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  • Cued Speeches:The Emergence of Shauri as Colonial Praxis in German East Africa, 1850-1903
  • Michael Pesek


In 1891 the German explorer Theodor Bumiller wrote an angry letter from the shores of Lake Nyassa (modern Lake Malawi) to the Committee of the German Anti Slavery Lottery, the financiers of his expedition. The goal of the expedition was to bring a steamship onto the lake to fight alleged slave hunters. The initiator and leader of the expedition was no less a person than Hermann von Wissmann, then the empire's most popular explorer and conqueror and first Governor of German East Africa. Bumiller had been Wissmann's long-standing friend and companion on several expeditions. Since the very first days, there had been disputes over the equipping and organization of the expedition. In all previous letters that Wissmann and Bumiller had written to the committee, they had responded to reproaches of throwing the lottery's money around by arguing that Africa is not Europe and there were many eventualities with which nobody was able to reckon, if being on an expedition.

However, a member of the expedition, a certain Captain Max Praeger, whose duty was to navigate the steamer on the lake, had sent a report, in which he had sharply criticized both Wissmann and Bumiller. Bumiller answered with the argument that Praeger was not in a position to give an expert opinion on the expedition, because he was not a true Afrikaner, a person who has gained first-hand experiences of the African continent and its people. Praeger, Bumiller sneered, was only sitting on the steamer's deck and thus having no contact with Africans.1 To [End Page 395] Bumiller, what qualified an Afrikaner as expert on Africa were eye-to-eye encounters with African people.


This paper circles around Bumiller's argument. In the first section, I will show how European travelers produced what I call here "practical knowledge" and how this knowledge was later transformed into colonial knowledge in its most literal sense: into knowledge about establishing colonial rule. In the case of European exploration, such practical knowledge was produced for a very practical goal–to travel in eastern Africa or, more dramatically, to guarantee the traveler's surviving. It had to answer questions like how to organize an expedition or caravan, how to recruit and to treat porters, how to obtain food and water, and, not in the least, how to negotiate with African porters, traders, and chiefs along the way. By trying to find answers to these questions, the European travelers did not re-invent the "art of traveling" in eastern Africa, but rather built upon local experiences and knowledge.2

My second point will discuss how this particular way of producing practical knowledge became part of the colonial apparatus and helped to produce a particular colonial agency and politics. This paper got much of its inspiration from an article written in 1968 by Marcia Wright. At a time when African history was still dominated by a view that saw in the establishment of colonial rule a process solely controlled by European agency, she was convinced that this rule had its local roots too. The colonial state relied for a great part on the cooperation of Africans acting as translators, soldiers, or intermediaries. Moreover, this African agency influenced the ways how colonial rule was established and exerted.3 However, I take Wright's argument one step further. The local roots of colonialism in German East Africa lay not only in individual Africans trying to manipulate the colonial state for their own interests, but were also found in the structures and practices of the colonial state and its European agents. The colonial world was neither purely a European invention, nor was this a total world that infiltrated every part of African societies.

Peter Pels has shown the consequences of this fragmented colonial world for the practice of colonial rule. Looking at the very first moments of British colonial rule in the Uluguru region of Tanganyika, he illustrates how colonial officials produced knowledge about local societies, which, in [End Page 396] the following years, was about to serve as a basis for the implementation of...


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