Submitted by: James Caruso

Germany’s short colonial period, which lasted from 1884 to 1918, left with it a large sphere of influence in the colonies it held. Having colonies in East Africa, South West Africa, China, and South East Asia, which the German government called “protectorates” in order to explicitly remove themselves from colonial discourse, allowed Germany to replace and reorganize indigenous ways of life with modern forms of government rule and social hierarchies. The instillation of German values and norms in these colonies was met with resistance, evidenced by the multiple conflicts that took place between indigenous peoples and German military rulers, such as the Herero War in German South East Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China. Though this was the case, the German government still saw possibilities of their colonies as becoming part of a “New Germany” that included nostalgic thought and the hope for greater nationalism and racial purity. Historical documentation of the German colonies reveals the desire for utopian lands for German citizens to live vicariously through, however, theutilization, racialization, and gendering of Germany’s colonies for personal gain led to delusional imagination and multiple conflicts in the varied social spaces of the German colonies.

​The economic pressures that Germany faced during industrialization led Germany to begin its colonial empire much later than other European forces. The German colonies, which were originally thought to be useful as profit-making entities, disappointed the German government when they did not find valuable natural resources in most of the colonies they held. Germany relied on the free and inexpensive labor that they created by enslaving indigenous people and bringing in laborers from China. In doing so, German research teams began to use indigenous people as human resources of the physical terrain of the colonies, especially in Germany’s colonies in Africa. By counting the number of men in a research expedition, Guillemain enforces the notion to readers that the indigenous peoples of Germany’s colonies were a quantifiable product, dehumanizing them in the process. The German government decided this through their racing of the indigenous locals as other, claiming social and racial hierarchies based in German anthropology and biology.

The institution of racism came to German colonies through geographic and ethnographic research, which was accepted as academic canon in Germany, as well as the other colonizing forces of Europe at the time. Researchers such as Eugen Fischer were fascinated by supposed racial differences between indigenous populations and white German colonizers and citizens in Germany’s colonies. The creation of such a dichotomy between white Germans and othered indigenous populations led to multiple conflicts of interest within the German colonies.

Originally set up to be spaces of global German nationalism, German colonies faced disproportionate populations of white German men and women, where the men greatly outnumbered women in every colony that Germany held.Due to the multiple studies that regarded indigenous populations as primitive (Naturvölker) and unable to be civilized to the level of Germans, a great fear of Mischling, or “half-caste” children,took place. This led to a push by the German government to have more white German women immigrate to the different colonies, looking to increase the chances for men to have white partners.

The processes that the German government took to bring women to the colonies upheld norms of gender in German society. The German Colonial Society, one of the organizations in Germany that supported colonial travel and expansion, was a catalyst for women moving to the colonies, as they offered to pay for travel fees. The caveat that women faced, however, was the written assurance that they were to marry and copulate with the men that lived in the colonies. Due to fears of racialdegeneration in the German imagination, thanks to writers such as Otto Weininger, the German Colonial Society objectified women as sexual beings first and foremost, and upholders of German gender norms second. By preparing women to be subservient partners to men and solely for the use of reproduction, it takes power away from women and places all accountability for the survival of the German colonies onto the women who were to immigrate there. This creates a double standard for women in this situation: they must be chaste housewives as well as produce sexually for men.

The many fantasies of the colonial era in Germany wereoften reproduced by colonial literature and advertisers that took advantage of images associated with the colonies, such as minstrel Africans and exoticized Asians.  In doing so, the German public is coerced into learning the profits of power, and they adopt racist ideologies that continue to uphold this dramatic asymmetrical system of power. The continued pandering to the German public of pseudoscientific racialized hegemonies in colonial literature also contributed to conflicts of interest that took place within the German colonies. Expectations surrounding German women also created a conflict within colonies, as the pressure for women to conceive with German men was based on the issue of mulattoization in the colonies. These forms of racism were manifested in the enslavement of indigenous populations in the colonies. This racism was the greatest catalyst for conflict in the colonies, leading to wars such as the Maji Maji War, the Herero War, and the Boxer Rebellion. Thus, the German government and public’s perception of the German colonies as spaces of a new German empire was ultimately lost due to the issues of racism and sexism that led to conflicts with not only indigenous populations, but also within the German diaspora.


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