60 years in East Africa:
Life of a Settler 1926 to 1986.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
AFTER FINISHING HIGH SCHOOL IN 1923, Werner Voigt enrolled in the German Colonial School in Witzenhausen where he graduated with a diploma in Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture. This suited him ideally for life in a German colony, and he was soon hired to work in Tanganyika (German East Africa before the First World War).
For much of the next sixty years, Voigt worked on various plantations in Tanganyika, and eventually bought his own farm. During the Second World War he and his family (and all Germans whatever their politics) were treated as prisoners of war by the British and interned. As a result, the Voigts lost all of their possessions and had to start over after the war.
The colonial life described by Werner Voigt is today considered to have been a bad thing for the colonized people. Africans and Asians became subjects of their masters and their laws, politics, and economic systems became European. But Voigt paid little attention to these broader changes that took place in Tanganyikan life while he was there and describes a colonial life that sounds idyllic. He considered himself a sort of Robinson Crusoe and his experiences with African people to have benefitted both them and himself and his family.
Most of 60 Years in Africa reads like an adventure book, as Voigt recalls his travels through an unspoiled Africa encountering lions, snakes, hippos, and other creatures. Some of his anecdotes have considerable humour. The book is valuable for the insight it gives into the colonization of east Africa and the difficulties Europeans encountered in the tropics. It is, however, one-sided. Though the Africans Voigt encountered were, on the whole, friendly and helpful, there is no indication of what they thought of the experience.
Voigt tells his story with an engaging enthusiasm and an almost childlike simplicity. Sometimes, however, the translation from the German (60 Jahre in Ost Afrika) results in awkward English -- not Voigt's fault, but the fault of a too-literal translation. What is in other ways a fine book would have been even better had the prose been rendered into a more readable English.
Recommended for anyone interested in the colonial experience from the European perspective and in the spread of European civilization in Africa.
Thomas F. Chambers is Professor at Canadore College of Applied Arts and Technology, North Bay Ontario.
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