Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Boma and the Peripatetic Ruler: Mapping Colonial Rule in German East Africa, 1889-1903

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Boma and the Peripatetic Ruler: Mapping Colonial Rule in German East Africa, 1889-1903

Article excerpt

Historians of European colonialism in Africa tend to neglect large areas of the colonial state's territory, often focusing on a history of colonial rule's main places. It is a history of towns and administrative centers, of plantations and mines, of mission stations and governmental schools. Such histories take particular places in which the colonial rule manifests itself visibly as a pars pro Mo of the colonial territory. This focus arises from a notion of the colonial territory as a coherent entity made and maintained by a state in which the state has a continuous presence.

My view on the making of colonial territory arises at the intersection of colonial discourse and the practice of early colonial rule in the German colony of Eastern Africa. The underlying narrative of this paper is the emergence and dissolution of various relations between discourse and practice, between performance and politics. The first part of this article deals with the invention of East Africa as a colonial territory as a result of a peripatetic practice of explorers and colonial officials. The second part depicts the consequences of this invention in the practice of colonial rule.

The territorial state itself is a social space, a historically-situated configuration of social, economic and political relations. These relations both model the social space and are themselves shaped by it. Itself being a product of history, the social space also produces history by enabling or limiting particular events and processes. Social spaces also have a symbolic dimension; they are tissues of meaning. Representations shape spaces by filling them with symbols, monuments and artifacts. Spaces are scenes of rituals, ceremonies and feasts, which transform particular places into representational spaces. Spaces are frames for social, cultural, and political identities. (Lefebvre 2004:73) Spaces are also formed by representations and discourses: the moment we see and represent a space, we construct it according to particular discourses. Such discourses can be based either on, for example, mythical narratives that connect social spaces to cosmologies or Utopias, or on the rational narratives of science such as geography, which construct space as an abstract entity (Duncan 1993:233). Or spaces can be shaped by discourses of power, which project power relations in such spatial concepts as centre and periphery (Massey 1999:10; Natter and Jones 1997:151).

The modern territorial state with its particular concepts of space and configurations of social, economic, and political relations is a product of European history. Emerging as a modern administrative state since the eighteenth century, it constructed and transformed its space of rule as a state territory. A more or less close-meshed network of administrative structures was established within its territory in order to bring the presence of the state to the last possible geographic corner. The territory itself was marked by borders, classified into administrative districts, represented in maps and statistics, and filled with representations of the state's power. Nevertheless, those borders were more than spatial demarcations, more than the border guards, the passport inspectors, and custom officers who guarded and administered them. They also had an internal effect. "Ideas of an organic nationhood and sovereignty" were realized within a "political geography of sharply delimited and inviolable spaces" (Agnew 1993:253). Within its territory, the state attempted to minimize existing ethnic, religious, linguistic and other heterogeneities and transform them into a unified and single national culture (Bauman 1991:155).

The presence of modern states in everyday life is rarely a problem and not only because of their developed administrative structures. Just as the dispositions of the state are present in its institutions, they are also incorporated in its subjects. This, of course, is a thoroughly Foucaultian view of modern states as disciplinary formations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.