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Heinrich Barth – Wegbereiter einer antirassistischen Wahrnehmung westafrikanischer Städte

Sarah Benneh-Oberschewen


Pages 179 - 195

DOI https://doi.org/10.13173/GG.1.1.179




HEINRICH BARTH – PRECURSOR OF AN ANTI-RACIST PERCEPTION OF WEST AFRICAN CITIES

Barth stood out from European travellers of his time in terms of his academic ambitions, his attitude towards Africa and Africans, and his significance for subsequent research on Africa. Barth did not travel to Africa to bring ‘civilization’ to savages, which they lacked according to contemporary European perceptions, but rather set foot on the African continent unbiased. He adapted to African lifestyles and gained an inside opportunity to experience and understand African people, their livelihoods and economy as well as their political systems, history and cultures. He managed to do so because he could speak multiple African languages, which enabled him to communicate with indigenous people, thus gathering more information than other travellers, who could not overcome the language barrier. Barth’s admiration of Africa proves that he acknowledged African history as a significant part of world history – a revolutionary concept at the time. His perception of precolonial West African cities was no less exceptional. As a native of Hamburg and a researcher of the Greek polis, Barth’s concept of a city was Eurocentric, to be sure; but he used it only for comparisons and focused on similarities between the different cultures. This confirms the assumption that a European interpretation of African cities was possible if travellers were open to similarities. The perception of Kano as the “London of Africa” – a colorful, vivid and diverse city with active commerce – proves that.



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