Recently in “E316K: Survey of World Literature,” we read excerpts from J.E. Casely Hayford’s Ethiopia Unbound, an expansive work of experimental fiction praised for its sophisticated analysis of social, political, and economic conditions in Africa under British imperialism. Casely Hayford himself was Ghanaian. Born in 1866, he wore many hats over the course of his career as an educator, journalist, lawyer, editor, fiction writer, and statesman. He led the first meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa in 1920, headed up delegations of African leaders to London, and was elected to the Ghana Legislative Council in 1927.
Published in 1911, Ethiopia Unbound tries on a variety of genre conventions. Our class focused on two segments of the novel anthologized in Elleke Boehmer’s excellent Empire Writing. “African Nationality” takes persuasive essay form, and “As in a Glass Darkly” is a parable. The title of the parable is a biblical reference to Corinthians; it means to see a poor reflection or a dim image in a mirror. The parable satirizes the colonial powers that came together for the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, which resulted in a General Act that formally instituted the Scramble for Africa. Through his use of the parable–a Christian narrative form–Casely Hayford exposes the hypocrisy of imperial conquest justified in terms of a Christian civilizing mission.
To contextualize Casely Hayford in terms of the Pan-Africanist networks of which he was a part, we discussed “As in a Glass Darkly” alongside Hayford’s contribution to the August 1912 issue of The African Times and Orient Review. This periodical was published out of London from July 1912 through December 1920, and is currently made digitally available by the primary source database Empire Online. According to the Oxford Companion to Black British History, The African Times and Orient Review was a “militant magazine.” “The first political journal produced by and for black people,” it was committed to the “exposure of various colonial injustices.”
The cover art of the inaugural issue, however, tells a different story about the identity of this ground-breaking periodical. Does this look like a “militantly” anti-imperial publication to you?
Here’s a higher-quality PDF version of the African Times Cover. That’s right–you’re seeing a white angel hovering benevolently above two imperial subjects representing, respectively, Africa and the Orient. The three figures join hands around a globe with a banner proclaiming “CONCORDIA.” The editorial foreword of the first issue sheds further light on the orientation of the publication: “We, as natives and loyal subjects of the British Empire, hold too high an opinion of Anglo-Saxon chivalry to believe other than that African and Oriental wrongs have but to be made manifest in order that they might be righted.” Language like this indicates that the publication was invested in reforming rather than ending imperialism.
There is a lot to observe about the provocative cover art as well as the rhetorical content of the first issue. Students made several insightful points comparing tone and content in “As in a Glass Darkly” and Casely Hayford’s letter “A Tribute From Africa,” published on page 67 in the second issue of the periodical:
“The appearance of the African Times and Orient Review in the field of journalism is an object lesson of great value to the teeming millions of voiceless peoples within the pale of the British Empire… A time has come, in these days of airships and universal unrest, when East must directly make itself heard and understood by the West in order to promote and establish that spirit of concord and goodwill which is dear to the hearts of all good men.”
Reading Casely Hayford’s fiction alongside The African Times and Orient Review offers a nuanced perspective on how anti-imperialism was theorized and practiced by important Pan-Africanists like Casely Hayford, his mentor Edward Wilmot Blyden, and his colleague Dusé Mohamed Ali, founding editor of The African Times and Orient Review. In this case, rather than unequivocally opposing empire, Casely Hayford was willing to publicly support the ideals of imperialism, even as he opposed its exploitive practice.
Image 2 source: The African Times and Orient Review 1.1 (1912). http://www.empire.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/Documents/Images/The%20African%20Times%20and%20Orient%20Review%20Vol%201%20July%201912June%201913/0