Searching for a German in Colonial Africa
- Posted by rusgen
- On December 22, 2020
- 20th century, Africa, Brazzaville, Colonial, Congo, Genealogy, Historical
Colonial Africa research turned out to be the complicated thing.
I really feel myself as an archeologist unearthing the very scarce evidence of the civilization which is lond dead and disappeared.
First, I should start with the small historical background.
The pre-1880 Africa was really not very well researched. Those “white spots” on maps were not the figure of speech, but rather the fact of life. Only the coastal areas were really known.
The “Scramble for Africa” was an effort of European colonial powers to grab whatever they can reach. Germans were a bit late in this process, so they set up the 1884 Berlin conference which established rules of colonisation of the continent.
The colonies were then formed in the following way —
Colonies of the German Empire, 1884–1919:
- German East Africa (now Burundi, Rwanda, Tansania)
- German South West Africa (Namibia since 1990)
- German West Africa (now parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Togo, Congo )
Then there were TWO Congos (and they still are) — Belgian, the bigger one in the middle of the continent, and French one, smaller one.
German colonies were split between other colonial powers after the end of World War 1, around 1919. At that time the term “German Colonies in Africa” became not applicable, as the German Empire was stripped of all its possessions.
As our hero was born in 1895, I think it is less likely he managed to work in one of those original German colonies.
So I started from pointing on the “Congo”. And started from the bigger, Belgian one.
Capital city – Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), named after the king Leopold, the personal owner of this land in 1880-1906, at the same time Belgian king. I need to note that before the current times when children were scared by Hitler (who will kill all of them), the same object of scare was Belgian king Leopold, who reportedly killed up to 15 mln persons in this personal colony of him.
The country is in equatorial Africa, and there are no deserts — a lot of water and a lot of growth.
You might see that the country has a very small area on the shore, some 25-30 km, with the port and on the Congo river. The river was (and still is) impassable even to the smallest ships. So colonisators were forced to build railroads and roads to establish communications between different cities.
During 1885-1960 the country had approximately 5000 km of railroads and only 2000 km of auto roads with various degree of pavement.
Unlike British, where the colonial administration used the local power structure, Belgians set up the European colonial administration in the whole country, run by Europeans and by European rules. The local population had very very slim chances of working in positions higher than the lowest administrative assistant. (and this was one of the reasons Patrice Lumumba won the independence drive in 1960).
So I started looking for the remains of this large colonial civilization (the Societe General banking group grown into one of the largest global banking companies by exploiting this particular part of land, the Belgian Congo)…
It was a complicated way, involving visits and talks with historian and librarians in Russian State Library (where I found the book with the detailed bibliography on this country, not very big), then the Institute of African Studies (the deputy director and a couple of high level researchers were not very helpful, but the head of the library gave a few helpful suggestions and pointed me out in the right direction), then the library of the Institute of Oriental studies (another with some access complications), where I finally found the country directory, which was published annually and had a list of all residents.
The library only had the 1929 book.
I then, with the exact name of the book, found out that the Belgian royal library in Brussels is the only place on the earth which still have the reasonably complete collection of those books.
So why I am writing all this? It was a complicated search, but now I know a bit more about this area, and know how to find a person there.
Get in touch with us should you need the research somewhere in Africa too!