, resources, inhabitants, trade, colonial establishment
Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909 location, geography, climate, resources, trade, history, "White Man's Grave", facilities location, geography, climate, inhabitants, empire, mission, exchange rate of currency and measurement location, climate, resources, inhabitants, facilities location, geography, climate, resources, inhabitants, agriculture, trade, facilities, colonial establishment
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 location, geography, climate, resources, inhabitants, history location, geography, trade, history location, facilities, inhabitants location, geography, climate, inhabitants, chief towns, agriculture, trade, facilities, colonial establishment, administration


            The encyclopedic articles became more descriptive and broad. In addition, many articles mentioned colonial establishment in West African regions. Articles more explicitly express a sense of ¡°superiority¡± and their greed toward resources. On the other hand, articles had started to recognize their former exaggerations.

            The skulls of the conquered kings were turned into royal drinking cups, their conversion to this use being esteemed an honour. Sir Richard Burton insists (A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahomey) that the horrors of these rites were greatly exaggerated. For instance, the story that the king lasted a canoe in a tank of human blood was, he writes, quite untrue. ... none were killed except in self-defense, as the first object was to capture, not to kill. (28)

VI. Conclusion
            White Man¡¯s Burden, as it turned out, is a dangerous concept. The sufferings of West Africans were shadowed by the seemingly good connotation of the phrase. Europeans asserted that they are helping West Africans to become civilized and meet Christianity. However, in reality, it was greed - the greed for economic gain and the greed for national pride - that summoned Europeans into West African regions. Many European countries expected to and did earn the profits from trade and the national status by forming colonies in West Africa. Many people believe that encyclopedia is one of the sources which are objective and same regardless of time. It was interesting to discover that even encyclopedia can reflect the social and historical background of the time it is written.


IX. Notes

(1)      Article : The White Man¡¯s Burden, from Wikipedia (2009)
(2)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896
(3)      Article : Dahomey, translated from German Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896
(4)      Article : Guinea, translated from German Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909
(5)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865 .
(6)      Article : Dahomey, translated from German Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909
(7)      Article : Gold Coast, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
(8)      Article : Lagos, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
(9)      Article : Guinea, translated from German Brockhaus Bilder-Conversations-Lexikon 1837-1841
(10)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4thed. 1857-1865
(11)      Article : Mission, translated from German Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1885-1892
(12)      Article : Gold Coast, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
(13)      Articles : Sierra Leone, Guinea, translated from German Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811
(14)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4thed. 1857-1865
(15)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896
(16)      Article : Guinea, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
(17)      Article : Guinea, translated from German Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811
(18)      Article : Guinea, translated from German Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896
(19)      Article : Sierra Leone, translated from German Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909
(20)      Article : Sierra Leone, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911
(21)      Article : Lagos, translated from German Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1885-1892
(22)      Ghana Marks 50th Anniversary, and Some Regrets, by Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
(23)      Article : Sierra Leone, from Wikipedia (2009)
(24)      Article : Guinea, from Wikipedia (2009)
(25)      Article : Lagos, from Wikipedia (2009)
(26)      Article : Dahomey, from Wikipedia (2009)
(27)      The New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa 1880-1914
(28)      Article : Dahomey, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911




Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009.

1.      Article: Sierra Leone; Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Brockhaus-1809/A/Sierra+Leone
http://kin.naver.com/detail/detail.php?d1id=11&dir_id=110107&eid=LQlADYEY648PJGCO725uFYS6HBGgIdJK&qb=uavA+8fUtOs=&pid=fe7i9doi5TVssvFNf1Csss--377764&sid=SRLWQCS-EkkAAGRTOYU
2.      Article: Guinea; Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon 1809-1811, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Brockhaus-1809/B/Guinea
3      Article: Sierra Leone; Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Pierer-1857/A/Sierra+Leone
4.      Article: Guinea; Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Pierer-1857/A/Guin%C4%93a
5.      Article: Lagos; Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865, posted by Zeno, http://www.zeno.org/Pierer-1857/A/Lagos
6.      Article: Dahome; Pierer's Universal-Lexikon 4th ed. 1857-1865, posted by Zeno, http://www.zeno.org/Pierer-1857/A/Dahome
7.      Article: Sierra Leone; Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=134660
8.      Article: Lagos; Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=130386
9.      Article: Dahomey; Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=124045
10.      Article: Sierra Leone; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905/A/Sierra+Leone
11.      Article: Guinea; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909, posted by Zeno, http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905/A/Guin%C4%93a
12.      Article: Lagos; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909, posted by Zeno, http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905/A/Lagos+%5B1%5D
13.      Article: Dahomey; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1902-1909, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Meyers-1905/A/Dahom%C3%A9
14.      Article: Free Town; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1902, posted by 1902 Encyclopedia, http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/F/FRE/freetown-west-africa.html
15.      Article: Sierra Leone; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, posted by Classic Encyclopedia http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Sierra_Leone
16.      Article: Guinea; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, posted by Classic Encyclopedia http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Guinea
17.      Article: Lagos; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, posted by Classic Encyclopedia http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Lagos%2C_Africa
18.      Article: Dahomey; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, posted by Classic Encyclopedia http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Dahomey
19.      Article: Sierra Leone; Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907-1914, posted by New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13783a.htm
20.      Article: Dahomey; Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907-1914, posted by New Advent http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04603b.htm
21.      Article: Guinea; Brockhaus Bilder-ConversationsLexikon 1837-1841, posted by Zeno http://www.zeno.org/Brockhaus-1837/A/Guinea
22.      Article: Mission; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1885-1892, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=111382
23.      Article: Lagos; Meyers Konversationslexikon, 1885-1892, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=110046#Lagos
24.      Article: Guinea; Brockhaus Konversationslexikon, 1894-1896, posted by Retrobibliothek http://www.retrobibliothek.de/retrobib/seite.html?id=127991
25.      Article: Gold Coast; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911, posted by Classic Encyclopedia http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Gold_Coast

Secondary Sources
26.      Article: The White Man¡¯s Burden; Wikipedia (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_man%27s_burden
27.      Gold Coast, World History at KMLA, Alexander Ganse, 2007 http://www.zum.de/whkm la/region/westafrica/xghana.html
28.      Ghana Marks 50th Anniversary, and Some Regrets; NPR News, by Ofeibea Quies-Arcton http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7722412
29.      Article: Sierra Leone; Wikipedia (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_Leone
30.      Article: Guinea; Wikipedia (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinea
31.      Article: Lagos; Wikipedia (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagos
32.      Article: Dahomey; Wikipedia (2009) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahomey
33.      Article: The New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa 1880-1914, by Jeff Taylor, http://clem.mscd.edu/~tayljeff/lectures/NewImp.html


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