The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa

The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa

The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa

The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa

Excerpt

The phrase "the devil's handwriting" comes from the title of the memoirs of Paul Rohrbach, Um des Teufels Handschrift, published in 1953. Rohrbach is an emblematic figure in the story I tell here. He shows up repeatedly in the German colonies in Africa and China and other spheres of German imperial interest. Rohrbach served as the official "commissary for settlement" in Southwest Africa between 1903 and 1906, during the war between the German colonizers and their indigenous subjects. He visited the German colony in Qingdao (Kiaochow), China, in 1908–9 as an unofficial "cultural missionary," and there he helped to create a high school for Chinese girls.SUPSUP SUPSUP In addition to his practical involvement in German imperial settings, Rohrbach was a prolific travel writer and colonial propagandist. He was a producer of ethnographic discourse.SUPSUP SUPSUP More specifically, Rohrbach contributed to the armory of images of Germany's own overseas subjects, images that profoundly shaped the formation of "native policy" in those colonies.

1. Rohrbach also recommended that Turkey deport the Armenians, although, as Hull notes, the Ottoman Empire's rulers in the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) "hardly needed" Rohrbach and German staff officers "to give them the idea for mass population removal," and it remains unclear whether German officers "helped precipitate the shift in CUP policy … to mass murder via deportation" (2005, pp. 273, 278). On Rohrbach's activities before World War I see Mogk 1972; Bieber 1972 focuses on the period after 1918.

2. The words ethnography and ethnographic discourse, as I use them here, are not restricted to professional or scientific texts but include travel accounts, fiction, visual images, and any other representations that claim to represent the culture or character of a community defined variously as an ethnic group, race, nation, community, or people. This does not mean that I reject the idea that sociocultural descriptions vary in their adequacy or accuracy. But questions of the truth or accuracy of precolonial or colonial ethnographic perceptions are not relevant to the causal connections explored in this book.

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