Academic journal article Africa

An Introduction to the Writings of J. G. Mullen, an African Clerk, in the Gold Coast Leader, 1916-19

Academic journal article Africa

An Introduction to the Writings of J. G. Mullen, an African Clerk, in the Gold Coast Leader, 1916-19

Article excerpt


J. G. Mullen was a Gold Coast clerk who published his memoirs, in instalments, in the Gold Coast Leader from 1916 to 1919. In this unusual narrative, he describes his adventures in Cameroon before and during the First World War. His account combines real-life geographical and social details with flamboyant tropes probably derived from imperial popular literature. Mullen's biography and even identity have so far been otherwise untraceable. His text offers glimpses, always enigmatic, of the experience and outlook of a member of the new clerkly class of colonial West Africa. This contribution presents an edited extract from Mullen's text together with a contextualizing and interpretative essay. The full Mullen text is available in the online version of this issue of Africa.


J. G. Mullen, employe de bureau de la Gold Coast, a public ses memoires, en feuilletons, dans le Gold Coast Leader entre 1916 et 1919. Dans ce recit inhabituel, il decrit ses aventures au Cameroun avant et apres la premiere guerre mondiale. Il y rapporte des details geographiques et sociaux du reel assortis d'envolees lyriclues probablement inspirees de la litterature populaire imperiale. La biographie, mais aussi l'identite meme de Mullen, restent jusqu'a present introuvables. Ses ecrits nous laissent entrevoir, de facon toujours enigmaticlue, l'experience et la perspective d'un membre de la nouvelle classe d'employes de bureau de l'Afrique de l'Ouest coloniale. Get article presente un extrait adapte du texte de Mullen, accompagne d'un essai de contextualisation et d'interpretation. Le texte complet de Mullen est disponible dans la version electronique en ligne de ce numero d'Africa.


Six months after the allied victory over Germany in the Cameroons, the first instalment of a remarkable memoir was printed in the Gold Coast Leader. (1) 'My experience in Cameroons during the war' marked a literary turning point for the Leader. Situated in amongst the political writings and opinions of the African intelligentsia, who controlled the Ghanaian press at the time, the memoir is an exceptionally early example of writing by a self-declared 'Coast clerk'. Moreover, until October 1916, when the first instalment of the memoir appeared, the Gold Coast Leader had not featured any works of African autobiography, let alone works by members of the geographically mobile group of clerks, government employees and traders whose role as mediators and translators between cultures helped to mould the relationship between colonizer and colonized in the early twentieth century (Lawrance et al. 2006: 4; see also Austen and Derrick 1999). As the introductory comments that follow will suggest, however, a large number of questions surround the identity, social position, career and self-representations of J. G. Mullen, the author of the memoir and its prequel, 'My sojourn in the Cameroons during the peaceful days: half hour's talk with Billy' (1919).

Wide literary and political networks were made possible by the printing press in the colonial world in the early twentieth century: through newspapers in particular, West Africa's literate elites connected with one another across many thousands of miles. An illuminating example of these networks may be found in a column of the Gold Coast Leader revealingly entitled 'Gleanings from other papers'. On 28 March 1914, this column contained reprints of items taken from the Colonial Office Journal as well as from Public Opinion, African World, and The African Mail (Gold Coast Leader p. 6). In the process of cutting and pasting these items from other journals, the scissors-wielding editor reveals the international range of newspapers to pass through his office. His selection of material also reveals how he scrutinized each publication for items of relevance to his own constituency of readers. Across the colonial territory known as 'British West Africa', each African-owned newspaper formed a similarly local knot in the network of newspapers surrounding it, asserting its own specificity while absorbing the debates and opinions that flowed in from other printing presses. …

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