Project B2: “African-European Entangled Histories and Spatial Orders in ‘Berlin’s Africa’” (SFB 1199, U Leipzig, Germany)
Different conceptions of space, and of territoriality and boundaries in particular have played a decisive role in colonial history. A widespread reading of colonization posits that the European colonizers imposed arbitrary territorial borders and rigid ethnic areas upon Africa. Although not completely false, this is only one part of a far more complex story. In part, these borders were negotiated with local leaders and in relation to local conceptions of territory. Some imposed borders were locally re-signified, circumvented or exploited. In many cases, pre-existing territorialities and boundaries continued to exist despite colonial territorialization. And often, new spatial forms and practices emanated or evolved from the interplay between diverse conceptions of space.
In this workshop, we discuss processes of spatialization during the 19th and 20th centuries in East and Central Africa. By focusing on areas close to colonial or national borders we want to scrutinize historical processes of territorialization and border-making as well as spatial practices and relations that emerged in response to boundaries, frontiers or different significances of territoriality. We go beyond borderlands studies in the narrow sense by scrutinizing overlapping and interacting spatializations, of which the border-territory-borderland nexus is but one. We aim to bring together scholars working close to the boundaries between Belgian, British, French, German and Portuguese colonial territories, hence also between present-day African states, and to encourage trans-national and trans-imperial historical approaches.
Furthermore, we are interested in different temporal perspectives on space, border and territory making. We expect a fruitful exchange of ideas based on a combination of precolonial, colonial and postcolonial vantage points. This can include long term processes of negotiation, adaptation and signification of territories, boundaries and spatial connections, as well as examples where histories or memories of the making and meaning of boundaries and territories have a bearing on later events.
The workshop takes place in the context of research project B2: “African-European Entangled Histories and Spatial Orders in ‘Berlin’s Africa’” (SFB 1199). In this project, we empirically emphasize the historicity and contingency of spatial orders beyond the confines of separate world regions. The free trade zone agreed upon at the Berlin Africa Conference of 1884/5 serves as the starting-point for the analysis of a history of Afro-European entanglement. The project investigates conflict-ridden processes of spatialization that unfolded over several decades of high imperialism and modern colonialism in Africa and Europe. Its focus is on the analysis of political spaces and processes of territorialisation, religious networks and areas of influence, trade networks and transport connections, as well as on the entangled history of violence experienced in “Berlin’s Africa”.
III. mobility and identity
David Maxwell (U Cambridge)
Free Slaves, Christian Modernity and Ethnic Imagination in Katanga, Belgian Congo
Caught between the expanding frontiers of the Swahili slave trade from the east and Afro-Portuguese slavers from West late nineteenth century, Katanga was a site of great social flux. Longstanding identities were broken and remade or profoundly challenged by the appearance of new polities such as those of Tippu Tip, Msiri or the Batetela. The paper examines the role of returned ex-slave diaspora in formation of Christian and ethnic identities amongst the Luba speaking peoples of Katanga. Taken from their homes by Ovimbundu slavers 1870–1900s these Luba returnees were Christianised by while laboring on plantations in Bié, Angola. They travelled home in the 1910s, seeing themselves as missionaries of a Christian modernity. Spreading a fixed and expanded Luba identity by means of literacy, schooling and new vernacular scriptures, they also acted as ethnic enthusiasts.
The paper examines how the experience of dislocation and expanded horizons provided the vital backdrop the Luba slaves’ conversion. It explores how they made sense of their experience in terms of the narratives of exodus, exile and return in the Hebrew Scriptures and how the notion of a chosen people formed the basis of a supra-local vision upon which a Luba ethnic consciousness would be founded.
Geert Castryck (U Leipzig)
Bordering the Lake: Transcending Spatial Orders in Kigoma-Ujiji
Towards the end of the 19th century, different spatial orders came into being, clashed and coalesced in the Lake Tanganyika region. The frontier character of the lake at ecological and economic crossroads got overshadowed by the westward moving frontier of an expanding global market, which was in turn overrun by European colonization and the drawing of territorial borders.
Kigoma-Ujiji was both marginal and central to all of these spatial orders. In this paper, I make sense of this urban area as a liminal town or a place of transition and transformation across spatial orders. I first illustrate how different spatial orders as well as their demise led to concomitant waves of migration. Throughout the 20th century, the urban population had to cope with divisions, which can be traced back to the different spatial orders that framed settlement in town. More recently, a shared exposure to exclusion within a contemporary national-territorial spatial order strengthened group identifications, despite historically and spatially different migration experiences and identities. I argue that the urbanity of Kigoma-Ujiji is characterized by this historical-spatial combination of internal division and cohesion, which I interpret as a way of coping with the contradictory challenges of “global” integration.
Gillian Mathys (U Ghent)
Re(b)ordering space: Fixing mobility and the territorialization of identities in the Lake Kivu region (19th-20th century)
The mobile nature of African societies has since long been acknowledged by scholars (see e.g. Kopytoff 1987, De Bruijn et al. 2001). In this paper I illustrate the centrality of mobility to African societies in the region around Lake Kivu in the nineteenth century. I argue that territoriality in this region that I characterize as a Kopytoffian “frontier” was itinerant, in the sense that both territorial control and social activities in this region were not stable, but constantly changing and often contested. The reason why territorial control was not stable was precisely because the frontier provided opportunities to escape the power of political authorities. Moreover, within this frontier, switching back and forth between cultures and cultural identities often was the norm rather than the exception – cause and consequence of the itinerant nature of the frontier.
Much changed during colonialism. Although colonial administrations tried to fix the mobility of the African population, they never entirely managed to do so, and older spatial constellations continued to bear importance. Yet, changes in the administrative structures, that were never just colonial impositions as Africans actively negotiated newly introduced forms of rule and of ordering space, did put an end to these itinerant territorialities. This in turn had an impact on relationships between territory, identity and authority in this region which became much more rigid. It is this process that has led to a “territorialization of identities”. This “territorialization of identities” continues to have an impact on power dynamics and struggles at the local level in the eastern DRC. The second part of this paper focuses on how and why identities became increasingly territorialized.
IV. conceptualizing spatial experiences
Margot Luyckfasseel (U Ghent)
The Road as Actant: A New Materialist Approach to Colonial Space
New materialism, an upcoming current within philosophy and political sciences, “expresses a certain fatigue and dissatisfaction with the inherent limits of theory dominated by the cultural or linguistic turn” (Jones 2016: 8). Instead of focusing on discursive constructions of the human environment, new materialist thinkers, such as Jane Bennett and Bruno Latour, reclaim attention for its material reality. This results in a thorough reorientation of the agency concept: new materialists argue that not only humans, but also objects can be containers of agency.
When dealing with the relation between space and colonial power constellations, this broader conceptualization of agency can lead to a refreshing innovation of what Cooper (1994: 1517) has called the constraining dichotomy between dominance of the colonizer and resistance of the colonized. In this paper, I will present a case study of colonial road construction and spatial politics in the Ubangi district of the Belgian Congo through this new materialist perspective on agency. By including the spatial environment into the network of “agency of assemblages” (Bennett 2010), we may come to a better understanding of the lived experience of the colonial encounter. Through this analysis I will arrive at an assessment of the novelty and the validity of new materialism from an Africanist point of view.
Achim von Oppen (U Bayreuth)
Moving along, moving across, moving in time. Linear geographies, translocal practices and the making of the Zambia — Angola border (c. 1890 to 1950)
This contribution is about popular ways of conceptualizing space in the modern history of the upper reaches of the Zambezi river, an area which is now situated around the border between Angola and Zambia. It is an area in which due to the scarcity of population and the abundance of modestly fertile land, movement rather than boundary-making are the main practices in which the inhabitants structure their everyday geographies. According to their “mental maps”, settlements and communications, social ties and political relations were and to some extent still are structured in linear, partly in concentric, but hardly in territorial terms. Watercourses, today also roads, provide the most important axes that provide orientation and define proximity and distance in both spatial and socio-political terms. The paper will first present a reconstruction of these popular geographies for the late pre-colonial period, based on an analysis of locational terminology, written and oral narratives, field observations and early cartography. It will then go on to explore the clashes and interactions of these conceptualizations of space with the heavy-handed but often illusionary attempts by the colonial state, mainly using evidence from the British side, to impose a territorial order of things from the “international” down to the very local level. What will emerge is a history not only of mutual subversion of spatial concepts but also of mutual appropriation. This tendency was facilitated by the utterly peripheral position of this “fim do mundo” vis-a-vis the new central states on both sides, while hardly impeding mobility in the region.
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