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  • “Coddling” Africans Abroad: Colonial Director Paul Kayser and the Education of Africans in Germany, 1891–1896
  • Christian Stuart Davis

In October of 1896, the Foreign Office in Berlin received an angry letter from Franziska Dörfling of Görlitz, Germany, concerning a most pressing matter. As Frau Dörfling explained in the beginning of her letter, she preferred to discuss the issue in person, and she had recently made the two-hundred kilometer trip to Berlin on two separate occasions in order to speak with the director of the Colonial Division of the Foreign Office. Yet the director had been unavailable during both her visits, and so the exasperated Frau Dörfling communicated her concerns in writing.

The matter at hand concerned the welfare of two young men from the African colony of Cameroon who had recently finished their vocational training in Germany. Lukenje and Demba were brought to Germany as boys by Dörfling’s brother where they lived with Frau Dörfling at her own cost for over four years in Görlitz. In October of 1893, the director of the Colonial Division of the Foreign Office, Paul Kayser, contacted Dörfling with an offer to subsidize the boys’ vocational training on the condition that they return to Cameroon at its end and work for four years for the colonial government. Dörfling accepted the deal with the consent of the two boys, and Lukenje trained as a locksmith, and Demba trained as a carpenter. After about a year, the two returned to Cameroon to fulfill their obligations, but a progress report on the young men written in August of 1896 was disappointing. According to the governor’s representative, Theodore Seitz, Lukenje and Demba exhibited “Negro-laziness” after their arrival, and their sloth only increased the longer they stayed. Seitz noted that Demba was particularly indolent, and that “neither strong encouragement nor strict handling . . . can encourage him to eagerness.”1 Kayser forwarded news of this report to Frau Dörfling in September of 1896, and he added in an introductory note that “the hopes attached to the education and training of both Negro boys appear to have not come true.”2

In her October letter to the Colonial Division of the Foreign Office, Frau Dörfling’s outrage is palpable. She not only defended Lukenje and Demba from Seitz’s accusations, but she accused their employers of mistreatment. Dörfling explained that both Lukenje and Demba were sick with fever, but that their superiors in Cameroon refused to believe them. According to Lukenje’s letters, Demba was losing his eyesight, and the two lived in a former goat stall that easily flooded. Furthermore, their employers neglected to pay them a full twenty marks a month as promised. Frau Dörfling insisted that the two young men were very hard working and possessed excellent characters and therefore did not deserve the severe treatment they were receiving. She pleaded that the Colonial Director help her secure their well-being, indicating that she feared for their lives.3

Lukenje and Demba were not the only Africans who lived and learned in Germany at this time. Instead, the boys were part of a trickle that came to Germany in the second half of the 19th century. This trickle increased following Germany’s procurement of an African colonial empire in 1884 that largely coincided with the present-day nations of Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, and Tanzania. As Katarina Oguntoye shows in her short but important work, Eine afro-deutsche Geschichte: Zur Lebenssituation von Afrikanern und Afro-Deutschen in Deutschland von 1884 bis 1950, many of these individuals came to the metropole for educational purposes or for employment. Unlike Lukenje and Demba, however, the vast majority did not have their education abroad paid for by the German government. Most funded their ventures privately, either by themselves or through their families, and a few came as members of German missionary societies, often brought over for additional training. Those who came for work frequently arrived as the cooks or servants of white officers, ex-settlers, or traders, or as members of the now infamous Völkershauen (ethnographic displays of foreign peoples) popular during the late 19th century...

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