Resistance to Imperialism

So why would colonized places let this happen to them? Or as Kanye might ask, why would people choose slavery? Ugh. Kanye.

(Listen to the entire episode here!)

They didn’t just let this happen to them. They resisted every step of the way. But ultimately, Europe was too advanced technologically and the colonized places were fragmented into various groups that were pitted against each other.

the Anglo-Zulu War

In Africa, there was resistance across the continent. In southern Africa, the Zulu controlled a lot of land where diamonds had been discovered. Uh oh. Dutch settlers had been in southern Africa for a few hundred years, now called Boers and had competed with the Zulu for land but now the British are stepping in.

Early in the Anglo-Zulu War, the Zulu won a major battle which terrified the British into investing the full force of their military into southern Africa. They eventually subdue the Zulu and will compete with the Dutch Boers for control of South Africa, ultimately combining forces to create the white supremacist apartheid government that lasts in South Africa until 1991.

The Italo-Ethiopian War

But the biggest success story in Africa was in Ethiopia. Remember, Ethiopia was a unified Christian kingdom. When Italy invaded, they were surprised that the Ethiopian King Menelik II was actually supported by former rival tribes against the European incursion.

And on top of this, they were backed by another Orthodox Christian power, Russia. Italy will eventually conquer Ethiopia for a few years before World War II but the First Italo-Ethiopian War is considered the most decisive defeat of Europeans by an indigenous army.

The Sepoy Rebellion in India

Now I know we’ve spent most of this episode in Africa, but let’s move to Asia for a minute. In India, the British East India Company had been slowly creeping into the subcontinent, although the Islamic Mughal Empire was still technically in charge. The Company, in order to protect its officials and goods, built up its own personal army made mostly of sepoys, or Indian soldiers serving the British.

According to an oversimplified history textbook, the soldiers rebelled when the British introduced new cartridges for the Enfield rifles that were rumored to be greased with cow and pig fat. Soldiers had to tear open the cartridge with their teeth, so if this rumor was true, then it would be offensive to both Muslims – who don’t eat pork – and Hindus – who don’t eat beef.

Was this rumor true? I have no idea. If so then it seems really stupid on the part of the British to not realize this, but then again, we’ve seen how ignorant and insensitive to other cultures they were at this time so it’s not outside the realm of possibility. But it doesn’t really matter if it’s true because the rumor sparked a lot of more serious concerns across India. Many people, especially former nobles and rulers, were frustrated at the growing power of the British East India Company in their country. They had taken over more land and forced the government to implement harsh taxes and other social reforms. So, the sepoys, supported by the Mughal primes, rebelled.

It’s important to note that some Indians fought for the British and there was a large majority that stayed out of it. But the rebellion was eventually put down, after a considerable amount of effort from the British and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The impact of this rebellion was big.

The British Raj

The British became convinced that they couldn’t just control India through its economy, they would need to assert full political and military control. This is similar to what happened after the Zulu War. So after the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857, the British kick out the Mughal ruling family and create the British Raj. For the next hundred years, India will be a direct colony of England.

The other part of the Sepoy Rebellion that I find really interesting is its name. Or what we’ve decided to call it. If you look it up online you’ll see that it’s alternately called the Sepoy Rebellion, the Sepoy Mutiny, or the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Whenever you are talking about a rebellion/revolution/revolt, what you choose to call it is really telling about your point of view.

The British would call this event the Sepoy Mutiny. Because that implies that it was an illegal overthrow of the person in charge, the captain of the ship, so to speak. It puts the blame on the Sepoys. But a sepoy might called it the Sepoy Rebellion – because a rebellion sounds much more politically legitimate. And it brings up the idea that they are rebelling against something bad – which puts the blame more on the British.

But a true Indian nationalist would call it the Indian Rebellion of 1857, expanding the scope beyond just one company’s military. Now it affects the entire country. People who wanted complete independence will think of this event as the beginning of the long independence movement that ends with Gandhi.

U.S. annexation of Hawaii

Finally, let’s talk about how we got Hawaii. I’m sorry. I know I’m probably about to ruin someone’s summer vacation but it’s my job! We took a page from the British East India Company and first sent in wealthy sugar planters to buy up land on the island. After they had gained considerable economic power, they forced the King of Hawaii to sign the Bayonet Constitution (that sounds consensual right?) This limited the power of the Hawaiian monarchy.

They also signed the Reciprocity Treaty which gave commercial privileges to U.S. businesses and granted the U.S. control over Pearl Harbor. This is very similar to what will happen in Japan – but more on that next episode.

When the king dies and his sister, Queen Liliuokalani takes the throne she takes steps to restore the power of the monarchy. At the same time, the U.S. Congress proposed the McKinley Tariff that would raise taxes on foreign imports by 50%, including sugar. American sugar planters in Hawaii realized that their businesses would be destroyed… unless, they could somehow make their land part of the United States, and thus, not subject to the tariff. You catching what I’m throwing down? It’s almost as if this is what the US Congress intended when they proposed the new tariff. Hmmm…

In 1893, a group of American businessmen, backed by the U.S. Minister to Hawaii and a group of marines, stage a coup and overthrow the Queen. They created the Republic of Hawaii and elected Sanford Dole as the first president. His cousin, James Dole, then bought up a bunch of pineapple plantations, and founded the Dole Food Company.

Queen Liliuokalani and her heir and niece traveled to Washington and spent years fighting for the reinstatement of the Hawaiian monarchy but to no avail. William McKinley – the guy that created the tariff that sort of started this mess – was elected president and he annexed Hawaii in 1898.

Side note: as a Texan I have always been told that we are the only state that can fly our flag at the same height as the U.S. flag because we were the only state that was once our own country. But, uh. What about Hawaii? That’s total B.S.

Actually, that should just be the tagline for this whole episode. Imperialism: it’s total B.S.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *