Part IV: Anti-Colonialism
& Reconstruction

19th to mid-20th centuries
African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
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Short Cuts on this web page to brief Discussions on:
Black African journalism | Global European Imperialism & the "Scramble for Africa" | 
Mapping Colonial Conquest & the Berlin Conference | Pan-Africanism, the Diaspora; & Negritude |
| Jomo Kenyatta | Frantz FanonEs'kia MphaleleAfrican Filmmaking

See also Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism [in the U.S.A.]--Eddie Becker, 1999:
1830-the end: 


British abolish slavery in West Indies.
Emancipation of slaves in the United States in midst of Civil War.

19th c.

Written Swahili poetry of Eastern and Southern African moves beyond Arabic themes to takes up such indigenous Bantu forms as ritual songs. The great religious poem, Utendi wa Inkishafi (Soul's Awakening), written by Sayyid Abdallah bin Nasir, illustrates the vanity of earthly life through an account of the fall of the city-state of Pate.

From 1850s

Black African journalism and secular literature emerge by writers educated in Europe or in European mission and government schools of the subSaharan colonies; e.g. in the Gold Coast [Ghana], newspapers established offering stories and "Poets Corner," using British literary models but putting to new African uses. Africans increasingly publish creative writings in a number of African and European languages. By 1880s, literature of self-glorification and justification of Africanness prepares the way for resistance literature rejecting British and European culture.

  • The New Era, established in 1855, was the "first newspaper in Sierra Leone to be owned by a private individual." The independent African newspaper press was "used as a means of expressing opposition to various of the local governors":
    Front page of New Era, vol. 3, no. 14, 29 June 1857
    (British Library, Africa Collections: Prints, Drawings, & Photographs): 

  • Project Gutenberg at SAILOR: Maryland's Online Public Information Network, offers David Livingstone's Travels and Researches in South Africa; Including a Sketch of Sixteen Years' Residence in the Interior of Africa, and a Journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Loanda on the West Coast; Thence Across the Continent, Down the River Zambesi, to the Eastern Ocean. (London, 1857):  
    Pathway:  Project Gutenberg Electronic Texts: Listing by Author > L > Livingstone

1871 – 1912

Global European Imperialism at its height: The "scramble for Africa" proceeds, rationalized as a "civilizing mission" based on white supremacy. Europeans assert their "spheres of interest" in African colonies arbitrarily, cutting across traditionally established boundaries, homelands, and ethnic groupings of African peoples and cultures. Following a "divide and rule" theory, Europeans promote traditional inter-ethnic hostilities. "The European onslaught of Africa that began in the mid 1400s progressed to various conquests over the continent, and culminated over 400 years later with the partitioning of Africa. Armed with guns, fortified by ships, driven by the industry of capitalist economies in search of cheap raw materials, and unified by a Christian and racist ideology against the African 'heathen,' aggressive European colonial interests followed their earlier merchant and missionary inroads into Africa"
--Prof. Malaika Mutere, Howard Univ., African Culture & Aesthetics, African Odyssey Interactive:
[Thank you, Lisa, for repairing this link!! ~ Cora]

In a late essay, Joseph Conrad described the actions of King Leopold II and other imperialists as "...the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration."

Mapping Colonial Conquest
 "Consider the map of the world, with its 190 or so countries, each signified by a bold and uniform color: this map, with which all of us have grown up,  is generally an invention of modernism, specifically of European colonialism."
--Robert Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy" Atlantic Monthly Feb. 1994. Rpt. Atlantic Online 

Map of "Africa" - 1885  from Black’s General Atlas of the WorldWhile this map of Scottish cartographer John Bartholomew was being printed in Edinburgh, "representatives of the major European powers were gathered in Berlin poring over similar maps and drawing lines on them—lines that would become  the political boundaries for colonial empires that would dominate African history for the next 75 years."  Teaching with Maps, Newberry Library, 2000 

Gallica (Bibliotheque nationale, France - in French: ) offers online exhibits of images from 19th century books and journals. Even if you can't read French, review illustrations from African travelogues and ethnographies from the Library of the Musee de l'Homme - click on thumbnails to view larger images - including:

1884-85 The Berlin Conference: Intense rivalries among Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and Portugal for additional African territory, and the ill-defined boundaries of their various holdings, instigate the Berlin conference. Here the powers of Europe, together with the United States, defined their spheres of influence and laid down rules for future occupation on the coasts of Africa and for navigation of the Zaire and Niger rivers. No African states were invited to the Berlin conference, and none signed these agreements. Whenever possible, Africans resisted decisions made in Europe, but revolts in Algeria, in the western Sudan, in Dahomey, by the Matabele (Ndebele) and Shona, in Ashantiland, in Sierra Leone, and in the Fulani Hausa states were eventually defeated.

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Zulu Wars with Great Britain.

Zulu victory over British at Isandhlwana, but followed by British conquest of Zulu at Rourke’s Drift, South Africa.


Among writers in English is white South African Olive Schreiner, whose novel The Story of an African Farm (1883) is regarded as a classic for its pioneering exploration of race and gender relations.


Europeans "partition" West Africa (to 1890s).
British takeover of Egypt
Europeans "partition" East Africa.
Ethiopians under Emperor Menelik II successfully resist European conquest, annihilating Italians at the Battle of Adwa (or Aduwa). By 1914, only Ethiopia in the east and Liberia in the west remain independent of European colonial control.

Mokingi mwa Mputu [Boloki: trans. "A Trip to Europe"], by Buntungu, a Congolese young man who visited England and recorded his perceptions at the end of the 19th century (presented by Michael Meeuwis, Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders & Univ. of Antwerp).  LPCA Archives Vol. 1 (13 Sept. 1999):
  • LPCA = Language and Popular Culture in Africa (Johannes Fabian and Vincent de Rooij, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, Univ. of Amsterdam), which also offers the Archives of Popular Swahili:
1896-1897 The British South Africa Company Reports on the Native Disturbances in Rhodesia, 1896-1897.  Printed for the Information of Shareholders by Order of the Board of Directors  (London: The Company, 1898).  Rpt. Indaba Rhodesian Library online:
Anglo-Boer War in South Africa: While British "win" the war, they must make concessions to Afrikaner (Boer) political organizations for internal control of South Africa, opening path for Afrikaners to free themselves eventually of British domination and, in turn, dominate the black African majority in South Africa.
Late 19th c. Western public opinion against European colonization rises.

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Late 19th c. - early
20th c.
Carlos Museum's collection of 19th and 20th century African art, Emory University, "offers valuable insight into African artistic expressions in the variety of their forms, functions, and cultures of origin. A majority of the objects come from West Africa, with a focus on the numerous cultures of Nigeria, Benin (formerly Dahomey), and the Cameroon Grassfields. The rest are from the Equatorial Central region of the continent, located mainly in the modern state of Zaïre."  Permanent Collection: Sub-Saharan African Art (Emory Univ., 2000): 

"Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, was a French colony from 1902 until it achieved independence in 1960. " Benin: The World Bank Group: [Link broken, 12/01]

American Museum of Natural History Congo Expedition, 1909-1915 (AMNH, 2002)
"A decade after Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness first depicted the mysteries and agonies of the area, Herbert Lang and James Chapin set sail for the northeastern Belgian Congo," returning to the U.S. five and a half years later with a large zoological and anthropological collection.  This site offers an introductory slide show, diaries, newspaper articles, biographies, photographs, paintings, maps, audio and video clips, essays, and more."
Part o Memory of the World Programme, UNESCO WebWorld, 1997:
Images anciennes d'Afrique offers an online exhibit of historical West African postcards and photographs from the colonial period, 1895-1930:
Even if you can't read the text in French, click on thumbnails to view larger images of:

Early 20th c.

Southern African literature: Southeastern African oral tradition of Liyongo, 13th-c. contender for the throne of Shagga [Shaka Zulu], is preserved in the 1913 epic poem Utendi wa Liyongo Fumo (Epic of Liyongo Fumo), written by Muhammad bin Abubakar.

Samuel E. K. Mqhayi (South Africa) wrote extensively in Xhosa, showing its strength as a medium for written literature. Novelists Thomas Mofolo and Solomon Tshekisho Plattje portray black Africans as complex, moral human beings, and protest racial stereotyping and indignities suffered by black South Africans at the hands of white Africans.

Sol Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa: Introduction by Neil Parsons (History Dept. Univ. of Botswana): "Native Life in South Africa is one of the most remarkable books on Africa, by one of the continent's most remarkable writers. It was written as a work of impassioned political propaganda, exposing the plight of black South Africans under the whites-only government of newly unified South Africa. It focuses on the effects of the 1913 Natives' Land Act which introduced a uniform system of land segregation between the races. It resulted, as Plaatje shows, in the immediate expulsion of blacks, as "squatters", from their ancestral lands in the Orange Free State now declared 'white.'  [Native Life] is a vital social document which captures the spirit of an age and shows the effects of rural segregation on the everyday life of people." 

  • African National Congress (ANC) - Historical Documents (2002) is a rich repository of documents on South African history and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the world:

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1902 Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, was a French colony from 1902 until it achieved independence in 1960" from Benin: The World Bank Group, 2002.
SubSaharan Africa:
Search Term: Benin
1913 Southeastern African oral tradition of Liyongo, 13th-c. contender for the throne of Shagga [Shaka Zulu], is preserved in epic poem Utendi wa Liyongo Fumo (Epic of Liyongo Fumo), written by Muhammad bin Abubakar
Early 20th c. Samuel E. K. Mqhayi (South Africa) wrote extensively in Xhosa, showing its strength as a medium for written literature. . Novelists Thomas Mofolo and Solomon Tshekisho Plattje  portray black Africans as complex, moral human beings, protest racial stereotyping and indignities suffered by black South Africans at the hands of white Africans.

World War I, by which time all Africa had been divided up among European colonial powers.
The “world” war, however, damages myths of European invincibility, superiority, and their claim of the right to rule the world.  Germany loses WWI and its African colonies to France and Great Britain, who are expected by the League of Nations to prepare the colonies for independence.

Pan-Africanism and the Diaspora.  Pan-Africanist ideas of unity, shared identity and roots among Africans and their descendents of the Diaspora* were reinforced by the work of W.E.B. DuBois (United States, 1868-1963) and Marcus Garvey (Jamaica, 1896-1973).  A prominent African-American scholar with more than 2,000 publications—including his best known work The Souls of Black Folks (1903)—DuBois organized several Pan-African congresses in Europe and New York, and came to regard Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah as a beacon for African liberation.  Garvey, a gifted mass leader, advocated a “back to Africa” philosophy and united millions of Africans of the Diaspora and the continent.  The Negritude movement (see below) further supported Pan-Africanist movements.

*African Diaspora now commonly refers to the global community of Africans and their descendents living outside the African continent. 

1920s Pan-African Congresses meet in Paris, fueled by anti-colonial unrest and African nationalism esp. among black missionary- and Western-educated elites. This  unrest is expressed in strikes in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Nigeria of British West Africa.
1920s- 1930s Black nationalism and anti-colonial political movements in Africa are reflected in its literature: European missionary-influenced African literatures integrate indigenous traditional oral forms (e.g., hymns integrate traditional praise poem/songs and prayer structures), and translate into African vernaculars, though missionaries continue to censor and control publication and dissemination of black African writing.
1925 Thomas Mofolo's third novel, Chaka the Zulu (or Shaka, 19th-century Zulu leader), is a classic written in Mofolo’s native language Sotho.

Tshekisho Plaatje's novel Mhudi, a historical romance about Shaka's lieutenant Mzilikazi, incorporates Bantu traditional praise songs.

1930s Birth of Négritude literary movement in Paris among French-speaking (Francophone) West Africans and African-Caribbeans, amid a world-wide Depression that stimulates further strikes and uprisings in African colonies.  African nationalists continue to organize.

Négritude, a French-language literary movement, began in 1930s Paris of modernism, surrealism, and jazz among French colonial subjects most in Paris to finish their educations.  These African and Caribbean poets and intellectuals shared African roots, the destructive experiences of colonization, and French language and education.  They sought to denounce victimized, suffering Africa fragmented under European colonialism, and to affirm the validity of African identity and ancestral culture.  In so doing, Africa was often presented metaphorically as a woman, and pre-colonial Africa idealized as a pastorial utopia harmonizing humankind and nature.  Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegalese poet who became his country’s first president in 1960, was a leader and militant communicator of the concept of Negritude, influential especially in shaping the thinking of French-speaking intellectuals of Africa and the African Diaspora, and protesting against the French policy of assimilation. Poets Leon-Gontran Damas,  Birago Diop and David Diop also associated with the movement.  Martinique-born Aime Cesaire is considered an outstanding poet and thinker emerging from the Negritude movement.  In a 1967 interview, Cesaire explained: 

“We lived in an atmosphere of rejection, and we developed an inferiority complex.”  The desire to establish an identity begins with “a concrete consciousness of what we are--…that we are black . . . and have a history. . . [that] there have been beautiful and important black civilizations…that its values were values that could still make an important contribution to the world.”
--Aime Cesaire: une voix pour l'histoire [A Voice for History], Martinique, 1994; Dir. Euzhan Palcy.

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1939 –1945 World War II:  Main theaters of war in European colonies of North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Pacific IslandsDecolonization becomes increasingly inevitable.
1947 Presence Africaine, a journal promoting Negritude, is established, edited by Alioune Diap.
1948 Anthologie de la nouvelle poesie negre et malgache de langue francaise [Anthology of New Negro and Malagasy Poetry in French], ed. by Senghor, is published, featuring works of French-speaking black African and Caribbean poets.

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1947 Decolonization movements intensify with independence of India and Pakistan from the British.

Kenya, with large white settle population, is led by Jomo Kenyatta into a lengthy campaign of terror and guerrilla warfare against the British, who label the rebels "Mau Mau." Despite British victory in 1956, thousands of lives are lost and negotiations finally forced preparations for Kenyan independence.

Mid 20th c.

Southern African Black Writers: A.C. Jordan, writing in Xhosa, and the Zulu poet Rolfus R. R. Dhlomo; prose writers Alex La Guma and Bloke Modisane; and playwright and critic Lewis Nkosi [who currently teaches at the Univ. of Wyoming] are among Black writers of southern Africa who earned recognition after 1950.

1951 Shaaban Robert of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) emerged as East Africa's leading Swahili poet and essayist. His best-known work, Kusadikika (trans. To Be Believed, 1951), examines political trends in Tanganyika. The work is an allegory patterned on Gulliver's Travels, an 18th-century work by the British writer Jonathan Swift.

Frantz Fanon--born in Martinique, a military psychiatrist serving in French-controlled Algeria [north Africa] shortly before armed rebellion breaks out-- publishes Peau noire, masques blancs [trans. in English as "Black Skin, White Masks," in 1967], analyzing the experience of racism and evils of colonialism in WWII Free French Forces fighting in North Africa and Europe.


Nigerian Amos Tutuola became internationally known after London publication of The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), an adventurous tale and hero from Yoruban oral traditions, and written in "non-literary" but highly effective African English.


Camara Laye (Guinea) was remarkable for the psychological insights of his novels: his masterpiece is his autobiographical novel The Dark Child (1953; translated 1954). Cameroon has also produced two novelists, Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono, who have written extremely powerful and searching satire.


Peter Abrahams’ Tell Freedom (1954), an autobiography, recounts racial oppression he suffered as a child in Johannesburg. Journalism in popular magazines like Drum was the first opportunity many black South Africans had to publish.

Es'kia (Ezekiel) Mphahlele (b. 1919), for one, moved on to autobiographies and autobiographical novels [e.g., Down Second Avenue, 1959; his short story
"The Coffee Cart Girl" rpt in
African Short Stories.] In The African Image (1962), he deplored the obsession with race relations and called for a broader and deeper treatment of characters from other points of view. Many black South African writers will emigrate or be exiled because of apartheid government policies, including Abrahams and Es'kia Mphahlele. In exile, Mphahlele, a scholar, author, and political activist, founded the Mbari cultural movement in Nigeria, became director of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris, and of the Chemchemi Cultural Center in Nairobi. He studied and taught in the U.S., and returned to South Africa in the late 1970s.


African Filmmaking: Afrique sur le Seine (trans. "Africa on the Seine") is filmed in Paris by Paulin Soumanou Vieryra, a pioneering view of student life and credited as the beginning of African filmmaking. Most African film training involved study in Europe and many first short films are studies of European life as seen through African eyes.

NEXT > PART V: Post-Independence Africa & Contemporary Trends mid- & later 20th century

1958 Chinua Achebe (Nigeria): Things Fall Apart, written in "African English," examines Western civilization's threat to traditional values and reaches a large, diverse international audience. Like many other African writers, Achebe integrates his people’s rich oral traditions in his writing. African artists, writers, and filmmakers continue to draw upon the inspiration of African oral arts traditions in their work today.
1960 D.T. Niane publishes Soundjata ou l’Epoque Mandiginue, a written French translation of the Sundjata oral epic as performed by modern Mande djeliba (griot) Djeli Mamdou Kouyate, passed from djeliba to djeliba in his family for 700 years; in 1965, translated into English as Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, by G. D. Pickett

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COCC Home > Cora Agatucci Home > Classes > HUM 211 Home > African Timelines > Part IV: Anti-Colonialism & Reconstruction

African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
Part I | Part II | Part III |
Part IV | Part V | Works Cited | Bibliography

You are here:  African Timelines Part IV:
Anti-Colonialism & Reconstruction 19th - mid-20th centuries

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Last updated: 02 January 2010

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