Whom  belongs the land?
Who has cultivated or tilled it?
And who has speculated?


Between money and the Gospel

This fundamental question is of pressing importance today; should the Church establishments trouble themselves or concentrates on their own income to be able to work or should they leave them alone and do nothing than preaching the Gospel to them on poverty.  The missionaries in Togo were faced with question back in the 19th century.  Before them today, stand Diaconates and congregations to whom the word as well as deed is important today, the Church establishments have tried to address both issues correctly in the African colonies.

The historian Martin Pabst portrays in his work on “Mission and Kolonial politics (or policy”) the historical conflict, an example Togo.  The following is a summary of his findings.

In Africa, so much value is placed on Land.  Individuals do not own land but the tribes living on it.  There is nothing like “ownerless” land, even if the land is left for sometime uninhabited or uncultivated.  

The first four Missionaries sent by the North German Missions Society to West Africa arrived in 1847 in the Togoland on the Eve of 1848 Revolution in France, Austria and Germany with the failure of the Revolt or Rebellion and the Restoration that followed, the assumption power by Otto Von Bismark and the religious Revival Movement, gave many the urge for a stronger rush for Mission among the “pagans”.

Population growth, Technical development and a growing Nationalism are contributory factors to the classical term we call today “Imperialism”.  Widening the area where you exercise power at the cost of others – namely many areas overseas.

Germany followed the example of England, France and Holland and Secured for itself between 1884 and 1885 Kolonies in South West Africa, East Africa, Cameroon and Togo.

So began the misunderstanding over the use of “under protective” Territory Togoland.  The first missionaries did not need large plots of land to build their mission stations.  The Europeans left behind old trade establishments or settlement, mainly in the Coastal Region.  They were not interested in land possession but mainly in exchange of wares.

South West Africa and East Africa were ideal for the establishment of plantations, but this was not the case in Togo where only a few areas were.  Anyone who tried to convince the indigenous people to work on the land systematically and not to produce for their own requirements only but also for the Trade and the colonial powers was considered a promise of success.

Martin Pabst observed or confirmed that land can not be sold according to European understanding; it can only be given out for usage.  For the natives, the sale of land does not mean transfer of property with property rights as for example is the case with Residential and building rights.  The so-called sale of land in the eyes of the natives could be reversed any time.  The cause for many conflicts was often the ignorance of both sides and also the conscious deceit from the buyer and partly on the part of the Chiefs – the buyer and a relation of his tribe over against each other.

The most loved practice of the colonial masters to declare a piece of land as “Crown Land” (under the German Crown), thereby reducing the powers of the Chiefs, who could no longer give out uncultivated land at his discretion (in his opinion) Governments also often try to take over indigenous properties, residential areas and declare them as “Crown land”.  These lands are later on given to the indigenous people to use but under Governments patronage, thereby or in doing so, one misses or takes no notice of the emotional worth or value of the landed property.

The indigenous people see such measures as a robbery of the land from them by the government who by this action has reduced them to bondsmen or slaves.  Their service as workers would be needed on one side but on the other side would have to produce independent farmers to meet the oversee requirement supply.

Martin Pabst “The Protestant Missions feared endangering their mission work, when have to be turned into dependent labourers.  But also Christian Humanitarian motives played a role in their considerations which wanted to prevent the expropriation, the exploitation, the proletarianization of the indigenous people.  They worked tirelessly for the maintenance of the culture of the people.

Christian humanitarian motives were exhibited by a larger number of the Businessmen Johann Karl Vietor (1861 – 1934) WAS A TYPICAL Representative of the Christian Businessman, who used his own profit for the well being of his indigenous customers by trying to unite them.  For example he did not tradercil schnapps.  The Bremen Firm Vietor was well known as “the religious or pious firm” He employed only those who came voluntary and paid them, looking at the condition existing then, what he paid his indigenous workers was good.

Meanwhile, many colonial societies with different aims had sprung up in Germany.  Their main concern was the geographical exploration or preliminary survey of the colonialism or the Advancement and assistance or support for practical wsork in the colonies.  One of these societies was the “German Togo – society” (Deutsche Togo – Gesellschaft (D.T.G.).

In 1092, there was a dispute between the German Togo Society and the North German Missions Society or Norddeutsche Missions gesellschaft – NMG) over land.  The NMG and the DTG had to register their land acquisition with Berg Agou.  The NMG however saw cause for this.

At the time Johann Karl Vietor was a Board member of the Nord German Mission Society (NMG).  Martin Pabst:  “Under J.K. Vietor’s leadership, the small Trading Firms in Togo protested on 22 December 1902 in a petition to the Colonial department against land claims made by the D.T.G., which could endanger the “Legitimate Trade” of the firms and the Rights of the hard working indigenous people.

A second petition followed on 11 February 1903.  The small Trading Firms formed an “Association of West African Traders” because they feared that their trading interests could be endangered by the monopolistic attempt by the D.T.G. on the ground of the consequences of the plantation system as clearly demonstrated in Cameroon”.

In advice, Vietor asked the Government to give a kind of Trusteeship of the Land to the indigenous people as the natural cultivators of the land” and to prevent “all sales of land and all speculations of land”.  This confirms the position of the NMG – although they also bought lands.  Were the first African Missionaries alone in their inner calling their lonely stations among the “heathen” and followed by them?  This is what the next generation saw itself in the scramble or “Gerangel” with regards to the different colonial trends.  How persons change their dogmatic petitions, so also does the behavior of the mission societies change.

Martin Pabst explained the background:
“One can interpret the discussions or arguments in Togo and Cameroon as the contrast between an old and new colonization model.  The Merchant or tradesman represented the traditional “Factory system”.  They had a long tradition of trading with the indigenous people as more or lesser – equally entitled trade partners and only hesitated in the 70s and 80s of the 19th century, they changed from anti colonial Free Traders to colonial advocates in order to secure their own lawful position over against the indigenous people as well as the European competition.  

They saw the colonial administration first as a protecting power and welcome investments arrived at the improvement of the infrastructure.  They however wanted to re-maintain the Free Trade exchange system between finished European goods and local Natural production and also expansion into the interior of their land.

The colonial entrepreneur on the other hand was organizing or operating from new economic premises with fixed or determined interest groups.  They contracted on capital export, the transformation of the colonies taking into account, the requirements of the mother land.  And practiced monopoly, whereby – as in Cameroon – the Free Trade was hindered in many ways or frequently.  They supported recommended sweeping transformation of the existing social structures, either through them in “Concessions system’s” delegated authority or through state interference.

Certainly the trackers in Togo were not free from entrepreneurial attacks.  This explains why Johann Karl Vietor in the 90 years plantations economic system turned towards the coast to a government’s land in Sebbe as well as to his own coffee and tobacco plantations near Lome, Little Popo and in Mono area.  Their fruitlessness however moved him to concentrate his business on the indigenous products and to press forward into the interior by way of expansion.  He had given up his plantations in the time to come – Vietor and the small Togo traders or businessmen were competing with the DGT in the purchase of indigenous products - .  Also humanitarian motives in the sense of procuring indigenous land or property can not be denied in Vietor.

In 1910, there was a great exchange of land agreements and as a result, the DTG lost chunks of their land, which they had to accept.  This also meant a final renunciation, or dis-owing of the concession and large plantations system.  Martin Pabst:  By this action, just before the First World War, the indigenous people of Togo enjoyed the rights that hither to has been enjoyed by their protective territory legislators.  The energetic stepping in of the NMG on the side of the indigenous people has contributed a lot to the ceasing of hostility or enmity that hitherto existed among them”

The NGM itself bought land officially for the building of Schools, Churches and Congregational establishment.  The mission’s inspector Augurt Wilhem Screiber in 1912 was very much aware of the advantages of landed property.  Martin Pabst quoted him: “Now in Togo, comparatively speaking, it is very cheap and easy to obtain land”.  The sale of the Church’s landed property as history teaches has brought “The most valuable or precious profit or returns”.  However he did not forget to relatively say in addition that: When it came to land speculation, the mission naturally did not meddle in it, on the contrary it was lucky coincidence when once in a while a favourable sale takes place.

Pabst then drew the conclusion that Schreiber was also very close to the policy of land speculation and even aware of it.  Schreiber also advised the missionaries, to influence the indigenous people, to otherwise or at least sell their land very cheap to the mission, and that “the transactions must go in an orderly and honourable manner”  That Schreiber also recommended that they buy large plots of land to enable the congregations have the opportunity to generate their own secured income, can be interpreted in passing that he also saw this as having an advantage for the mission:  Profit from the rising cost of the piece of land or – through the handing over by the farmers or through a direct participation in the sale of the product.

Martin Pabst who took up the sources with much enthusiasm came out that:  “Financial speculation and power struggle within and outside was what determined or defined Screiber’s Land Policy”.  Repeatedly Schreiber demanded an equality of rights position in relation to the land societies, from which one can draw the conclusion that he wanted to emulate the land societies.

The government put an obstacle in Schreiber’s land purchase plans.  The mission shouldn’t be the all powerful landed property owners in Togo.  Also the few Missionaries scattered in the land did not show any interest in Schreiber’s ideas.  In 1911, the government came in and started with the purchase of 200 hectors of land over a period of 30 years, and the NGM was to better rent land.

Schreiber would not accept any of this and in 1914 was embittered that “the plantations went to the Catholics.  Martin Pabst suspected two significant Motives for Schreiber’s struggle for land:  In the first place he hoped that in the face of “the great financial difficulties facing the NGM, his action could bring profitable gains or earnings.  The other was the fear of the competition or rivalry of the Catholics who until the end of German Colonial times in Togo have surpassed the NGM considerably”

In their conduct with regards to Trade, the Mission must always differentiate between their theological claims and material necessities.  There was a close co-operation between the religious or Pious Firm Vietor and the NGM to some extent.  One important aspect was that Vietor categorically the Trade in Alcoholic drinks – Brandy, Whisky etc.  But the firm provided the NGM with some financial benefits or gains.  The plea to transport Missionaries and their goods at 40% to Keta was willingly agreed to.  In 1857, when the ship “Dahomey” was launched it served Missionary and trading purposes.  A worker of the NGM was at the same time an agent of the Trading Firm but the job specifications were different.  “Friedrich M. Vietor and sons” used the Mission stations as preparatory grounds for entering Tradition Relationships.

But Martin Pabst found out that the Missionaries in Keta did not understand this arrangement or agreement.  Opposition or accusations against the direct involvement of the NGM in Commercial or Business has been leveled against it whenever its history is told.  As the Missionary, Seeger in 1892 began in Ho to export cultivated Coffee, he was forbidden upon the instruction of Zalm (Missions Inspektor Franz Michael Zalm).  Also the opening of a Missions Bookshop in 1909 in Lome to spread Christian and other valuable literature on morality was disputed back home by the NGM.

The Co-operation with Vietor helped the NGM financially a lot.  Vietor’s generousity and good relationship with the Colonial and Business circles contributed in no small way to many donations and gifts that the NGM received.  “The practice of the NGM” and also the observation of the author Martin Pabst was “to co-operate with Business Circles, but not to engage oneself economically ceases to have any lucrative effect in his view.  However the financial basis of the NGM was surely dependent upon the good wises a support of Businessmen and Merchants.


MARTIN PABST:   “Mission” und Kolonial politic:
                                  die Norddeutsche Missionsgeselschaft
                                  an der Goldkuste und in Togo bis
                                  Zum Ausbruch des 1. Weltkrieges.

Munchen Velagsgemeinschaft Anarche, 1988

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