German Warfare in Africa: 1884 Bombings in Kamerun and The Defiance of Kum’a Mbappé

douala_vue des airs
View of Douala from the airs: on the other side of the bridge (not shown) is Bonabéri, old Hickory Town

I never thought that bombing, grenades, and warships had been used in wars in Africa prior to the 20th century. Little did I know that it had been in use in the 19th century, during the European invasion of Africa that is known as the scramble for Africa. Today we will talk about the first bombings on Cameroonian soil which occurred on 22 December 1884, when Germans on warships SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga bombed Hickory Town (Bonabéri) in Cameroons Town (modern-day Douala). What might have caused these bombings by German forces on Cameroonian soil, long before the area was ever known as Kamerun?

Kamerun_Kuma Mbappe
Kum’a Mbappé, Bonaberi 1884 Liberte by Enoh Meyomesse

Well, when the 12 July 1884 Germano – Duala Treaty was signed between the representatives of the Jantzen & Thormählen firm and some of the Douala kings, King Ndumbé Lobé Bell and King Akwa, it was not a unanimous choice among the locals. As a matter of fact, most of the population was against the treaty, and sided with Kum’a Mbappé also known as Lock Priso, King of Hickorytown. The other kings had signed treaties ceding their lands to the Germans without consulting with the others. Kum’a Mbappé refused to sign the treaty. On that fateful day, when the Germans raised their flag in Hickory Town, after raising it in Joss Town, Kum’a Mbappé reacted by writing to the German consul: “Pull that flag down. No man buy we. They want to give us plenty dash, we tell them no. Leave us free and not make us plenty trouble.” The Germans, of course, did not heed the warning, and Kum’a Mbappé ordered the flag to be taken down and the mast ripped apart, a German merchant was killed in the fightings that ensued.

Eduard Knorr, in 1884

Kum’a Mbappé and his people courageously resisted and defeated the German army. The Germans were outnumbered. After this defeat, German consul Max Buchner wrote to Germany to send troops with real armament, cannons, bombs, grenades, in order to level out Hickory Town and kill Kum’a Mbappé who was a thorn on his side.

Opposition to German rule followed the annexation of July 1884. Lock Priso still favored the British and staged a rebellion in December 1884. Around this same time, King Bell faced off against his own people, who were largely opposed to the German rule. Bell then found himself up against the other Duala chiefs in the Duala War, which was fought over the killing of a Bonabéri Duala and Bell’s alleged refusal to share his profits with the other sub-lineages. Germans played the competitors against one another – this is a classic technique used by Europeans: divide-and-conquer. They supported the weaker King Bell to counter the powerful King Akwa.

Kamerun_Corvette allemande SMS_OLGA durant la canonnade de Hickorytown on 21 Dec 1884
SMS Olga during the shelling of Hickory Town on December 21, 1884

From December 20th – 22nd, Commander Eduard von Knorr sent by Berlin decided to intervene immediately, and sent ashore a landing party of some three hundred men from warships SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga to arrest the leaders of the anti-German tribes and destroy their villages. The troops from SMS Bismarck that went ashore and landed north of Hickorytown, while the men from SMS Olga went ashore south of the village. The Germans fought their way into the town, forcing the local forces to retreat into the mangrove forest, where they could not easily be pursued. While this operation was underway, Knorr received word that other hostile locals had attacked the trading post operated by Jantzen & Thormählen in Joss Town and had captured the company’s local manager. Knorr sent SMS Olga upriver to shell enemy positions, and on 22 December, the landing parties returned to their ships, having lost one man killed aboard SMS Olga and eight men wounded between the two ships. German sailors descended on Bonabéri, and burnt the city down; the deluge of fire was endless and lasted several days. They also stole the princely bow or Tangué from Kum’a Mbappé’s ship, considered the symbol of the Belé-Belé people (people of Hickory-Town): the Tangué is a sort of a bow, carved and personalized, sort of a pennant that identifies a king among the people of these water tribes. The German consul Max Buchner wrote in his war diary,

Max Buchner

Lock Priso’s palace is plundered, a colorful and striking image. We set it on fire. But I have asked all the houses to be inspected before to find ethnographic treasures. My main booty is a great wooden carved work, the princely bow (tangué) of Lock Priso, which will be sent to Munich.” [“Le palais de Lock Priso est mis à sac, une image colorée et saisissante. Nous y mettons le feu. Mais j’ai demandé avant d’inspecter toutes les maisons pour trouver des trésors ethnographiques. Mon butin principal est une grande œuvre sculptée en bois, la proue princière (tangué or tangu’a bolo, in Duala language) de Lock Priso, qui sera envoyée à Munich.”]

Kamerun_Lock Priso
The bow, Tangué, of Kum’a Mbappé at the Ethnographic Museum of Munich (Wikipedia)

After several days of fighting, the German army won because of their superior arms, and also the help sent by other Duala kings. Negotiations went on, and a peace treaty (i.e. a treaty acknowledging defeat) was finalized on 13 January 1885, forcing Kum’a Mbappé to accept German rule in Hickory Town. This hero of Cameroonian resistance, passed away in 1916.

The symbol of the Belé-Belé people, the Tangué, was only returned over 100 years later, after tireless work from one Kum’a Mbappé’s grandsons, Prince and professor Kum’a Ndumbe III and others. To learn more, please read the book Kum’a Mbappé Bonabéri 1884 Liberté! by Enoh Meyomesse, and visit the website of this proud descendant of Kum’a Mbappé, Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III at AfricAvenir.

Colonial Treaties in Africa: 15 July 1884 treaty in Cameroons

Here is the text of the 15 July 1884 treaty signed between the Chiefs of Jibarret (Djebale) and Sorrokow (Sodiko) and the German merchants of the Adolph Woermann and Jantzen & Thormählen firms in Cameroons. It basically does not show the entire text, but rather cites the treaty signed on 12 July 1884 between Kings Bell and Akwa and the Germans. It is pictured here:

We the undersigned chiefs of Jibarret and Sorrokow, under King Bell’s juridiction declare herewith that we are perfectly agreeing with the treaty made by Mr. Edouard Schmidt acting for the company C. Woermann and Mr. John VoK acting for Misters Jantzen & Thormählen both of Hamburg, with the said King Bell.

The treaty has been properly explained to us and we have signed this paper as follows.

Cameroons the fifteenth day of July one thousand eight hundred and eighty four.

Source: Abretungs-Urkunde Jibarret und Sorrokow, 15-7-1884 DZA-potsdam 4204 f.192.

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15 July 1884 treaty between the Chiefs of Jibarret (Djebale) and Sorrokow (Sodiko), and the German merchants

Colonial Treaties in Africa: Pre-treaty to the 12th July 1884 Germano-Duala Treaty

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German flag on the Joss plateau in Cameroons Town (Douala) on 14 July 1884

Here is the text to the Pre-treaty approved by King Ndumbé Lobé Bell and King Akwa of Cameroons River (Wouri River, Douala) before agreeing to signing the 12th July 1884 Germano-Duala treaty. It is called the “Wünsche der Kamerun” (or the Cameroonians’ wishes) and was signed by the German consul. Note that only the German consul signed to engage his country into this pre-treaty; and no Cameroonian party signed it.  It is only once this was done, that the Kings Bell, and Akwa signed the treaty of sovereignty. Here is the text of the pre-treaty.

Cameroons River, July 12th, 1884

Our wish is that white men should not go up and trade with the Bushmen, nothing to do with our markets; they must stay here in this River, and then give us trust so that we will trade with our Bushmen.

We need no protection; we should like our country to annex with the government of any European Power.

We need no alteration about our marriages, we shall marry as we are doing now.

Our cultivated ground must not be taken from us, for we are not able to buy and sell as other countries.

We need no Duty or Custom House in our country.

We shall keep bullocks, pigs, goats, fowls as it is now and also no duty on them.

No man should take another man’s wife by force or else a heavy fine.

We need no fighting and beating without fault and no imprisonment on paying the trust without notice and no man should be put to Iron for the trust.

We are the Chiefs of Cameroons.

The Imperial German Consul

Emil Schulze

Source: L’Afrique s’annonce au rendez-vous, la tête haute! Du Pr. Kum’a Ndumbe III, P. 145-146, Ed. AfricAvenir/Exchange & Dialogue 2012

Colonial Treaties in Africa: The Germano – Duala Treaty of 12 July 1884

Flag of Kamerun, German colony

A few years back, I met some German colleagues who did not know that Germany had African colonies. I was astounded, especially given that some of these colonies (territories, people, cultures) were broken into two as a result of Germany’s loss of World War I: Great Britain and France divided Kamerun (Cameroons) and Togoland. Belgium gained Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda and Burundi) in northwestern German East Africa, while Great Britain obtained the greater land mass of German East Africa (Tanzania), Portugal received the Kionga Triangle, a sliver of German East Africa, and South Africa gained German South-West Africa (Namibia). It is like getting punished for someone else’s sins: Africans had no say in it! Here is one of those treacherous colonial treaties Africans had to sign, and then overnight became a ‘COLONY‘, in this case a German colony. On 12 July 1884, King Ndumbé Lobé Bell and King Akwa of Cameroons River (Wouri River, Douala) signed a treaty in which they assigned sovereign rights, legislation and administration of their country in full to the German firms of Adolph Woermann and Jantzen & Thormählen. The treaty included conditions that existing contracts and property rights be maintained, existing customs respected and the German administration continue to make “comey”, or trading tax, payments to the kings as before.

King Bell in later life

Prior to signing this ‘famous’ Germano-Duala treaty of 12th July 1884, the Duala kings had the German consul sign a pre-treaty in which their rights were preserved. Little did they know that none of these clauses will be respected by the German party afterwards. The original text is found below; for more information, check out the amazing work of the Pr. Kum’a Ndumbe III of the Afric’Avenir foundation, who has done a marvelous job researching these German treaties and impact in Cameroon.

We, the undersigned independent Kings and Chiefs of the country called Cameroons situated on the Cameroons River, between the River Bimbia on the North Side, the River Qua-Qua on the South Side and up to 4°10’ North Lat. have in a meeting held today in the German factory on King Aqua’s Beach, voluntarily concluded as follows:

We give this day our rights of Sovereignty, the Legislation and Management of this our country entirely to Mr. Edouard Schmidt acting for the C. Woermann and Mr. Johannes Voss acting for Misters Jantzen & Thormahlen, both in Hamburg, and for many years trading in this River.

We have conveyed our rights of Sovereignty, the Legislation and Management of this our country to the firms mentioned under the following reservation:

Wouri estuary in 1850s
  1. Under reservation of rights of third persons
  2. Reserving that all friendship and commercial treaties made before with other foreign governments shall have full power
  3. That the land cultivated by us now and the places, the towns are built on shall be property of present owners and their successors
  4. That the Coumie shall be paid annually as it has been paid to the Kings and Chiefs before
  5. That during the first time of establishing an administration here, our country fashions will be respected.

Cameroons the twelfth day of July thousand eight hundred and eighty four.

Source: L’Afrique s’annonce au rendez-vous, la tête haute! Du Pr. Kum’a Ndumbe III, P. 147-148, Ed. AfricAvenir/Exchange & Dialogue 2012

Pictured here is the treaty signed on 15 July 1884 by the chiefs of Jibarret (Djebale) and Sorrokow (Sodiko), Cameroons