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Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari – lecturer and author

Ludger Wimmelbücker

The life of Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari (ca.1869-1927) was strongly influenced by multiple forms of racial discrimination after he came to Berlin as a lecturer for the Swahili language in 1900. His marriage in 1904 apparently stimulated the discourse about “mixed marriages” that led to administrative measures against such unions in the German colonies, especially in South-West Africa / Namibia (for the legal and practical consequences see e.g. Sippel 1995, Wildenthal 1997). As a consequence, Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari and his German wife were not able to return to East Africa. Thence, they stayed together in Germany where they did not face related legal prohibitions.

This project centres on the reconstruction, analysis and contextualisation of the biography of Mtoro Bakari, considering both his early years Africa and his private and professional life in Germany. The traceable information – from his education in Africa to his activities as a self-employed lecturer in Germany – is included in a manuscript (Wimmelbücker/Sippel, ca.35 pp.). The second step is to prepare a new bilingual edition (Swahili-German) of his writings which he wrote on behalf of his superior in Berlin and which deal with the society and culture of his home region (cf. the English edition of his major work: Allen ed.1981). This biographical and textual approach is designed to provide a basis for answering wider questions concerning the role of African migrants in the era of Imperialism, including aspects such as the study and teaching of African languages and cultures, options of self-articulation and (individual) resistance against racial discrimination, and shifting identities.

The case of Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari reveals considerable differences compared to the perspective of U.S. Diaspora studies and the “Black Atlantic”, which refer back to West and Central Africa (plus Ethiopia). His cultural background was strongly influenced by the longstanding networks of the Indian Ocean. Islam linked him with Arabia and North Africa. On the other hand, the colonial encounter was a crucial element of his life in Africa. Subsequently, his experiences in Germany epitomize the conditions in the academy and the society in Europe during the colonial period. All in all, the biography of Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari is a telling example for an African immigrant living under conditions not allowing for a common or organised struggle for equal rights in a European society.

Allen, John Willoughby Tarleton (ed. and transl.) 1981. The Customs of the Swahili People: The Desturi za Waswahili of Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari and Other Swahili Persons. Compiled in memoriam with notes and studies by various Makerere Colleagues, African, American, Asian, British, and European. Berkeley, etc.
Sippel, Harald 1995. „Im Interesse des Deutschtums und der weißen Rasse“: Behandlung und Rechtswirkungen von „Rassenmischehen“ in den Kolonien Deutsch-Ostafrika und Deutsch-Südwestafrika. In: Jahrbuch für afrikanisches Recht 9, 123-159.
Velten, Carl 1901. Safari za Wasuaheli. Göttingen.
Velten, Carl 1903. Desturi za Wasuaheli na khabari za desturi za sheri‘a za Wasuaheli. Göttingen.
Wildenthal, Lora 1997. Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the German Colonial Empire. In: Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeoise World. Ed. by Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 263-283.
Wimmelbücker, Ludger / Sippel, Harald (manuscript, in German). „…expelled from home and deprived of subsistence here in Germany …“ The life of the Swahili lecturer Mtoro bin Mwinyi Bakari (c.1869-1927).

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