Tales of the `Land of Stories': Settlers and anti-modernity in German colonial discourses on German South West Africa, 1884--1914

Date of Completion

January 1997


Anthropology, Cultural|History, African




Recent generations of anthropologists have been more inclined to make use of historical analyses than previous generations contented with an 'ethnographic present', and so situate the 'subject' and 'object' of anthropology in past and present colonial contexts. However, anthropological analyses of colonial discourses largely have not produced or made use of analyses critical of history as a discursive product of modernity, even as it began to critique its own Enlightenment heritage. Anthropology's uncritical acceptance of epistemologies positing history as the ideal form to narrate the past tends to result in assuming a homogenous colonial discourse to which a singular temporality is assigned.^ This study aims to write a 'history' which questions history as the privileged custodian of 'realism' in past events. It seeks to articulate multiple narrative constructions of the past in and through specific references to particular German colonial discourses on German South West Africa. As such it is a contribution to anthropological critiques of a homogenous coloniser and colonial discourse, and the totalising discourses of history which promote such unitarian conceptions.^ The German colonial publications examined in this study all expressed degrees of anti-modern sentiments. They are journalistic texts which sought, to varying extents, to promote German South West Africa as a haven from metropolitan modernity. By invoking the past through discourses of history, the feudal-like social form anti-modern German colon(ial)ists desired to create was always already contaminated by what they sought to dispel. One of the most difficult problems confronted by anti-modern German colon(ial)ists utilizing modern conceptions of 'history' to effect desired change was in finding ways of avoiding charges of anachronism by pro-modernists.^ My concern has not been to resolve logical contradictions which can be found in these texts, but to ask what efforts were made to prevent their eruption into social antagonisms. Indeed, the relations between pro- and anti-modernism, allochrony and homeochrony, in German colonial discourses can serve as an allegory for pro- and anti-modernism in many current anthropological discourses. ^