During the late 1800s, Africa was put under immense pressure by the European powers as they scrambled to take over African territory. They were shoved into a corner and had limited options of getting out. One thing they refused to do was give in to the elites that were trying to overcome them.
Africa as a whole reacted in three ways; diplomatically- as in respectively declining the Europeans offer and not giving up their land, violently- by fighting with what little firearms they had against the extremely advanced guns their opponents had, and in desperation- seeing no other option and no better way to get out so reacting in ways that were unexpected like women fighting and believing in a saving spirit that could protect them. These tactics worked for some African nations better than others, but in most cases the nation was still taken over in the end.
At the beginning of Europeans scramble for Africa, the chiefs of the different African nations felt that they could solve this whole situation diplomatically. Europe tried to just take over the African government easily and painlessly, but the African nations refused to just let them take over. The British government tried to administer a standardized form to all areas around the Niger River and for the Royal Niger Company. This form would ensure that Europe would have control of the lower Niger River.
The form stated that “the Royal Niger Company bind themselves not to interfere with any of the native laws or customs of the country” (1). They say that they will stay out of all African affairs but they really did not. Because of this, an Ashanti leader responded by saying “I am pleased to announce that we have arrived at the conclusion that my kingdom of Ashanti will never commit itself to any such policy” (2). The Ashanti nation wants to stay friendly with the British, but they don’t want to be controlled by them.
The Ethiopian nation responded very similarly and said, “Since the All-Powerful has protected Ethiopia up until now, I am hopeful that he will keep and enlarge it also in the future, and I do not think for a moment that He will divide Ethiopia amount the distant Powers” (3). Ethiopia felt they didn’t need any “extra protection” from Europe when they were already fully protected by their God. Both of these nations politely declined, yet that wouldn’t necessarily stop these distant powers from invading.
Another common reaction to the European invasion was violence. When they African nations refused to let Europe invade easily, Europe took control and just invaded. Obviously, the Africans felt this unacceptable. For example, in South Africa, Africans were being treated like slaves and were beat by the Europeans. They rebelled and fought with all the machinery they had but were completely demolished. A veteran of this rebellion stated “We made many charges but each time we were defeated. But for the White men’s machine guns, it would have been different” (4).
The Africans felt that if the British wouldn’t have had the advantage of their heavier artillery, that they would’ve had a chance in winning. Even in an area near the Congo River the Africans felt it unfair they didn’t have the same weaponry. One African chief said, “You think because you have guns you can take away our land and our possessions. You have sickness in your heads, for this is not justice” (9). In both situations, they were really bitter after their losses and knew they could’ve won if the playing field was even.
In Ethiopia, they leveled the playing field by getting equal artillery with the Europeans. In the picture presented in document 5, it shows violent resistance and an epic battle over the land. Once both sides had equal equipment, the Africans actually won the battle and pushed Europe out of their lands. All these people refused to go down without a fight because their land was all they had. The last most common reaction was desperation. Africans were desperate and didn’t feel they had many options but they had to do everything they could to keep life as they knew it was.
One option they turned to was having the women fight. When some of the chiefs of the Ashanti were scared to fight, the Ashanti Queen stated “If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will” (6). They would do anything to keep their nation from being taken over, even if the men wouldn’t do it the women would. This shows true desperation because at that point in time women could rarely participate in anything governmental, especially fighting in war, but they were willing to do anything. The Africans tried to encourage all other African nations to fight back as well.
They knew that there was a high probability that they would die, which was why most nations weren’t fighting back, but one leader of the Herero people said to another African leader that they should “Let us die fighting rather than die as a result of maltreatment, imprisonment, or some other calamity. Tell all the chiefs down there to rise and do battle” (7). They figured if they were going to die either way, they should go down honorably and fight for what’s right. It was their last resort, but they knew it was what they needed to do.
They even got to such a point that they started to believe in anything that could help them win. A German military officer recorded that in East Africa, “The chiefs spread it amount their people that a spirit, living in the form of a snake, had given a magic medicine to a medicine man…The medicine would also give invulnerability, acting in such a way that enemy bullets would fall from their targets like raindrops” (8). The chiefs used whatever they could to get their people to believe that they could win this battle against the Europeans, for they were desperate and needed something to motivate their people into victory.
The Africans were surprised at the major invasion that was unexpected, but they reacted in whatever way they could to keep their land from being taken over. Another document that could be helpful in understanding this situation more would be a document from the Europeans to the Africans trying to talk to them originally about the invasion and take over. It would help to know how the Europeans originally tried to peacefully talk to the Africans.
Courtney from Study Moose
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