Unknown Togoland

On 8 October 1914, the Times Literary Supplement ran an article In unknown Togoland, which reviewed the book A camera actress in the wilds of Togoland by Miss M Gehrts which tells of her experiences in the filming of The white goddess of Wangora.

The review starts by pointing out that the territory under discussion is ‘the latest British possession’ and gives a view of the Kamina radio station which was the focus of the military expedition. Her description of what the radio station was to accomplish supports its recent destruction. While filming took place in some well-known spots such as the holiday resort at Aledjo, most of it was ‘at the back of beyond’. ‘Tribes were pressed into the service as “supers”, and Miss Gehrts as the “white goddess” of a sensational story.’ It was a ‘further tribute to the enterprise of cinematograph producers.’

The reviewer felt Miss Gehrts spent too much time on trivial matters and should have expanded on ‘the very curiously fortified villages of the Tshokossi’ which was ‘of real ethonological value.’ Her account did however, provide an insight into a ‘new and little-known possession, its people, its customs and its industries’. It ‘was certainly above the average of woman traveller’s adventures’, and the film was said to be successful too.

The director of the film was Hans Schomburgk and the film was released in German in 1910. The Bioscope which has an overview of the film has its filming as 1913/4. There seems to be some discrepancy when the film was made/released with the BFI having 1910, and Wolfgang Furhmann referring to 1917 in his 2015 book Imperial Projections: Screening the colonies.

I wonder if anyone has done a comparison between the films listed in Furhmann’s book with those in English identified by Neil Parsons in Black and White bioscope. I have a sneaky suspicion that German cinematographers were far more adventurous at the time than their British counterparts, given that more German settler women wrote about their experiences than British.

REVIEW: Remembrance, Memories and Representation after 100 years – edited collection

Africa and the First World War: Remembance, Memories and Repesentation after 100 years, edited by De-Valera NYM Botchway and Kwame Osei Kwarteng, 2018

The pending collection was brought to my attention by someone who had hoped to attend the conference where these papers were first presented. Having seen the list of papers presented, I was keen to get hold of any published version and eventually tracked the publisher down. Thankfully I was able to get a review copy as the book is retailing at an unbelievable ¬£116.00. I am aware this is within keeping of academic tomes but it does price texts out of the general researcher’s pocket and for an obscure topic such as Ghana’s role in the Great War, is rather depressing, especially if little of the profit makes its way to the authors.

With that out the way, the publication promises more than it delivers but is definitely worth a read if you can access a copy. The first few papers after the introduction, are a little of a let down with either not being referenced or citing Wikipedia for detail on Africa’s involvement in the war. This raises another of my bug-bears related to the price of the book. I often hear UK institutions complaining about the price of academic texts which makes me wonder how African institutions with smaller budgets are able to purchase books and articles. Without decent access to published material, how can scholars in the ‘west’ (Britain, America and Europe) expect scholars in Africa to produce material of an ‘acceptable’ standard?* And it’s not just me, See here for a local SA perspective on the value of archives/historical libraries.

The great value of this collection is the use of local archival material, allowing us in other parts of the world to get a glimpse into what can be found in Ghana, in particular. While it is not the same as doing one’s own research, having local researchers with local cultural knowledge interpreting local material is welcome and hugely valued. The richness of the local archival material is unfortunately missing from this sample but it does contain the list of Contents.

The regional approach taken with the book, and it being published through a non-traditional academic publisher has meant the contents/text have not been ‘airbrushed’ for the western audience, allowing further insight into cultural differences and acceptabilities especially where terms, generally frowned upon in western publications, are used quite freely by the authors. My experience of Africa is that we have vivid descriptive ways of saying things and one or two chapters in this book employ these effectively. In this way, I learnt about ‘Hyphenated-Americans’ being those first and second generations in the USA, effectively making me a ‘hyphenated-Brit’.

Another value is that readers are exposed to different interpretations to those we generally come acoss in American, British and European oriented texts. While some thinking from the west has clearly influenced African interpretations, there is much that is still local which is refreshing and opens new avenues for exploring concepts and ideas.

The chapters I engaged with most were towards the end of the book, possibly because they were a little out of the ordinary: Italian and Libyan involvement in the war by Stefano Marcuzzi, making historical connections by Adjei Adjepong, and an overview of cinema in Ghana with brief reference to the 1914-18 war by Vitus Nanbigne. The chapter on the flu epidemic by Kwame O Kwateng and Stephen Osei-Owusu had some interesting insights as did the chapter on the role of chiefs by Samuel Bewiadzi and Margaret Ismaila.

Overall, this is a book worth accessing, and I’ll definitely be making use of some of the content in future publications. I only wish it had a more accessible price-tag for others to be able to access as easily, and that colleagues in Africa are able to access a wider range of scholarly material than they currently do.



*It is for this very reason that the Great War in Africa Association has set up a publishing arm – to facilitate information transfer more cost-effectively and fairly for authors/contributors.