Dissident historical views on Western colonialism were regularly censored, and historians and others holding such views were often persecuted. In the following entry, a representative sample of these dissident views is discussed. The examples are taken from a continuously updated worldwide database of the censorship of history covering views produced between 1945 and 2005. To demarcate this survey more precisely, it is worth noting that it is not on censorship of views prior to 1945; nor on Eastern colonialism; nor on precolonial history; nor on powers that annexed other territories; nor on minorities or majorities whose past is labeled (semi)colonial by some of their members; nor on independent states whose past is labeled (semi)colonial by opposition members or as subject to imperialist influences by the government; nor on independence as a result of partition instead of colonialism; nor on occupation during a war.
After a look at the evidence for archival destruction, cases of censorship of professional and popular history will be reviewed. Three groups of censors are considered: colonial powers, former colonial powers, and former colonies. Discussion of these groups is centered around three themes: colonialism in general, its start (the conquest and accompanying crimes), and its end (anticolonial resistance and nationalism).
Archives form the infrastructure of historical research. There is a longby its very nature poorly documentedhistory of archival destruction by colonial powers. Although they fall outside the chronological scope of this entry, it is tempting to recall first two early examples from Mexico and Congo.
In the fifteenth century the Aztecs of Mexico destroyed documents not in line with their view of the past, which endorsed continuation of the revered Toltec civilization. One century later, Spanish conquistadores burned the pagan Aztec and Mayan archives.
In the mid-nineteenth century Portuguese colonists set fire to the archive of the kings of Congo, built up since the sixteenth century. When this territory (together with other regions) became the Congo Free State (18851908) and the private possession of the Belgian king, Leopold II (18351909), the possible transfer to Belgium of sovereignty over Congo was discussed twice, in 1895 and in 1906 to 1907. Leopold II gave detailed instructions to destroy or transfer to the royal palace the archives of the Congo. “Je leur donnerai mon Congo, mais ils n’ont pas le droit de savoir ce que j’y ai fait” (“I shall give them my Congo, but they have no right to know what I have done there”), he said. It is estimated that probably half of the population died in Leopold’s Congo. The surviving archives were examined by German forces occupying Belgium during World War I, but the archives were subsequently treated carelessly until the late 1940s.
Within the survey period of this entry, cases of colonial mismanagement of archives are documented for Africa and the Caribbean. In Kenya, many official records on the Mau Mau rebellion (19521956) were destroyed by the British before independence. When in 1962 Algeria became independent, the French government exported all the official documents they could to France, thus taking with them vital sources of Algerian history. In what was to become Zimbabwe, much material relating to African history and to the activities of Africans was removed from the files open to the public at the national archives after the emergence of the Rhodesia Front government in 1962, an act glossed over by recataloguing. From 1979 to 1980 the Rhodesian government destroyed documents produced by its security and intelligence services.
Switching to the Caribbean, a recent case was the postponement in late 2000 of the publication of an official history of Dutch decolonization policy in the Caribbean between 1940 and 2000, written by Gert Oostindie and Inge Klinkers. Quoting too abundantly from the post-1975 Dutch Council of Ministers minutes and other top-level documents, the authors had to delete certain data, particularly data concerning the personal policy views of politicians and civil servants, before the volumes could be published in mid-2001.
Evidence that former colonies destroyed colonial archives is sporadic. Under Equatorial Guinea’s first president, Francisco Macas Nguema (19241979), for example, school textbooks of the colonial period and large parts of the national archive were condemned as “imperialist” and publicly burned.
Colonial powers did not welcome unfavorable interpretations of their rule, as the following examples about the British and Portuguese show.
In India, the British banned Marxist-inspired “economic-nationalist” interpretations of Indian history, such as pleas for economic independence based on historical arguments and criticism of “landlordism” and nineteenth-century deindustrialization, at schools and universities. The 1946 edition of W. C. Smith’s Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis, published in London and describing the transformation of the traditional Muslim community into a modern society during the preceding seventy-five years, was not allowed into India because of its alleged communist approach, despite the fact that an earlier edition had been published in Lahore in 1943. A pirated version appeared without the author’s consent in 1954, after Pakistan’s independence, again in Lahore.
Interestingly, two of India’s leaders wrote histories while staying in British prisons: Future prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (18891964) wrote The Discovery of India, and future president Rajendra Prasad (18841963) authored India Divided. Both works were published in 1946. The latter book, arguing from an Indian nationalist viewpoint but emphasizing unity between the historical traditions and political ideals of Hindus and Muslims, went through three editions before India’s partition in 1947. Before his Discovery, Nehru had also written a world history in prison.
In 1962 Portugal declared British historian Charles Boxer persona non grata for drawing attention to Portugal’s record of control in its colonies in a series of lectures in the United States. Boxer denied the frequent assertion of Prime Minister Antnio Salazar (18891970) that the Portuguese had always had good relations with black Africans and that the latter were themselves Portuguese; Boxer showed that most colonizers believed in white superiority and that race prejudice prevailed. In an earlier paper, he described seventeenth-century Portugal as a “disintegrating power.” Portuguese historian Armando Corteso suggested that Boxer return his (many) Portuguese honors. The Portuguese press labeled Boxer dishonest, and his books were no longer sold. His 1969 classic, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 14151925, was not translated into Portuguese until 1977. In 1954 British journalist and historian of Africa Basil Davidson experienced an episode similar to Boxer’s.
Colonial conquests were very sensitive events, especially when accompanied by atrocities, as demonstrated by examples from the United States and Belgium. As a student, the future dissident and revisionist Philippine historian Renato Constantino was briefly arrested in 1939 and interrogated by the American colonial authorities at Fort Santiago in Manila because he had written an article exposing American atrocities perpetrated against the Filipino population during the “pacification campaign” of 1899 to 1902. Constantino was released after he declared that his source was The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 18981925 (1926), a book published uncensored in New York by Moorfield Storey and Marcial Lichauco in 1926. This incident made Constantino determined to reexamine Philippine history.
In 1959 (a year before the independence of the Belgian Congo) the Belgian Royal Academy of Colonial Sciences refused twice to publish papers of its member, historian and missionary Edmond Boelaert, because they contained evidence of abuses committed in the early phases of Congo’s colonization. The papers were eventually published long after Congo’s independenceand the author’s deathin 1988 and 1995 respectively.
Research into anticolonial resistance and nationalism had the power to demonstrate that the colonized possessed historical agency, and such research therefore demolished part of the ethnocentric legitimation upon which colonial power rested. In Australia, a dissertation by Allan Healy critically approaching the history of Australian colonial control over Papua New Guinea (which lasted until 1975) and presenting the case for more rapid political devolution of power was put under lock and key in the library of the Australian National University between 1959 and 1962. In the French Maghreb, a region in northwestern Africa, research in contemporary history was ignored for being too sensitive. In 1952 the sale of French historian Charles-Andr Julien’s new book, North Africa on the March: Muslim Nationalism and French Sovereignty, was blocked by the colonial administration after it aroused controversy for its anticolonialist stance. Julien’s first book, History of North Africa: From the Arab Conquest to 1830 (1931), which supported demands of North African nationalists for colonial reform, had already earned him the hostility of many French in the Maghreb.
In 1967 Terence Ranger, a British historian deported from Rhodesia in 1963, published Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 189697: A Study in African Resistance. It became a classic history of the Chimurenga revoltthe Shona name for the 1896 to 1897 uprisings of the Ndebele and Shona people against the imposition of British colonial ruleand inspired blacks to compare the revolt with their own uprising against the Rhodesian regime after its 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain. Ranger’s book was banned until independence in 1980. Ironically, the Rhodesian army reportedly used it as a textbook in counterinsurgency.
After independence was granted to their colonies, Western countries remained sensitive to statements about their former colonial role. For example, Years of the Century, a 1979 Portuguese television series that included a personal view of the Estado Novo (New State; the Portuguese dictatorial regime from 1932 to 1974) by a left-wing historian, was canceled after complaints from the Catholic Church about the first episode. The film explicitly attacked the Catholic hierarchy’s support of the Estado Novo repression of black nationalists.
The first stages of colonization proved to be problematic in Australia, Germany, and Belgium. In June 1992, in Mabo and Others v. State of Queensland, the Australian High Court recognized that the concept of terra nullius (Australia as “a land of no one” before European settlement began in 1788) was a fiction, thereby strengthening Aboriginal claims to ancestral lands. This “Mabo judgment” (after Aboriginal leader Eddie Mabo ), called historic, reversed a historical view of Australia’s past in which the role of Aboriginals was downplayed. The ruling led to protracted debatesknown as the “History Wars” and yet unfinishedabout British colonialism in Australia and the fate of the Aboriginals.
In Germany, a journalist who in 1965 attacked the Koloniallegende (the emphasis on Germany’s achievements in its pre-1918 colonies without mentioning the violence) on television received death threats. Another person living abroad had to cope with censorship threats by the German foreign office after pointing out parallels between the genocide of the native Herero in German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) in 1904 and that of the Jews and the Poles in Europe during World War II.
For the Belgians, the crimes against humanity committed in the Congo Free State remained a sensitive subject until well into the 1980s. Beginning in 1975 diplomat Jules Marchal published several books in Dutch and French on those crimes under a pseudonym. For eight years he could not gain access to the archives of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In another case, retired Lieutenant-General mile Janssens, chief of staff of the Force Publique (the army in the Belgian Congo) until 1960 and president of the patriotic committee Pro Belgica (established in 1980 to commemorate the 1830 foundation of Belgium) wrote a letter in 1986 to the minister of national education about historian and anthropologist Daniel Vangroenweghe. Janssens accused Vangroenweghe of libeling King Leopold II in his 1985 Dutch-language book Red Rubber: Leopold II and His Congo by writing about the crimes committed in the Congo Free State. Janssens also questioned Vangroenweghe’s position as a secondaryschool history teacher. When members of parliament supporting Pro Belgica asked questions about the affair, the minister established a commission of school inspectors, which concluded that the charges were unfounded.
Janssens also wrote to the publisher who translated Vangroenweghe’s book into French, as a result of which a publisher’s note was printed in the 1986 French-language edition to warn readers of its controversial nature. Vangroenweghe was asked to sign a statement that he would take all responsibility in the eventuality of a lawsuit. Although the French-language edition sold out in a few months, it was not reprinted. Pro Belgica also published rebuttals of Vangroenweghe’s “lies.” In the course of the affair, Vangroenweghe was threatened in anonymous letters, and his public lectures on the subject were interrupted by former colonials and attended by the secret police.
The final stages of colonialism proved to be delicate subjects in the Netherlands and France. In the Netherlands, the 1984 publication of a volume in the official war history, Kingdom of the Netherlands in World War II, dealing with the Dutch East Indies and the later Indonesia, led to a protracted lawsuit. The suit was finally decided against the petitioners (representatives of part of the community of those who formerly lived in the East Indies, organized as the Committee for the Historical Rehabilitation of the Dutch East Indies) in April 1990. They had accused the author, historian Loe De Jong, of portraying too negatively the role of the colonial administration. They also objected to passages about war crimes committed by Dutch troops against Indonesian nationalists from 1945 to 1949, and they asked the state to commission “a less prejudiced historian” to rewrite the history of colonial relations.
The 1987 manuscript of De Jong’s next volume, also about Dutch-Indonesian relations from 1945 to 1949, was leaked to the press by two military reviewers and evoked strong protests from veterans because it contained a forty-six-page section entitled “War Crimes.” Some veterans demanded nonpublication of that part, sued De Jong for libel, or published denials of his claims. The defamation case, including the demand for nonpublication, was dismissed in 1988, chiefly because the controversial statements were made in a manuscript, not a published book. When the volume was finally published, the title of the provocative section was changed to “Excesses.” A few years later Dutch war veterans sued novelist Graa Boomsma on similar charges; the case was dismissed.
In France, the violent Algerian independence struggle (19541962) proved traumatic. Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers treated the theme and was banned. Shot on location in Algiers in 1965 with the assistance of the Algerian government, the film gave a sympathetic account of the Algerian fight and criticized the use of torture by colonial authorities. The French ban lasted five years; the film’s eventual release was delayed because cinema managers were intimidated. The Battle of Algiers was also banned in Uruguay in 1968 because it was seen as indirectly condoning the Tupamaro guerrilla, a National Liberation Movement very active at the time.
A 1996 issue of the Algerian daily Libert was seized by the French police because it included an article commemorating the anniversary of a pro-independence demonstration by Algerians in Paris on October 17, 1962. The demonstration had ended in a bloodbath. The article mentioned a death toll and the disappearance of as many as two hundred people instead of the official tally of three deaths and sixty-four injured. In 1998 Maurice Papon, the chief of the Paris police at the time, sued historian Jean-Luc Einaudi for libel because the latter had written in the newspaper Le Monde that the 1962 events constituted a “massacre perpetrated by the police on Papon’s orders.” In addition, Einaudi denounced the removal or destruction of several relevant archives. In 1999 the court ruled that the statement had been defamatory; damages were not awarded, however, because the court also ruled that Einaudi’s method had been careful. Only in the same year did the French National Assembly officially acknowledge that France had fought a “war,” rather than “an operation for keeping order,” against Algerian nationalists from 1954 to 1962.
In former colonies, colonialism was widely condemned, with little reason for substantial differences of opinion. One example reveals, however, that the role of locals could be thorny. In 1977 the Indonesian Film Censorship Board banned Saija dan Adinda, a Dutch-Indonesian film directed by Fons Rademakers. The 1976 film, an adaptation of the nineteenth-century novel Max Havelaar, told the story of the corrupt and exploitative practices of the local gentry under Dutch colonial rule. The board declared that the ban was imposed because the film created the impression that colonialism was good and that the people were exploited by the local gentry rather than the Dutch.
If evidence for censorship of colonialism in general was understandably scarce, the reverse was true for its beginning and end. In some cases, episodes of colonial conquest were extremely difficult to interpret, as examples from Mexico and South Africa prove.
From 1950 to 1951 a Mexican scientific commission devoted thirty-seven sessions to verifying the authenticity of the bones of Cuauhtmoc (the last Aztec emperor and a national symbol of resistance to European imperialism), which had been “discovered” shortly before. When the commission found no proof of the bones’ authenticity, and thus was unable to satisfy national pride, it was confronted with extreme hostility in the press. In 1975 a new commission came to the same conclusion as the 1951 group.
In the run-up to the 1992 quincentenary marking the arrival of Christopher Columbus (14511506) in the Americas, an intense debate raged in Mexico about whether it was legitimate to describe this “discovery” as the start of an encounter between the Old and the New World. In South Africa, two books published in 1952 criticized the celebration of three hundred years of white settlement and looked at South Africa’s history as a struggle between oppressors and oppressed. The books, Three Hundred Years: A History of South Africa by Mnguni (Hosea Jaffe) and The Role of the Missionaries in Conquest by Nosipho Majeke (Dora Taylor), had to appear under pseudonyms and were banned. Both books anticipated the work of radical historians in the 1970s.
The early stages of colonialism were sometimes problematic. In February 2005, a 6-meter (19.5-foot) statue of the Leopold II was reerected in Congo after it had been removed on the orders of President Mobutu Sese Seko (19301997) in 1967. It was taken down again just hours later, reportedly because several ministers opposed having a memorial to a man who had caused so much exploitation and death.
The last stages of colonialism, however, were by far the most sensitive in the former colonies.
Latin America. There are many examples in Latin America, where independence from Spain and Portugal came in the early nineteenth century for most colonies. In 1976, during the military dictatorship, Uruguayan historian Alfonso Fernndez Cabrelli was arrested and held without trial. He was accused of “an attempt to subconsciously influence the reader of his book The Uruguayans” (Boletn informativo 1979, p. 6) by drawing parallels between Uruguay’s hero of independence, General Jos Artigas (17641850), and the revolutionaries Camilo Torres (19291967) and Che Guevara (19281967). The book was called excessively critical of “the measures taken by the authorities to preserve the values of our nationality against the penetration of Marxism” (Boletn informativo 1979, p. 6).
In the 1980s the Colombian Academy of History directed comparable criticism to some authors of history textbooks. The author Rodolfo Ramn de Roux was accused of omitting or ridiculing the most important figures of the independence period and of overemphasizing contemporary history. His New History approach was labeled Marxist and unpatriotic. A similar approach used in a textbook by Silvia Duzzan and Salomn Kalmanovitz was equally condemned. An academy member declared in a newspaper that the textbook depicted Spaniards and Creoles unfavorably, thus inciting hatred against them. Despite the academy’s attitude, the text-books continued to be used in schools.
Elsewhere, analogous cases were noted. In Peru, historian Heraclio Bonilla was criticized in the 1970s for his revisionist interpretation of the Peruvian independence movement. Bonilla’s work was attacked for unpatriotically debunking the nation’s traditional heroes and overemphasizing socioeconomic factors.
Under the Argentinean dictatorship (19761983) of General Jorge Videla and others a historical study, From Montoneros to Caudillos, was banned because its title contained the forbidden word Montonero (adopted by left-wing Peronists in memory of the irregular armies of gauchos who fought against Spanish troops during Argentina’s independence wars of 1810 to 1816).
In 1983 in Mexico, the National Autonomous University of Mexico planned a production of Martyrdom of Morelos (1981), a play by Vicente Leero. Leero’s portrayal of Mexican independence hero Jos Mara Morelos (17651815) as someone who under torture betrayed the names, strategies, and troop strengths of other rebel commanders caused a great stir, especially because President Miguel de la Madrid (b. 1934) had “adopted” Morelos as his spiritual mentor from the past. Some rehearsals were reportedly interrupted, a controversial actor playing the part of Morelos was replaced, and precautions against violent protests were taken on opening night.
In Cuba, finally, prominent independence leaders such as Jos Mart (18531895), Mximo Gmez (18361905), and Antonio Maceo (18451896) formed part of the pantheon inspiring and legitimizing the government of Fidel Castro (b. 1927) and were, as such, sensitive subjects.
Asia. In Asia, problems were comparable. In 1952 the Indian Ministry of Education appointed an editorial board to compile an official history of the Indian freedom movement, to be published in conjunction with the centenary celebration of the 1857 revolt of Indian soldiers (sepoys). In 1954 board director and historian Romesh Chandra Majumdar presented a draft of the first volume to the other editorial board members; after a delay he learned from the minister of education that some board members had criticized his draft as exaggerating the role of Bengal in the freedom movement.
Equally controversial was the starting date of the freedom movement in India, situated by Majumdar in 1870. Others preferred to designate the 1857 revolt itself as the beginning of the movement, or even the thirteenth centuryimplying that Muslims were foreigners in India, an assumption undermining the Congress Party’s ideal of India as a secular democracy.
A third point of conflict was the nature of the 1857 revolt (was it a national war of independence or not?). Majumdar resigned and the editorial board was dissolved in 1955. The government entrusted the work to National Archives director Surendra Nath Sen, whose book Eighteen Fifty-Seven appeared in 1957. The same year Majumdar published his own findings as The Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857.
In Indonesia, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote persuasive anticolonial novels. Imprisoned at Buru Island, Pramoedya was not allowed to write in the 1970s. In the evenings, he told his fellow inmates stories about the incipient nationalist movement in the early twentieth-century Dutch East Indies entirely from memory. When Pramoedya was finally allowed to write in 1975, the other inmates gave him paper and did his duties while he transformed the stories into a set of four historical novels.
When the quartet was published after Pramoedya’s release in 1979 and proved immensely popular, each of the volumes was banned. Susandi, the head of the investigation team at the office of the Indonesian attorney general, claimed that the books represented a threat to security and order and that the author “had been able by means of historical data to smuggle in Marxist-Leninist teachings.” The ban was also partially inspired by fear that analogies would be drawn between the abuses committed by the Dutch colonial power and those of the regime of President Suharto (b. 1921), who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998.
The son of a school headmaster, Ananta Toer Pramoedya was born February 6, 1925, in Blora, East Java, Indonesia. Imprisoned by each of Indonesia’s three twentieth-century governments for alleged subversive political activities and writings, he is widely considered Indonesia’s most estimable writer.
In his fictional works, Pramoedya has created insightful and forward-looking characters who challenge traditional political doctrines through thought and action. The complex political history of the Indonesian islands serves as the context for many of Pramoedya’s works, which are also marked by his experiences during World War II.
After Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, the Dutch tried to regain the islands of the East Indies. However, Indonesian nationalist sentiment led several paramilitary rebel groups to engage the Dutch in a four-year struggle for control of the country. While serving as a soldier in this nationalist movement, Pramoedya was captured and jailed in 1947.
While serving in a Dutch forced labor camp, Pramoedya wrote The Fugitive, which was published several months after his release in 1949. The book, which earned him an Indonesian literary prize, marked Pramoedya’s emergence as a politically influential author. In 1990, some forty years after it was originally published, The Fugitive became Pramoedya’s first novel widely available to English-speaking audiences.
Once out of prison, Pramoedya developed several leftist affiliations, though he never became a communist. He served as a leading figure in Lekra, a socialist literary group, and visited Beijing in 1956, expressing support for that country’s communist revolution. Among his significant publications of the period was a defense of Java’s Chinese minority community. In 1965, after the failure of a coup aimed at overthrowing the by-then independent Indonesian government, Pramoedya was deemed an enemy of the state on account of his earlier leftist associations. The author’s library, notes, and manuscripts were burned, and he was held without trial for fourteen years on the prison island of Buru in eastern Indonesia.
For the first seven years of his incarceration, Pramoedya was denied access to paper and pencil. Lacking these rudimentary tools of his trade, he composed stories in his head. Upon his release in 1979, Pramoedya turned those prison stories into a historical tetralogy, based loosely on the life of Tirto Adisoerjo, an early Indonesian nationalist.
The Indonesian government has suppressed Pramoedya’s works, citing alleged Marxist-Leninist leanings and elements of class conflict that pose a potential threat to society. Some observers have viewed these bans as an attempt to quell liberalism and debate among Indonesians.
Pramoedya’s work has been circulated in the form of “illegal” photocopies, at great personal risk to Indonesian readers, and has remained largely inaccessible to foreigners. In addition, journalists have often been denied permission to interview him and the Australian translator of the Buruquartet was expelled from Java. When asked to describe his feelings about his works being banned, Pramoedya told the Washington Post: “I consider it an honor. To do creative work you must be prepared to pay, and this is one of the costs” (North, p. D5, April 1988).
Africa. In Africa also, independence struggles left their uncertain legacies. In Kenya, the interpretation of the independence movement, and especially of one part of it, the Mau Mau rebellion (19521956), was a predominant subject of debate among historians because the conclusions of the debate had direct implications for the legitimacy of the authoritarian leadership. Mau Mau was an uprising of members of the Gikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, against British colonial rule to obtain land and freedom. Writers with a Marxist-inspired interpretation of the rebellion risked persecution.
Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiongo, who wrote fiction on the Mau Mau, spent the last year (1978) of the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta (18911978) in prison because one of his recent plays had dealt with Kenyans who collaborated with the colonial administration by serving in the Home Guard during the Mau Mau rebellion. Ngugi’s play also treated the struggle over land between a peasant farmer and a rich landowner. In the words of Eliud Njenga, the Kiambu district commissioner, “it promoted the class struggle.” The play was “too provocative, would make some people bitter and was opening up old graves.” After his release and much further harassment, Ngugi eventually went into exile until his temporary return to Kenya in 2004.
Another Kenyan victim, this time under the government (19782002) of President Daniel arap Moi (b. 1924), was Marxist historian Maina wa Kinyatti, known for his controversial work on Mau Mau. It cost him six years of imprisonment under severe duress (19821988), an eye disease, and exile afterwards.
At the other side of the interpretation spectrum, neoconservative historian William Ochieng, who viewed Mau Mau as an internecine struggle among the Gikuyu, stayed relatively aloof from criticism until a group of Mau Mau veterans in 1986 demanded that his writings be banned from the schools. The veterans also decided to commission the “correct” historiography of the Mau Mau rebellion. In an official reaction, President Moi declared that he could not allow history to be written in a way that might divide the Kenyans and that any history of the Mau Mau rebellion should provide a correct account of independence. As late as October 2001, dozens of members of the Kenyan nongovernmental group Release Political Prisoners were detained for several days on charges of holding an illegal meeting because they had commemorated Mau Mau day.
Elsewhere in Africa, books about left-wing leaders who were assassinated during or as a result of decolonization, like Ruben Um Nyob (19131958) in Cameroon or Patrice Lumumba (19251961) in Congo, were confiscated and banned, partly because the books implicated their country’s rulers. Such was the fate of Patrice Lumumba: The Fifty Last Days of His Life (1966), a book written under a pseudonym by Belgian scholars Jules Grard-Libois and Jacques Brassinne, and Cameroon’s National Problem (1985), edited by historian Achille Mbembe.
In Namibia, the crimes committed by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), a black African nationalist liberation movement, before the 1990 independence caused controversy. In 1996 president and former SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma (b. 1929) attacked German Lutheran Church pastor Siegfried Groth, who for many years had actively supported SWAPO’s antiapartheid struggle, in a television broadcast to the nation. The reason was Groth’s NamibiaThe Wall of Silence: The Dark Days of the Liberation Struggle, a 1995 book that included eyewitness accounts of the torture and disappearance of detainees in the SWAPO preindependence exile camps in Zambia and Angola. The detainees had been accused of internal dissent or of spying for South Africa. Although the book sold out quickly, some two thousand people called for its banning and for public burning at a rally celebrating the sixth anniversary of Namibia’s independence.
From this survey, five conclusions can be drawn. First, popular history channels were watched as closely as academic history. Second, reasons for archival destruction, removal, and secrecy by colonial powers can be subsumed under three factors: political (legitimation of abusive power), military (erasure of traces of crimes and rebellions), and cultural (ethnocentric depreciation of the historical sources of subjected peoples).
Third, colonial powers censored historical works about colonial violence written by both national and “indigenous” scholars; those works were banned at home and in the colony. More surprisingly, colonial powers also attempted quite often to attack criticism by foreign scholars.
Fourth, for former colonial powers, precarious subjects that were liable to censorship or taboo status mainly related to wars in the earliest and last stages of colonialism. Unofficial interest groups were players as important as governments. Frequently, conflicts had to be decided in court. In the long run, violent conquest and violent decolonization came to be seen as adversely affecting the democratic legitimation of power and the construction of a national identityin short, they came to be seen as sources of shame.
Finally, in former colonies, the last stage of colonialism was the most explosive period. Remarkably, censorship attempts were often not directed at representations of the role of the former colonial power, but at portrayals of former anticolonial resistance leaders. Left-wing explanations for this crucial period were seldom cherished. Historians had to portray the country’s heroes of independence very carefully: praising them could powerfully suggest comparison with, and criticism of, present leadership, and blaming them could provoke retaliation by veterans and the establishment.
see also Anticolonialism; Lumumba, Patrice; Portugal’s African Colonies.
Boletn informativo (Newsletter of Amnesty International) (February 1979): 6.
De Baets, Antoon. “Censorship and Historical Writing.” In A Global Encyclopedia of Historical Writing, edited by D. R. Woolf, 149150. New York and London: Garland, 1998.
De Baets, Antoon. “History: Rewriting History.” In Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, edited by Derek Jones, 10621067. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
De Baets, Antoon. “History: School Curricula and Textbooks.” In Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, edited by Derek Jones, 10671073. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
De Baets, Antoon. Censorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide, 19452000. London and Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
De Baets, Antoon. “Defamation Cases against Historians.” History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History 41 (2002): 346-366.
Jones, Derek, ed. Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. 4 vols. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
Simpson, J., and J. Bennett. The Disappeared: Voices from a Secret War. London: 1985.
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