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In the twentieth century, colonial authorities in Africa intentionally and actively worked to prevent the emergence of nationalist and working-class movements which could ultimately threaten their authority and colonial rule by preventing "detribalization," which Europeans interpreted as occurring through the urbanization, liberal education , and proletarianization of African people, regardless if they were actually detached from their ethnic identity or community or not.

European perspectives of Africans were thoroughly infused with racism, which, according to John E.

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Flint , "served to justify European power over the 'native' and to keep western-educated Africans from contaminating the rest. Under indirect rule, universal primary and secondary education were not adopted in British or French colonies in Africa in order to avoid creating a class of "unemployable and politically dangerous, 'pseudo-Europeanized' natives. French and British fears over detribalization were also demonstrated via their attitudes toward the notion of African wage labor and proletarianization.

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For this reason, African wage labor was only determined necessary when it aided the advancement or progress of the colonial capitalist state, such as via the African colonial mining industry. According to Peter A. Blitstein, neither the British or the French were "able to see wage workers as anything but 'detribalized' and, therefore, dangerous. During World War II , a study authored by four colonial functionaries and commissioned by the Vichy French government's ministry of the colonies in entitled "Condition of the detribalized natives" called for "the systematic and immediate expulsion of any native illegally entering metropolitan France.

Jennings has commented how this policy was "certainly not new" and had been informed by "a host of reductionist thinkers from Gustave Le Bon to Edouard Drumont or Alexis Carrel " while also eerily foreshadowing arguments to be used by the modern French far right. Jean Paillard, an influential colonial theoriest in Vichy France feared "native domination" in which "the colonizers would eventually come under the domination of the colonized. However, when detribalization becomes "unavoidable" it must "be accompanied by a strict regimen" of control.

Since, according to the study, when "left to their own devices," the "detribalized" person becomes a drunken failure in European society due to their innate inferiority. Jennings argues that this study attempted to invent a "retribalization" effort for the "detribalized" person and was hinged upon the larger "apocalyptic fears of a world dominated by unruly and debauched 'natives,' uprooted from their 'natural environments.

Following World War II, colonial policy began to shift from preventing "detribalization" to more widely promoting devices for economic and cultural development in African colonial societies and, eventually, in both the British and French case, self-government as a means of obtaining independence. European colonial empires in Africa increasingly opted for nationalization rather than previous policies of indirect rule and forced contracted or temporary labor. However, according to historian Peter A.

Blitstein, the ultimate objectives of the British and French for Westernizing colonized and "detribalized" Africans remained unclear by the mid-twentieth century, as colonizers struggled to articulate how Africans could be brought into congruence with their visions of "modernity. Throughout post-independence Africa, two different types of African states emerged, according to scholar Mahmood Mamdani, which he terms as "the conservative and the radical" African states. While the conservative African state adopted a decentralized form of despotic authority which "tended to bridge the urban-rural divide through a clientelism whose effect was to exacerbate ethnic divisions," the radical African state adopted a centralized form of despotic authority which contributed to detribalization by tightening control over local authorities.

Mamdani theorizes that "if the two-pronged division that the colonial state enforced on the colonized — between town and country, and between ethnicities — was its dual legacy at independence, each of the two versions of the postcolonial state tended to soften one part of the legacy while exacerbating the other.

In the seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company was importing shiploads of slaves to South Africa, transferring the former colonial station for passing ships into a slaveholding colony. In , the Cape Colony 's last company commander and first governor Simon van der Stel formed an exploration party to locate a copper reserve that the Indigenous Nama people had shown him. The Nama were reportedly described by the colonists as "'very friendly'" and, scholar Kitty Millet notes that, "relations were so amenable between the Nama and the Dutch settlers that the Nama treated the colony to a musical 'exhibition' for the governor's birthday.

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The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture

Those who remained soon "existed as 'detribalized indigenous peoples'. Early maps created by European colonizers portrayed an image of southern Africa as a terra nullius of "uncivilized" Indigenous villages and "wild beasts. When the British first took over the colony in , John Barrow , a British statesman, perceived himself as "a reformer in comparison with the Boer [Dutch] 'burghers' and government officials whose embrace of slavery, and land grabs, had destroyed not only Nama tribes living near them, but also the land itself on which they staked their farms.

Many were also absorbed into Orlam communities, where "they existed as herders and 'outlaws,' conducting raids on Boer farms. From to , over 1, mission stations were established throughout southern Africa by approximately 60 missionary societies from Europe. A study on the location and role of these mission stations by Franco Frescura noted how throughout the nineteenth century there was a "spreading geographical presence of missionaries over southern Africa" which paralleled the restructuring of the social, economic, and political landscape of the region by colonial forces.


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In , German missionaries working under the London Missionary Society were reportedly the "first white persons" to arrive in what is now modern-day Namibia. They soon founded mission stations with surrounding fields and territories in an effort to Christianize and sedenteraize the Indigenous peoples.

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However, because of the harsh climate and severe drought, their attempts at maintaining the stations failed, although they converted one Orlam kaptein , Jager Afrikaner , the father of Jonker Afrikaner , who would become an important Namibian politician. Missionaries struggled to indoctrinate the Indigenous peoples in the region with their ideologies due to outright opposition from the Herero , who were the most powerful Indigenous group and were unconvinced of the professed "holy mission" of the missionaries. The Herero, like other Indigenous people in the region, were perceived as "uncivilized" by European settlers because they did not practice sedentary farming nor openly accept Western ideologies.

A German missionary illuminated this wider perspective regarding his encounters with the Nama people: "The Nama does not want to work but to live a life of ease. But the Gospel says he must work in the sweat of his brows. He is therefore opposed to the Gospel.

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The status of detribalization was perceived by Dutch colonizers as a potential method of redemption, as noted by scholar Kitty Millet, so that "the 'detribalized' African" could learn "his proper place" as a member of an exploited class of laborers fueling colonial industry.

The colony's 'health' depended on the removal of independent tribes and, in their stead, the visibility of the 'detribalized' servant. In order to psychologically condition Orlam people to accept a subordinate role, the Dutch deliberately infantilized enslaved peoples to reinforce their status as inferior. In this regard, even if a slave escaped captivity and joined "free" Orlam communities as a fugitive, "the slave brought with him the memory of this infantilization. The British, who reacquired control over the Cape Colony in , similarly sought to continue this system of exploitation for the benefit of the British Empire.

This pushed Orlam communities further to the margins, especially as Dutch Boer farmers themselves "annexed more land, and moved closer to the 'fringes'" as a response to the transference of colonial political power. This ongoing resistance within Orlam communities led to the formation of politically centralized leaders in the early nineteenth century, known as kapteins , who functioned as authorities in the community unlike in any traditional Nama society. As the Dutch and British targeted Orlam kapteins , scholar Kitty Millet notes, "even more 'detribalized' individuals [joined] the 'fugitives' already established at the margins" of colonial society.

However, either oblivious to or refusing to acknowledge their own role in generating this deeply entrenched resistance, the British credited Orlam resistance with what they perceived to be an "ontological predisposition" within the detribalized Orlam people, which allegedly reflected a "primitive 'state of being'. As resistance continued to the colonial order, more and more groups with "diverse origins" also joined Orlam collectives, despite being notably "unrelated to their kapteins.

Over time, the burgeoning numbers of resistance groups could not be sustained by the surrounding region of the Cape Colony because of low rainfall and drought. As resources depleted, detribalized Orlam resistance groups moved northward and eventually crossed the Orange River to reunite with the Nama. Each of the Orlam resistance groups requested permission from the Nama confederation and reentered Nama land between and As they reintegrated into the Nama community, the Orlam groups quickly transformed how the Nama perceived themselves and their relationships with the neighboring Herero as well as colonial traders and missionaries who had accompanied the Orlam resistance groups in their reintegration.

As a result of this reintegration, Kitty Millet notes that a new Nama leadership emerged under Kido Witbooi 's grandson, Hendrik Witbooi. Hendrik was a Christian who understood his leadership as a divine mandate. While traditional Nama tribes had preferred pacifism to armed conflict prior to the integration of the detribalized Orlam groups, Witbooi altered this understanding and believed it was his mission to continue the resistance effort among the Nama.


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  • Witbooi would later be killed in battle with German colonial military forces in and is now understood to be a national hero in Namibia. German South West Africa was established in following decades of German settlers and missionaries occupying the region and conducting work through missionary societies such as the Rhenish Missionary Society. The German Empire officially claimed dominion and sovereignty over present-day Namibia, which included the traditional territories of the Herero and Ovambo of the northern region, bands of Khoisan San and Khoikhoi in the central and southern regions, and the Damara in the mountainous regions.

    German colonists unilaterally applied the category of "bushmen" to these groups, because they perceived them as primitive " hunter-gatherers. These labels demonstrated the European colonial perspective of Indigenous peoples, which flattened their complexities into a singular class of uniform colonized subjects. In the nineteenth century, European missionaries sought to eradicate Indigenous ways of living and knowing through the process of Christianization to, as scholar Jason Hickel argues, mold them into "the bourgeois European model.

    According to Hickel, administrators even regarded "the idea of a civilizing mission with suspicion, fearing that 'detribalization' would lead to social anomie , mass unrest, and the rise of a politically conscious class that would eventually undermine minority rule altogether.


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    • The idea was to prevent urbanization by keeping Africans confined to native reserves , and to govern them according to a codified form of customary law through existing patriarchs and chiefs. Then, using an intricate network of influx controls, Africans were brought temporarily to the cities for work on fixed-term contracts, at the end of which they were expelled back to the reserves.

      The system was purposefully designed to prevent full proletarianization and forestall the rise of radical consciousness. However, by the early twentieth century, as a result of the "insatiable appetite [of colonizers] for cheap labor," the previous colonial policy of indirect rule began to weaken considerably, which resulted in the emergence of numerous informal settlements on the peripheries of "white cities" in southern Africa.

      In response to the overwhelming "unauthorized" urbanization of Africans, European colonial administrators eventually adopted the moralizing approach of their missionary counterparts and sought to "reform" African shanties, which were regarded as undisciplined chaotic spaces that blurred the order of colonial society as a "social-evolutionary misfire. Austro-Hungarian philosopher Karl Polanyi referred to "detribalized" South Africans in highly racist and pathological terms, stating that the " kaffir of South Africa, a noble savage, whom none felt socially more secure in his native kraal , has been transformed into a human variety of half-domesticated animal dressed in the 'unrelated, the filthy, the unsightly rags that not the most degenerated white man would wear,' a nondescript being, without self-respect or standards, veritable human refuse.

      In South Africa and Namibia, the colonial government soon "forced [their] relocations into modernist townships laid out along rectilinear grids" with the stated intention of conditioning "detribalized" Africans to become "happy, docile subjects" who would "internalize the values of European domesticity. While Europeans and white South Africans during this period classed all urban Africans as "detribalized," this was largely an extension of existing racism which had flattened all Africans into indistinguishable masses of "disorderly" racialized subjects and was not necessarily reflective of reality.

      In fact, many Indigenous people working on European-owned farms and in urban districts were not formally "detribalized," or detached from their "tribal" identities or communities. Grosskopf recorded that "many Europeans coming into touch with the native only in the bigger centres seem inclined to over-estimate the number of 'detribalized' natives Such natives may have adopted a semi-European urban mode of life for several years, while it still remains a difficult matter for the white man to say how far tribal influence and connection has actually ceased.