Academic journal article History In Africa

A European and African Joint-Venture: Writing a Seamless History of Borno (1902-1960)

Academic journal article History In Africa

A European and African Joint-Venture: Writing a Seamless History of Borno (1902-1960)

Article excerpt

Abstract : This article engages with existing scholarship that explores how colonial knowledge was constructed. Focusing on the region of Borno it will highlight the ways in which European officials collaborated with African elites when writing official histories of the region (1902-1960). These exchanges were indicative of both the ruling Kanemi dynasty's efforts to assert their authority in Borno, as well as the efforts made by foreign colonial officials to advance their careers.

Résumé : Cet article contribue au débat sur la construction du savoir en contexte colonial. En se concentrant sur la région du Borno, il détaille les modalités de la collaboration entre élites africaines et administrateurs coloniaux européens pour l'écriture de l'histoire officielle de la région (1902-1960). Ces échanges révélaient d'une part les efforts de l'ancienne dynastie du royaume du Borno, les Kanemi, qui voulait assoir son autorité dans le Nigeria colonial ainsi que, d'autre part, la volonté des officiers coloniaux d'écrire l'histoire du Borno pour avancer leur carrière.

Introduction 1

The production of colonial knowledge is arguably one of the most intensively treated subjects in colonial and global history. Studies based on authors such as Michel Foucault and Edward Said have flourished in the last thirty years as most recent authors have stressed that colonialism was as much about conquering and governing new polities as it was about acquiring and creating local knowledge of these territories. 2 "Knowledge" and "construction" have thus been two crucial words in the historical writing about the postcolonial world. One book in particular represents this constructivist school: Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Colonial India was the title that Nicholas Dirks chose in 2001 to highlight the reification of the Indian past by British colonialism. 3 For this author, caste is "a modern phenomenon" 4 and the "product of an historical encounter between India and Western colonial rule." 5 If it became commonplace for scholars of India to deconstruct the historical concept of "caste," the same phenomenon happened in Africa with "ethnicity" being regularly and thoroughly analyzed by Africanists. Many scholars have pointed to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide as an example of this. Authors such as Gérard Prunier showed how the German and more especially the Belgian colonizers manipulated the concepts of Hutu and Tutsi for their own benefit. 6 The construction and, by consequence, the deconstruction of knowledge could thus help analyze but also criticize the colonial period. As it was directed mainly against European colonialism, the deconstruction of knowledge had therefore a strong polemical tone in African studies.

However not every single scholarly work was polemical. In Nigeria, for example, John Peel analyzed the role of the nineteenth-century European missionaries in the creation of the Yoruba language and national identity, 7 whereas Dmitri van den Bersselaar shed a light on the relationship between the Nigerian colonial administration and George Basden, an Anglican missionary, who became an "expert" of the Igbo. 8 The present article is an attempt to highlight the construction of historical knowledge in an African polity without referring to "ethnicity," "tribe," "language" or "religion." No African exceptionalism therefore. This paper will focus on Borno, the successor of the ancient kingdom of Kanem-Borno. Created in the eleventh century, this polity has attracted numerous researchers for its precolonial history who have produced scant publications about its more recent colonial past. As a consequence, this article makes a contribution to the historiography on colonial Borno as the history of this region has been under-studied.

In addition, this article will describe in detail the creation of historical knowledge undertaken by the Bornoan elite and the colonial administration. This type of cooperation between a local elite and a colonial administration has already been studied in the African colonial context. …

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