Question on the treatment of European colonial natives in the late 1800s

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by SPJ, Jun 28, 2012.

  1. SPJ Steampunk Jackson

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    Which European power treated the inhabitants of their colonies the "best" during the late 19th and early 20th centuary? And by "best" I mean in regards to recognizing their civil liberties such as free speach and the right to gather or travel, outlawing or preventing slavery in the colonies, permiting upward advancment in society, permiting interacial relations including marriage, and respecting local customs.

    So far I beleive the French meet these criteria the best though they hardly deserve a metaphoric gold star.
     
  2. carlton_bach Member

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    Things often differed from colony to colony. In some cases, the British did reasonably well, though the race barrier was always very strong even where it was not formalised. If you look at accounts of anticolonial resistance, in British colonies they tend to involve things like clubs, native newspapers and petitions. Can you imagine that in Ostafrika or Mocambique?

    On the other hand, there was a world of difference between being, say, a Gurkha in Nepal and being an Aboriginal in Queensland or a Matabele in Rhodesia.

    IIRC in terms of the rights theoretically available, the French colonial establishment went very far, but in practice it wasn't very nice at all. The Dutch had a very far-reaching respect for the independence and political self-determination of the native states written into their colonial law, but it was largely dead letter.
     
  3. Flocculencio Fabian Socialist

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    On paper, France.

    As Carlton says, it really depends on the colony rather than the colonial power.
     
  4. Simreeve Differently-Sane Scientist

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    France in theory, but really only for those natives who were actually willing to become culturally French themselves, otherwise generally Britain...
    although British settlers, where those were present in significant numbers, could be and unfortunately often were a different matter...

    If you want a non-British opinion, Mahatma Gandhi said that Britain was the only colonial power against whom he'd have considered his policy of using 'passive resistance' to apply pressure worth trying.
     
  5. Socrates Well-Known Member

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    Rule in the French Congo was as brutal as the Free State. It's just not as known about. It even went so far as natives that had crossed the border to escape Leopold's regime decided to cross back again due to the viciousness of French rule.

    Others are right that it varied from colony to colony more than between powers. The Dutch Ethical Policy was probably as good as it got, but that misses your time period.
     
  6. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    Kenya makes me a bit skeptical. I mean, Africans weren't technically allowed to live in Nairobi for years!
     
  7. carlton_bach Member

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    Kenya was one of the less nice places definitely. But apparently it was still preferable to Rhodesia or the Transvaal. Or Tasmania.
     
  8. Thande Gold! Always believe in your so-oul!

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    Questions like this tend to assume there was more of a centralised organised structure to colonial empires, which generally wasn't the case (although again it varied depending on the country). National governments might set vague guidelines about trying to secure control up to this or that strategic place or launch an inquiry in response to news of something, but generally the appointed governors or whatever were just left to their own devices to govern how they saw fit.
     
  9. Arachnid Arachnid once more.

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    As others have said it varied massively from colony to colony. In Tasmania you had something which bears a striking resemblance to genocide while elsewhere in Australia things weren't much better. Kenya it varied on a tribe by tribe basis, good to be a Masai, bad to be a Kikuyu.
    On the other hand in Nigeria there was no settlement, a certain percentage of jobs in the administration reserved for natives and extensive civil rights. Now that's partly due to the tendency of white people to die in West Africa forcing a "be nice to the natives" policy. But it was still a very humane policy.
     
  10. Thande Gold! Always believe in your so-oul!

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    And the thing is, there was nobody in London or Paris or wherever saying "give jobs to the natives/kill all these people" or whatever, it was entirely up to what the colonials on the ground decided. Which is why I think it's a bit disingenuous when people attribute either the good things or the bad things about colonial empires to "the British/French etc government".
     
  11. Arachnid Arachnid once more.

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    Actually with Nigeria the emphasis on using natives in the civil service did come from London as they were horrified by the attrition rate of white civil servants. It made the West Indies Station look safe. So that is a case of the British government accidently being nice to the natives.
     
  12. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    Up to a point, yes. But there were areas where the colonial power's government did matter.

    For instance, residents of the British colonies could live, work and study in the UK, and when there, they could vote and even stand for Parliament (the first Indian MP was elected in 1892 from Finsbury Central). This had nothing to do with the policies of individual governors; it was the result of the legal status that colonial subjects had under British law. Likewise with the Senegalese who had French citizenship - their mobility, and their access to education and the political process, was dictated by French law. And this access made a big difference in how the colonies worked - it was part of the reason Nigeria had a large African civil service and the Belgian Congo didn't, for instance, and it was also part of the reason why the British and French colonies had a large intellectual class who could form the clubs and newspapers that carlton_bach mentioned.

    Also, the colonial power was usually the one that established the form of government: the various constitutions that advanced self-government in Nigeria, the Gold Coast and India were promulgated in London. That also made a difference: it gave the nationalist movements a platform to challenge the governors' policies that the Congolese didn't have.
     
  13. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    This, for the most part.

    There are at least two general rules of thumb regardless of who owned any given colony:

    1. People in settler colonies had it worse than in non-settler colonies: they lost their land as well as their independence; they were forced, more or less coercively, to become a labor pool for the settlers; the colonial authorities instinctively sided with the settlers in any dispute; and nationalists were regarded as a much more direct threat and treated accordingly. Liberia, BTW, counts as a settler colony.

    2. It really, really sucked to be you if you lived anywhere that had rubber. Rubber cultivation was very labor-intensive, it was usually parceled out to profit-driven concessionaires, and it occurred in places where it was logistically difficult for the colonial power to exercise oversight even assuming that it wanted to do so. Corporate greed combined with impunity invariably meant slave labor and incredible levels of brutality -- see, e.g., Congo Free State, French Congo, Ubangi-Shari and the Firestone concession.

    When those variables are accounted for, I'd agree with the consensus that British colonialism was least damaging and provided the most opportunities for indigenous people. The French and Portuguese colonies made citizenship available to some colonial subjects, and the elites in the French colonies could rise far, but until the 1940s in France, and until the very end in Portugal, very few people actually had citizenship rights. If you were Senegalese and lived in the quatre communes, you could become a deputy minister in the French government; your neighbor fifty miles inland was subject to arbitrary justice and had to do forced labor, and his experience was a lot more representative than yours.

    The worst colonial power, of course, was Belgium - the Belgian colonies' post-independence history is pretty conclusive proof of that.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012
  14. Simreeve Differently-Sane Scientist

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    What about Germany, pre-WW1?
     
  15. Simreeve Differently-Sane Scientist

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    Malaya as an exception?
     
  16. Julius Vogel All aboard May's Worker Self Management!

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    I take it you refer to the Herero in SW Africa and elsewhere?

    I understand their occupation of Samoa was reasonably benign, so far as these things go
     
  17. carlton_bach Member

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    Relatively unpleasant, generally. The Herero War was an extreme example, but other German colonies also subscribed to the idea of primacy of the military in strategic decisaionmaking. German soldiers were trained to go for the jugular.

    Outside the war, you had the usual stuff - forced cultivation, land confiscation, taxes, forced labour &c. The natzives had access to education both at the hands of missionaries and, in theory, in Germany, but the whole thing didn't last long enough to develop a real connection to the mother country.

    Interestingly, even with so ridiculously tiny an empire you had big differences in the way people were treated. Northern Cameroon was bearable, southern Cameroon was rubber country, and thus hell on earth. Before the war, Südwest was OK by the doubtful standards of European colonies, but when von Trotha took over it was awful. Togo was acceptable. Ostafrika had a policy of befriending "martial" tribes, but after Maji-Maji they did a William the Conqueror impression on the south. Samoa was very ably run, while New Guinea was mostly a case of benign neglect. Qingdao was run along horrifically racist lines, but in many ways a nice place to live even for the Chinese. It partly had something to do with the authorities in charge. German colonial administrators had decent training, military officers not so much. Qingdao was the navy's show, and they sank millions into the place. Samoa was unimportant enough to be left to one man who happened to be competent. Südwest was handed over to the military, which resulted in a genocidal nightmare. Cameroon and Ostafrika were viewed primarily as commercial endeavours.
     
  18. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    More or less. The British used Indian contract laborers rather than Malays, and the Indians were free to leave when their contracts were done (there were always more who were willing to take their places), so colonial rule didn't become as brutal as in other rubber colonies.
     
  19. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    Forget it. No colonial power met such criteria ever, because such criteria would mean the power in question is not "colonial" any longer but just integrating other places into the metropolis. In the XX century, in general, the closest, to my knowledge, was Portugal. The US also have a relatively fair record, at least in the sense they were generally not inclined to recur to mass murder in the Philippines as easily as most Europeans did elsewhesere (they did, however, if I am not mistaken). If you count Russia as a colonial power in the Caucasus and Central Asia, she also has a relatively good position.
     
  20. Falecius Well-Known Member

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    I suppose that basically everything was preferable to Tasmania, in the eyes of a native tasmanian after 1800. Unfortunately, there are no Tasmanians to tell their tale any longer.