Between Annexation and Appropriation or the Production of the Colonial Space
Ute Hasenöhrl, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften und Europäische Ethnologie; Universität Innsbruck
Nicole Wiederroth, Historisches Institut, Universität Duisburg-Essen
Drawing on historical examples from diverse African regions, the panel discusses the (trans)formation and appropriation of “colonial spaces” with a special focus on formerly neglected space and transient encounters.
Over the last decades, there has been growing academic interest in the question of “space” in general and “colonial space” in particular. Challenging traditional views on the dualistic nature of colonial space and society, recent research in African history has explored the manifold – and sometimes contradictory – dynamics that shaped the development, perception, and utilization of various kinds of spaces “on the ground”, highlighting complex processes of appropriation and negotiation within the continuous transformation of overlapping, intermingling, altering, and hybrid zones of contact.
Drawing on empirical examples from several African regions, the panel will discuss ideas of “colonial space” as well as concrete processes of transformation from a social, cultural, and environmental history perspective. Accordingly, the panel investigates both urban and rural contexts, e.g. the contentious shaping and appropriation of nocturnal spaces and (lighting) infrastructures in colonial Accra (Ghana), the ideas to (re)make the Northern Rhodesian (Zambia) town Livingstone into a capital city, the visualization of supposedly unhealthy areas in western Tanganyika (Tanzania), or the violent resettlement policy in Portuguese Guinea (Guinea-Bissau) during colonial war.
Discussing various forms of spatial encounter and transformation, the panel aims to unpack how colonial spaces were constructed and altered, both physically and symbolically, focussing explicitly on practices of negotiation and on the “agency of materiality”.
01 Nicole Wiederroth: The (In)Visible Transformation of (Colonial) Space
The western part of the former British mandate of Tanganyika Territory was one of the most neglected regions by the colonial government. In the late 1920s, the administration began to discuss campaigns for development and evaluated certain regions. A driving force for this was the spread of African tryponosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness.
The paper presents a microstudy dedicated to one region within the former Western Province, namely Utongwe. Based on archive material, it discusses a tour through Utongwe in the 1930s by following the group from the preparation of the tour, through the weeks they spent in Utongwe till their return. With a focus on three aspects, “mobility”, “representation”, and “communication”, of interest are questions about preconception, transformation and complementation in the course of the encounters between British officials, representatives, Utongwe authorities, and inhabitants. Inspired by Tim Ingold’s thoughts on environmental perception the paper demonstrates how these processes were visualized in different ways and materialised through different objects. Utongwe is not only an example for the embeddedness of “neglected areas” in much broader (inter-)regional contexts. It also demonstrates how perceptions of environments intermingled and how processes of interaction and transformation were racialised.
Nicole Wiederroth is research assistant and lecturer in Extra-European history at the history department at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
02 Ute Hasenöhrl: The contentious shaping and appropriation of nocturnal spaces and (lighting) infrastructures in colonial Accra (Ghana) during the 1920s to 1940s
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the introduction of kerosene, gas, and electric lights profoundly altered night-time habits and perceptions. The commercialization, domestication, and disciplining of nocturnal activities has been termed “colonization of the night” (Melbin 1987; Koslofsky 2011). For most parts of the world, this expression had a double meaning, however, as lighting technologies were also part of the colonization process. Yet, there is very little known about the history of lighting in non-Western regions of the world, particularly Africa. Building on recent research in urban colonial history that has challenged traditional views on the dualistic nature of colonial space and society, the paper explores the history of artificial light and the night in colonial Accra (Ghana) from the 1920s to the 1940s. Emphasizing the socio-cultural impact of technologies and tensions between “Tools of Empire” (Headrick 1981) and everyday experiences (Edgerton 2008; Arnold 2013), it investigates how the production and consumption of artificial light influenced nocturnal practices in the former Gold Coast colony. While the British used modern lighting to visualize power and accentuate social differences, it was also a coveted object of appropriation. And while most colonial cities did not turn into sparkling cities of light overnight, the introduction of new lighting technologies also influenced colonial nightlife, from night-work to nocturnal entertainments. In fact, both colonial light and darkness were ambivalent phenomena. Modern lighting was a contested commodity, both sought after and spurned, and decisions for (or against) illumination projects not only influenced by a variety of actors, motives, and factors, but also subject to a significant amount of “African agency”.
Ute Hasenöhrl is assistant professor for social and economic history at University of Innsbruck, Austria, at the Department of History and European Ethnology.
03 Carl-Philipp Bodenstein: Imagined Morphologies - On urban aspirations and spatial ideologies in Livingstone (Zambia) during late colonialism
The history of the Zambian city of Livingstone, today a thriving tourist destination, dates back to the early 20th century. When the three colonies of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were amalgamated into a federation between 1953 and 1963 against the will of many parts of its African populations, the European settlers saw new opportunities for the small and in their perception often neglected town. Based on a never realised plan to (re)make the Northern Rhodesian town Livingstone into the capital city of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland the proposed paper examines the aspirations and ideologies of a colonial urban community. In critically analysing this plan through the study of written archival records and colonial maps, the paper seeks to locate the socio-historical and spatial contexts behind the plan as well as its imagined urban morphology. The paper is thus understood as a contribution to the historical study of secondary cities and SMSTs (small and medium sized towns) in a late colonial context and to the study of historical urban morphology as means to scrutinise socio-spatial relations, imaginaries and ideologies.
Carl-Philipp Bodenstein is a PhD student at the Department of African Studies at the University of Vienna, focussing on the historical geography and social history of urban spaces.
04 Francesca Vita: Unpacking colonial legacy in contemporary Guinea-Bissau. The case study of former military resettlements, built by the Portuguese army during the colonial war (1963-1974), and their post-independence layers of appropriation
During the last years of the Colonial War (1963-1974), the Portuguese army built across the territory of Guinea-Bissau several resettlements operating a profound violation of rural environment and its communities. The resettlements policy was announced to be a socio-economic development program,aimed to improve native population life condition in rural areas. Instead, the plan was driven by counterrevolution purposes aimed to guarantee to the colonial power the control of both territory and its population. People were displaced from their traditional villages and forced, or “persuaded”, to live into the new domestic order, which resembled a military camp, planned according to military needs of discipline, efficacy and control.
The aim of this paper is to unveil how the colonial heritage of military resettlements built by the Portuguese army during the Colonial War, has been perpetuated and transformed until nowadays, through dynamics of appropriation and transformation of both architectural and urban environments.The paper contributes to discuss the conflicting heritage of resettlements policy, unpacking the colonial marks in the contemporary Guinea-Bissau.
Francesca Vita, is a doctoral student in architectural heritage at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto (FAUP-PT), Portugal.