In the last section, we learned about the state expansion that took place after the Industrial Revolution. European countries looking for raw materials aggressively colonized Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The United States and Japan also had imperial ambitions. This section is about the indigenous responses to state expansion. Despite the imperial powers’ advanced technology and weapons, many indigenous people fought back against the colonists. Read the Google Slides to learn about indigenous responses to state expansion between 1750 and 1900.
The period between 1750 and 1900 witnessed a surge in anticolonial movements across the globe, as various regions grappled with European imperial expansion. As European powers extended their dominion over Asia, Africa, and the Americas, indigenous peoples and colonized communities increasingly resisted foreign rule. Influenced by Enlightenment ideals, nationalism, and aspirations for self-determination, anticolonial movements took diverse forms. In India, leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and later figures such as Mahatma Gandhi advocated for nonviolent resistance against British colonial rule. In Africa, leaders like Samori Touré in West Africa and Yaa Asantewaa in the Ashanti Empire resisted European encroachment. Latin American countries fought for independence from Spanish and Portuguese rule, with figures like Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín leading the charge. The anticolonial movements of this era laid the groundwork for the decolonization wave that unfolded in the 20th century, reshaping global political landscapes and contributing to the eventual dismantling of colonial empires. The resistance movements of the period not only challenged imperial powers but also inspired future generations in their pursuit of independence and sovereignty.
Direct Resistance to Colonialism
Direct resistance to colonialism emerged as a formidable force between 1750 and 1900, as colonized peoples across the globe vehemently opposed foreign rule. In India, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, stands out as a watershed moment where sepoys and civilians rebelled against the British East India Company’s oppressive policies. In Africa, the resistance took diverse forms, with leaders like Samori Touré in West Africa and Yaa Asantewaa in the Ashanti Empire fiercely opposing European encroachments. In China, the Boxer Rebellion in the early 20th century saw a popular uprising against foreign influence. Latin American countries engaged in wars of independence, with figures like Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín leading campaigns against Spanish and Portuguese colonial powers. The resistance was not confined to armed uprisings; it also manifested in nonviolent movements and protests, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns against British rule in India. Direct resistance during this period laid the foundation for broader movements for decolonization in the 20th century, reshaping the global political landscape and affirming the agency of colonized peoples in asserting their independence and sovereignty.
Túpac Amaru II’s rebellion in Peru, which unfolded in the late 18th century, stands as a seminal moment in the history of indigenous resistance against Spanish colonial rule. Born as José Gabriel Condorcanqui, Túpac Amaru II claimed descent from the Inca noble line, giving his movement a symbolic and historical resonance. Fueled by grievances against oppressive colonial policies, high taxes, and mistreatment of indigenous communities, Túpac Amaru II led a widespread uprising that began in 1780. The rebellion, named after the last Inca emperor, Túpac Amaru, aimed not only at addressing immediate injustices but also at challenging the entire colonial system.
The rebellion gained momentum as indigenous and mestizo populations rallied behind Túpac Amaru II’s call for social justice and an end to Spanish tyranny. The insurgents captured several key cities, and for a brief period, it seemed that a significant transformation was underway. However, the Spanish Crown responded with brutal repression, and after months of intense conflict, Túpac Amaru II was captured, tortured, and executed in 1781.
While the rebellion was ultimately quashed, its impact reverberated throughout Latin American history, serving as an inspiration for later independence movements. Túpac Amaru II’s rebellion highlighted the deep-seated social and economic disparities that fueled resistance against colonial oppression.
Samory Touré, a prominent West African leader in the late 19th century, engaged in a series of military battles that left an indelible mark on the region’s history. Born in the mid-19th century in what is now Guinea, Samory Touré rose to prominence as a military strategist and the founder of the Wassoulou Empire. His military campaigns were primarily aimed at resisting French colonial expansion in West Africa. Samory Touré’s forces, known for their discipline and organization, faced off against French troops in a protracted series of conflicts known as the Mandingo Wars.
One of the most significant battles occurred at the Battle of Bissandugu in 1883, where Samory Touré demonstrated his military prowess by employing innovative tactics, including trench warfare and the use of firearms. Despite facing superior French firepower, Samory Touré’s military strategies allowed him to hold his ground and maintain the independence of his Wassoulou Empire for a considerable period.
The relentless conflicts with the French, however, took a toll on Samory Touré’s forces. After a decade of resistance, he was eventually captured in 1898, marking the end of his military campaigns. Samory Touré’s legacy lies not only in his military prowess but also in his efforts to unite diverse ethnic groups against colonial forces. His resistance against European imperialism remains a symbol of the struggle for independence and sovereignty in West Africa during a critical period of colonial expansion.
The Yaa Asantewaa War, also known as the War of the Golden Stool, unfolded in the Ashanti Empire in West Africa in 1900 and is named after the courageous Ashanti queen, Yaa Asantewaa. The conflict was sparked by the resistance of the Ashanti people against British colonial attempts to seize the Golden Stool, a symbol of the Ashanti nation’s unity and sovereignty. Yaa Asantewaa, a respected leader and queen mother, played a pivotal role in rallying her people to resist the encroachment of British imperial forces.
As tensions escalated, Yaa Asantewaa’s impassioned leadership inspired the Ashanti people to engage in armed resistance. The conflict marked a significant chapter in the broader Ashanti-British “Scramble for Africa” during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yaa Asantewaa’s leadership and the collective bravery of the Ashanti forces demonstrated a fervent commitment to preserving their cultural heritage and autonomy.
The war ultimately ended in defeat for the Ashanti, with Yaa Asantewaa captured and exiled. Despite the military setback, the Yaa Asantewaa War left an enduring legacy of resistance against colonial subjugation. Yaa Asantewaa’s courage and the Ashanti people’s determination to protect their heritage underscored the broader struggles for independence and sovereignty across West Africa during a pivotal period of European imperial expansion.
The 1857 Rebellion in India, often referred to as the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Mutiny, marked a watershed moment in the country’s struggle against British colonial rule. The uprising began within the ranks of the British East India Company’s sepoys, native Indian soldiers, fueled by a convergence of grievances. The immediate spark was the use of animal fat in the cartridges of the newly issued Enfield rifles, which offended both Hindu and Muslim sepoys’ religious sensibilities. This seemingly small issue triggered a broader discontent encompassing economic exploitation, cultural insensitivity, and the erosion of traditional Indian institutions.
The rebellion quickly spread across northern and central India, with civilian populations joining sepoys in the revolt against British authority. The rebellion assumed a diverse character, involving various regions, communities, and socio-economic groups. The leaders of the uprising, including Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Kunwar Singh, and Bahadur Shah II, sought to unify disparate forces against the common enemy.
The British response to the rebellion was brutal, marked by widespread reprisals and atrocities on both sides. The capture of Delhi in September 1857 marked a turning point, leading to the end of the Mughal Empire and a more direct British control over India. The repercussions of the rebellion were profound, as the British Crown assumed direct governance of India, ending the East India Company’s rule.
While the 1857 Rebellion did not immediately bring about independence, it had lasting consequences. The event prompted a reevaluation of British policies in India, increased awareness of national identity, and sowed the seeds for later independence movements. The rebellion is remembered as a pivotal episode in India’s struggle against colonialism, symbolizing the resilience and determination of a diverse population united in their opposition to foreign rule.
The Formation of New States
The formation of new states in response to colonialism marked a significant global trend in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, illustrating the desire for self-determination and independence among various communities. In the Balkans, the decline of the Ottoman Empire led to the emergence of new states through a series of conflicts and wars, notably the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Nations such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro sought to break away from Ottoman rule, asserting their distinct national identities.
In Africa, the scramble for Africa by European powers during the late 19th century resulted in the colonization of numerous territories. However, the 20th century witnessed a wave of decolonization, with many African nations gaining independence. Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya played pivotal roles in advocating for self-rule, contributing to the establishment of independent African states.
In North America, the Cherokee Nation’s experience exemplifies the efforts of indigenous peoples to maintain autonomy in the face of colonial expansion. Despite facing forced removal, such as the Trail of Tears in the 1830s, the Cherokee Nation persistently sought recognition as a sovereign entity. The establishment of new states in response to colonialism, whether in the Balkans, Africa, or among indigenous populations in North America, reflected a global movement toward self-governance and the dismantling of imperial structures. This era marked a profound shift in the geopolitical landscape, with diverse communities asserting their right to determine their political destinies.
The establishment of new states in the Balkans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was intricately linked to anti-imperialist sentiments and the desire for self-determination. The region, long under the influence of the Ottoman Empire, witnessed a surge in nationalist fervor as various ethnic and cultural groups sought independence from imperial rule. Inspired by the principles of nationalism and the prevailing spirit of anti-imperialism, Balkan nations embarked on a series of wars and uprisings against Ottoman domination.
The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 played a pivotal role in reshaping the political landscape of the region. Nations such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro sought to break away from centuries of Ottoman rule, establishing themselves as sovereign states. These newly formed states were driven by a shared aspiration for independence and a desire to assert their distinct national identities.
While anti-imperialist feelings fueled the creation of these new Balkan states, the process was not without challenges. Competing national interests, territorial disputes, and geopolitical complexities often led to conflicts both among the newly emerging states and with neighboring empires. Nonetheless, the establishment of independent Balkan states marked a significant chapter in the broader narrative of anti-imperialism, contributing to the dismantling of imperial structures and the emergence of a new political order in Southeast Europe.
The formation of the Sokoto Caliphate in modern-day Nigeria is a remarkable example of anti-imperialism, rooted in the efforts of Sheikh Usman dan Fodio and his vision for reform and resistance. In the early 19th century, dan Fodio, a renowned Islamic scholar and reformer, became increasingly critical of the decadence and tyranny of local rulers in the Hausa states. His teachings gained widespread support, particularly among marginalized and discontented segments of society.
The establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate was catalyzed by a series of jihads led by dan Fodio, beginning in 1804. These campaigns sought to rectify perceived injustices, promote social and economic equity, and establish an Islamic state based on the principles of justice and piety. The caliphate was not merely a religious entity; it encompassed a political structure with a defined system of governance, administration, and justice.
The success of the jihads led to the formation of a vast and influential empire that extended across Northern Nigeria, incorporating diverse ethnic and cultural groups. The Sokoto Caliphate became a bastion of Islamic scholarship, education, and cultural expression. Its formation was a direct response to the oppressive rule of local elites and, later, to resist the encroachment of European colonial powers.
Despite the eventual challenges posed by British colonial forces in the late 19th century, the Sokoto Caliphate left an enduring legacy. Its formation represented a significant assertion of local autonomy, resistance against external domination, and a commitment to preserving the region’s cultural and religious heritage. The Sokoto Caliphate, therefore, serves as a profound example of anti-imperialism, embodying the resilience and determination of a people to shape their own destiny in the face of external pressures.
The Zulu Kingdom, under the leadership of prominent figures such as Shaka Zulu in the early 19th century, exemplifies a potent example of anti-imperialism in Southern Africa. As European colonial powers expanded their influence across the continent, the Zulu Kingdom fiercely resisted external domination. Shaka Zulu, known for his military prowess and strategic innovations, sought to consolidate and strengthen the Zulu nation to defend against encroachments by European settlers and rival African tribes.
Shaka implemented military reforms that transformed the Zulu army into a formidable force, using innovative tactics such as the “bull horn” formation. The Zulu Kingdom, with its centralized authority and martial capabilities, became a symbol of resistance against imperial forces seeking to undermine African autonomy. Despite internal challenges and power struggles, the Zulu Kingdom maintained its commitment to sovereignty and independence.
The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 stands out as a significant episode in the Zulu Kingdom’s anti-imperialist struggle. The Zulus, though ultimately defeated by British forces, demonstrated remarkable resilience and military prowess. The Zulu resistance served as a testament to the determination of indigenous peoples to safeguard their territories and cultures against the forces of European imperialism.
The Cherokee Nation serves as a compelling example of an anti-imperialist state in North America, particularly during the tumultuous period of European colonial expansion and the establishment of the United States. The Cherokees, a Native American tribe with a rich cultural heritage and sophisticated societal structure, fiercely resisted the encroachments of European settlers and later, the expanding United States government.
In the early 19th century, as the U.S. government sought to expand its territory westward, the Cherokees faced relentless pressure to cede their ancestral lands. Despite efforts to assimilate into Euro-American culture, the Cherokees fiercely defended their autonomy and sovereignty. Sequoyah’s creation of the Cherokee syllabary, a writing system for their language, and the establishment of a constitutional government reflected the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to preserving its distinct identity.
The Cherokees’ anti-imperialist stance was further evident in their legal battles, particularly the Worcester v. Georgia Supreme Court case in 1832. The court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation, asserting its sovereignty and rejecting Georgia’s attempts to impose state laws on Cherokee territory. However, the federal government, led by President Andrew Jackson, ignored the ruling, leading to the forced removal of the Cherokees along the Trail of Tears in 1838.
Despite the tragic outcome, the Cherokee Nation’s resistance to external domination and its efforts to maintain an independent political and cultural identity underscore its anti-imperialist spirit. Today, the Cherokee Nation continues to thrive as a sovereign entity, contributing to the ongoing narrative of indigenous resilience and the struggle against imperial forces in North America.
Sequoyah, a visionary Cherokee silversmith and warrior, made an indelible mark on the Cherokee Nation by creating the Cherokee syllabary, an ingenious writing system that allowed the Cherokee people to preserve and communicate their language in a written form. Born in the early 1770s, Sequoyah witnessed the cultural changes and encroachments on Cherokee lands by European settlers and the U.S. government. Recognizing the importance of preserving Cherokee identity and facilitating communication, Sequoyah embarked on the ambitious task of developing a writing system that represented the sounds of the Cherokee language.
Between 1809 and 1821, Sequoyah meticulously crafted a syllabary consisting of 85 characters, each representing a specific syllable in the Cherokee language. The brilliance of Sequoyah’s invention lay in its simplicity and efficiency, allowing Cherokee people to read and write in their native language without the need for a complex system of symbols. The Cherokee syllabary was officially adopted by the Cherokee Nation in 1825, becoming one of the few instances in history where a writing system was independently created by a single individual.
Sequoyah’s contribution not only facilitated communication within the Cherokee community but also played a crucial role in resisting cultural assimilation. The syllabary became a symbol of Cherokee pride, resilience, and the determination to preserve their language and cultural heritage. Sequoyah’s legacy endures as a testament to the power of individual innovation in the face of external pressures, reflecting the Cherokee Nation’s commitment to maintaining its identity and resisting imperial forces.
Rebellions and Religion
Religion was a catalyst and a tool used in some rebellions against imperial powers. One prominent example was the Indian Rebellion of 1857, often referred to as the Sepoy Mutiny, where sepoys (Indian soldiers) rose against the British East India Company. The uprising had religious undertones, with concerns over the use of animal fat in cartridges, which offended both Hindu and Muslim soldiers’ religious beliefs. Additionally, millenarian movements, such as the Ghost Dance among Native American tribes in the late 19th century, were fueled by spiritual beliefs and sought to resist the cultural and territorial encroachments of European colonizers. In the Sudan, the Mahdist movement, led by Muhammad Ahmad in the late 19th century, combined religious fervor with opposition to Anglo-Egyptian rule. These anticolonial rebellions with religious roots often drew on spiritual ideologies to galvanize resistance, providing a powerful narrative that united diverse communities against imperial forces. The intertwining of religion and resistance underscored the deep cultural and spiritual dimensions of anticolonial struggles during this period.
The Ghost Dance movement that emerged among Native American tribes in the United States during the late 19th century served as a poignant expression of resistance and anti-imperialist sentiment. Originating among the Paiute people, the movement gained widespread adoption among various indigenous groups, including the Lakota Sioux. The Ghost Dance was a spiritual and cultural revival movement that envisioned a world free from the oppression of European settlers and the U.S. government.
The dance itself held deep symbolic significance, with participants believing that it would reunite the living with the spirits of the deceased, bring about a spiritual renewal, and eventually lead to the removal of Euro-American influence from Native lands. This spiritual revitalization was a form of resistance against the socio-cultural and territorial encroachments of imperialist forces. The Ghost Dance was particularly associated with the hope for the restoration of traditional ways of life, free from the disruptions caused by settler expansion, forced relocation, and loss of cultural identity.
The U.S. government, fearing the movement’s potential to galvanize resistance, responded with hostility. The tragic Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, where U.S. troops opened fire on a group of Ghost Dance participants, marked a violent climax to the movement. Despite the suppression, the Ghost Dance remains a powerful symbol of Native American resistance against imperialist forces, representing a collective yearning for autonomy, cultural preservation, and the restoration of a way of life free from external domination.
The Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement, which unfolded in Southern Africa in the mid-19th century, stands as a poignant and tragic episode in the region’s history, reflecting complex interactions between indigenous beliefs, socio-economic pressures, and the influence of colonialism. Initiated by a young Xhosa prophetess named Nongqawuse in 1856, the movement gained momentum among the Xhosa people. Nongqawuse claimed that supernatural beings had instructed her that the sacrifice of cattle and destruction of crops would lead to the resurrection of the dead, the expulsion of British settlers, and the restoration of Xhosa ancestors.
Driven by a combination of spiritual fervor and desperation resulting from British encroachments on Xhosa lands and livestock, the Xhosa people engaged in large-scale cattle slaughter. Tragically, the movement led to widespread famine and economic devastation, as the loss of cattle and crops plunged the Xhosa into dire conditions. British authorities, observing the crisis, exploited the situation to further their colonial agenda.
The Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement ultimately had devastating consequences, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and irreparable socio-economic damage. The movement highlights the intricate interplay between indigenous belief systems, colonial pressures, and the profound impact of socio-economic disruptions. It remains a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of indigenous communities facing external pressures and the tragic consequences that can arise when spiritual beliefs intersect with the harsh realities of colonialism.
The Mahdist Wars in Sudan, spanning from the late 19th to the early 20th century, were a series of conflicts driven by religious and anti-colonial sentiments. The movement emerged under the leadership of Muhammad Ahmad, a self-proclaimed Mahdi or messianic figure, who sought to establish an Islamic state free from foreign influence. Fueled by resentment against Ottoman-Egyptian rule and British imperial ambitions in the region, the Mahdists gained widespread support, particularly among disenchanted Sudanese communities.
The First Mahdist War (1881-1885) witnessed the Mahdi’s forces capturing Khartoum in 1885, leading to the death of General Charles Gordon. However, the Mahdi himself died shortly after, and internal divisions weakened the movement. The British-Egyptian reconquest of Sudan in 1898 marked the end of the first phase.
The Second Mahdist War (1899-1902) unfolded as remnants of the Mahdist forces continued resistance against Anglo-Egyptian rule. Led by figures like the Khalifa Abdullahi, the Mahdists engaged in guerrilla warfare, but British technological superiority and military tactics eventually prevailed. The Battle of Omdurman in 1898 and the subsequent reconquest solidified British control over Sudan.
The Mahdist Wars were significant not only for their impact on Sudanese history but also for the broader context of anti-colonial resistance in Africa. The Mahdist movement symbolized a fervent desire for independence, cultural autonomy, and the establishment of an Islamic state free from foreign dominance. The legacies of the Mahdist Wars persist in Sudan’s historical memory, representing a chapter of complex struggles against both colonial rule and internal divisions within the nation.
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