CLIO FINAL - page 9

rica, the reality of its civilisations was far removed
from European perceptions of savagery and moral
corruption. European powers were ignorant to the
wide variety of political organisation within Africa-
for example, armies from the Dahomey kingdom,
which was annexed by the French, were made up
entirely of women, showing in some instances Af-
rican culture to represent more closely our current
liberal ideas of equality than European culture did in
the 19th century. Women inVictorian England, for
example, would have been destined to be house-
wives or governesses, and expected to be subser-
vient to the will of their husbands. As well as this,
the Maasai people from Kenya had no rulers, and
instead used democratic ‘age sets’: the eldest set
would democratically make decisions for the tribe.
The existence of democracy before the imposition
of European autocratic rule contrasts the European
idea of ‘uncivilised’ African society. Thus the only
difference of signifying a more advanced society
in Europe than in Africa was the industrialisation
of European society. It is important to remember
that Africans did not submit to colonial rule with-
out protest; they resisted, often violently, but the
technological superiority of Europeans made them
an impossible enemy to defeat. This is possibly best
put by the French poet Hilaire Belloc, in his poem
The ModernTraveller:
It really was that simple. Previous attempts to ex-
plore and possibly colonise Africa had been impos-
sible due to diseases which did not exist in Europe
such as yellow fever which killed most European
explorers, and the ability for Africans to compete
militarily with invaders who brought swords and
poor quality guns to combat African swords, spears
and axes. However, medicinal advancements and
technological military improvements which came
as a result of the industrial revolution not only al-
lowed the Europeans to violently force the Africans
into submission but also to appear to be the more
civilised, modern society, despite the politically di-
verse and in many cases forward thinking nature of
African culture. Inventions such as the Maxim gun
in 1883- the first recoil operated machine gun- al-
lowed colonials to defeat and pacify Africans. Thus
European colonials could use their industrial superi-
ority as evidence that theirWestern concept of so-
ciety and their Christian religion, which was forced
onto Africans, was more advanced and superior to
societies and religions in African countries. There-
fore technological superiority helped to justify the
Christian mission to ‘civilise’ the savage societies of,
despite the fact that, politically and socially, Africa
was as progressing just as Europe was.
Thus religion played a crucial role in colo-
nisation as, by justifying the actions of the colon-
isers, it enabled them to control and dehumanise
Africans. Industrial and economic motives were the
most important factors driving European powers
and the US to conquering the continent; howev-
er this alone would have been difficult to justify,
especially as it goes against true Christian doctrines
of love and selflessness. It would have been almost
impossible to morally vindicate the oppression and
mistreatment of another group of people simply
for personal and national economic gain. There-
fore it was beneficial to colonisers to believe their
actions were for the benefit of the people of Africa,
allowing them to believe their actions were not
completely immoral. Here Christianity was vital: the
belief that colonials were acting on behalf of God
and were helping Africans by forcing their superior
religion onto them allowed colonisers to generally
disregard existing African cultures.
Emma Gillespie 12W
“Whatever happens, we have got
the Maxim gun, and they have
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