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16.10.2006

The Story of Mpondo Akwa (1905): Background to the Trial 

Mpondo Akwa was born in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, on July 4, 1879.[The Hamburger Fremdenblatt reports that Mpondo was born in 1874 (27 Juni 1905) and this figure has been reproduced in the existing literature on Mpondo Akwa. The entry for Mpondo in the Alphabetische Meldekartei Groß-Altona, however, lists his year of birth as 1879. StaHbg, Fotoarchiv, K4373. The term “Douala” refers to the port city, and “Duala” to the group of merchants residing there.]

After Mpondo´s father, the former King Dika Akwa, signed the treaty with Gustav Nachtigal, he and Mpondo´s mother, Bekenne Akwa, daughter of “King” Bell, sought to provide their son with the necessary education to make it in the rapidly changing world of the late nineteenth century Cameroon coast. Thus, at about nine years of age, Mpondo was sent to school in Paderborn.[There are differing accounts of Mpondo´s schooling in Paderbon. Most of the records relating to the Reismann school and the Theodorianum gymnasium in Paderborn were destroyed by bombings in 1945, and to this date nothing on Mpondo Akwa either school bas been found (Letter from the Stadtarchiv Paderborn, 27 July 1998). Levi names the school in Paderborn the “Rektoratschule”. An article in the Hamburger Nachrichten (22 November 1906) quotes Dr. Levi as noting that Mpondo also visited a gymnasium in Altona up to the Obersekunda. More research on Mpondo´s education in Germany will hopefully clarify the vague chronologythat now exists] .

During this time he was supported by the parliamentary representative Graf Praschma.[Hambuger Nachricten, 22. November 1906].

Mpondo was one of the first group of young men sent from the German colonies to Germany to be educated in German language and social pattems.[King Bell also had two of his sons educated in Germany. His eldest son, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell  (who assumed his father’s position as chief in 1908), would be tried for treason and hung by the German colonial government on the eve of World War I, after a long and courageous battle against a planned expropriation, which evolved into a movement incorporating most Duala leaders as well as some non-Duala Cameroonians. See: Eckert, Andreas. 1991. Die Duala und die kolonialmächte: Eine Untersuchung zu Widerstand, Protest und Protonationalismus in Kamerun vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hamburg. Lit Verlag. – Rüger, Adolf. 1986. Le Mouvement de résistance de Rudolf Manga Bell au Cmeroun. In: Kum´a Ndumbe III. (ed). L´Afrique et L´Allemagne de la colonisation à la cooperation, 1884-1986: le cas du Cameroun/ Africa and Germany from Colonisation to Cooperation, 1884-1986: The Case of Cameroon. Douala: Editions Africavenir, 147-178].

He was thus part of a generation whose lives were deeply embedded in the often contradictory social fabric that increasingly tied the German and African worlds together, despite attempts by colonial officials to keep them apart. His early residence in Germany, when he captured the imagination of the German nobility, seemed to make a lasting impression on him, and contributed to his life-long interest in finding a means of bringing together German and Duala worlds in a dynamic and new political arrangement. In later years, as it must have become increasingly clear to him that colonialism was not reformable and as the German colonial government continued to take action beyond that mandated by the 1884 treaty, Mpondo´s political ideas advocated more and more independence from German rule, though he never lost interest in introducing and adapting some institutions - law and medicine, for example - to Duala social and political life. [ Unfortunately, the short document in the National Archives of Cameroon (Yaoundé) in which Mpondo discusses his political plans cannot be located. It is one of the few explicit accounts of what could be called a Duala “political science” from the period, and the only document of which I am aware in which Mpondo Akwa chronicles his ideas directly. For a very brief summary of its contents, see: Austen, Ralph. 1983. The Metamorphoses of Middlemen: the Duala, Europeans, and the Cameroon Hinterland, ca. 1800 - ca. 1960. in: International Journal of African Historical Studies 16, 1, 20.]

During Mpondo´s career in Germany, which spanned from 1888 to 1911, Mpondo lived in several different cities, but spent most of his time in northern Germany where he developed extensive contacts in Kiel and Altona.[ Mpondo also resided in Mannheim and Berlin (-StaHbg Fotoarchiv K4373); newspapers suggest long visits to Frankfurt; and, a Hamburg police report reports that he was acquitted of charges of Zechprellerei in Flensburg and of fraud in Kassel (StaHbg 111-1 Senat VII Lit. Lb Nr. 28a2, Vol. 110, Fasc. 24).]

In Kiel he received training in business, was entertained and often housed by the clinician, von Esmarch, and the Castellan of Prince Heinrich, Count von Hahn, who was the husband of the princess of Schleswig-Holstein.[ On Mpondo Akwa´s social connections see: Levi, 17; Altonaer Nachrichten, 27. Juni 1905, Abendblatt; Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde (hereafter: BA-Berlin) R1001 4435, 106]. These connections were to serve him well when charges of fraud were brought against him. In Altona his contacts were more focused around the growing African Diaspora, which included several people from Cameroon. Like Mpondo, most of these Africans were considered completely verdorben (ruined) by colonial officials, for in Germany they encountered more freedom, justice and respect than in the colonies.[ There is a growing literature on Africans in Germany. Two excellent published works covering the twentieth-century are: Oguntoye, Katharina. 1997. Eine Afro-Deutsche Geschichte: Zur Lebenssituation von Afrikanern und Afro-Deutschen in Deutschland von 1884 bis 1950. Berlin: Technische Universität. - Reed-Anderson, Paulette. 1995. Eine Geschichte von mehr als 100 Jahren: Die Anfänge der Afrikanischen Diaspora in Berlin. Berlin: Die Ausländerbeauftragte des Senats].

Mpondo´s early travels in Germany, where he was by all accounts often greeted with honor and not a certain degree of wonder, made the crass racism and brutality that governed in Kamerun all the less tolerable. Even at the age of about 14, when he returned from Kiel to Douala, Mpondo began to make enemies in the colonial hierarchy who would never cease to persecute him. While he was working as an official translator for the colonial government (reporting directly to Governor Jesko von Puttkamer),[ This close contact brought him into the orbit of several German colonial figures, including the so-called Freiin Eckardtstein, whom the governor was trying to pass off as his cousin, but who was really his lover and a member of Berlin´s demimonde. The notorious story of von Puttkamer´s untoward love life became the subject of a popular revue at the Metropol Theater in Berlin, which featured the beloved actress Fritzi Massary as "the cousin" and included the character of Mpondo Akwa as well. See: Levi, 14-15; Gann, L. H. and Peter Duignan. 1977. The Rulers of German Africa, 1884-1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 40.]

Mpondo complained about the way Africans were being treated and von Puttkamer called him "black trash" (Schwarzer Lump) and "tramp" (Halunke). Mpondo Akwa resigned from his post in disgust. [Frankfurter Zeitung, 26. März 1906.]

Mpondo returned to Germany again only in September 1902, this time as a translator for his father. They were part of a delegation of Akwas travelling to the Colonial Department of the Föreign Office for the purpose of protesting the flagrant abuses suffered by the Duala under the German colonial government.[ Eckert, Andreas. 1991, 146 ] .The delegation met with Dorbritz from the Foreign Office, and, according to Levi, with the Chancellor and Crown Prince zu Hohenlohe.[ Levi, 17.Chancellor von Bülow asked Dorbritz about this meeting during the Reichstag´s investigations of the Beschwerdeschrift. Dorbritz replied that he did not have an exact memory of the half-hour conversation that took place in 1902, and noted that nobody in the Colonial Department took the meeting seriously enough to write a report on it. According to his 1906 reply to the Colonial Department, the five points discussed in 1902 were: (1) the use of flogging; (2) the supply of cattle to whites in the city of Douala; (3) the fact that King Manga Bell was treated as Paramount Chief [Oberhäuptling] by the German authorities; (4) the fact that King Bell had the right to hunt elephants, when King Akwa did not; and (5) Douala District Commissioner von Brauchitsch´s practice of shaving half the heads of prisoners and forced laborers. According to Dikongue Moni, King Dika Akwa underscored three major points: (1) that the clauses of the 1884 treaty were not being respected, and in particular that Europeans were overstepping the economic boundaries it defined; (2) that elephant hunting had been forbidden, even though he himself was the ruler of the land and therefore had rights to the elephants too; and (3) that he had lost much of his former authority over the Akwa people because of German policies. BA-Berlin R1001 4435.]

Though Levi described the meeting in his Plädoyer as congenial- including a tour of Berlin -Dikongue Moni, the translator, wrote later that they were greeted with the statement, "You have come here to complain because you are being flogged in Kamerun due to your incivility." [Eckert, Andreas. 1991, 143] Whatever their welcome, the Duala delegation returned to Kamerun believing they had obtained assurances from the Colonial Department that their complaints would be investigated.[ When von Puttkamer received the news from the Foreign Office that the Duala had voiced complaints against him, and when he was requested to submit a report answering the charges, he argued that if the Reichstag allowed these protests to be taken seriously, then the entire authority of the colonial government would be undermined. Levi, 18. The Foreign Office did not pursue the matter despite the sense among Akwa delegates that the Colonial Department would look into their concerns. BA-Berlin R1001443 5.]
.
Thereafter, Mpondo Akwa stayed in Germany as the Akwa´s official representative (Bevollmächtigte) and to pursue a business venture initiated by his father. His ensuing attempts to establish himself as a businessman were consistently undermined by the colonial authorities in Cameroon. This particular business venture involved setting up a trading post in Douala with the Hamburg firm J. Braun, where Mpondo had worked as a volunteer. A contract was signed before King Akwa departed, and King Akwa offered a part of his land as security: A copy of the contract was sent to the colonial government of Kamerun for verification. Regierungsrat von Brauchitsch, district commissioner of Douala, returned the J. Braun contract without verification, and informed the company that "Chief Akwa has no right to promise land and soil. His properties are deep in debt [überschuldet].” The business venture thus fell apart. [Frankfurter Zeitung, 4. Februar 1906.]

Mpondo fell into financial troubles. Although he reacquainted himself with his former friends, many of whom helped him out for varying periods of time, he was quickly running out of money. His father had left him in 1902 with 1300 Marks, and promised to send another 5000 Marks once he had collected it from the rest of the lineage. Unbeknownst to Mpondo, Governor von Puttkamer forbade King Akwa from taking up the collection that was to cover Mpondo´s living expenses while in Gennany.[ BA-Berlin R1001 4300, Letter from Mpondo to Chancellor von Bülow (12. Juli 1905). As reported by the Frankfurter Zeitung (4. Februar1906), Mpondo Akwa wrote to the Chancellor and the Foreign Office after his acquittal to ask them if they could influence the colonial government to lift the ban on money collection. The money was to be used to begin paying off his debts. He received a reply that the Office had already inquired about this and had been told that there never was in fact a ban. The Frankfurter Zeitung claimed it had evidence of a meeting of chiefs with von Brauchitsch on October 7, 1905 during which the following conversation apparently took place:
Brauchitsch: Did I ban the collection for Prince Akwa? Chiefs: Yes, you forbade us from collecting.
B: No, it was not me who discharged the ban, but rather Governor von Puttkamer.
Chiefs: No, you said to us: “I, Brauchitsch, forbid you to collect for Punde [sic] Akwa. You did not say to us: I forbid you in the name of the Governor.”
B: Do you still want to collect for Prince Akwa?
Chiefs: Of course we want to take up a collection again, if it is allowed.
B: So go ahead and collect for Prince Akwa! We betide you if you later need to pay fines and have to say, “I have no money.”]

Mpondo thus received no money from home, and had a hard time finding work in Germany. [Altonaer Nachrichten, 27. Juni 1905, Abendblatt. The Nachrichten reports that Mpondo found a job with the Bochner u. Co. firm after being expelled from Hamburg, but this position was contingent upon residence in Hamburg. The Hamburg Senate turned down his request for readmittance.]

During this time Mpondo applied for and apparently received a residence permit in Hamburg. [Hamburger Fremdenblatt, 27. Juni 1905].He settled there, but was soon thrown out without explanation. Although he tried to obtain information on the reasons for his expulsion, he got nowhere.[ Frankfurter Zeitung, 26. März 1906 ] He ended up living in Altona.[ Altona became part of Hamburg in only 1937] .
The reasons for his expulsion came to light only later: Dr. Levi came upon evidence related to the expulsion while researching a case of libel that Mpondo had brought against a journalist and former naval Lieutenant Commander, discussed in more detail below. The evidence was the following letter from the Chairman of the District Office in Douala von Brauchitsch to the Hamburg Police Commissioner Niemann as evidence of Mpondo´s persecution by the colonial state:

When I traveled through Hamburg I unfortunately did not have enough time to visit and take my leave [mich zu verabschieden] of you. I was in a great hurry, as my return trip occurred one month before I had planned. I have now settled in again and sit up to my ears in work. You may remember that in the course of the summer some colored Dualas visited Europe, in particular Hamburg and Berlin, among others the Chief King Akwa with his son Mpondo Akwa. The latter, when his father returned home, decided to stay on in Hamburg. The father as well as his son are big swindlers and dirty pigs [Schweinehunde]. The former sits here in jail because of insubordination [Widersetzlichkeit]!!

A short while ago I received a letter from the Hamburg firm Braun... in which they informed our district office that the father King Akwa had sold land belonging to him in the village of Akwa for 10.000 Mark. Since Dika does not know the language (German and English) well, his son Mpondo was used as the translator. The fact is that Dika owns no land and the entire relationships rests on a swindle. Dika received 10.000 Marks in cash!

It appears that Mpondo Akwa is left in Germany without means of support, because a few days ago he wrote a letter to his compatriots in which he asked for the immediate remittance of 600 Marks. Would it not be possible, without official request, to deport this fellow by order of the police back here on the next boat, if feasible on a third-class ticket ? Should this be inconvenient, I would via our Government write to your Police Department and request the immediate return of this indolent loafer, accusing him, incidentally, of fraud. Of course this would cause some inconvenient correspondence.

Maybe he can be induced in some other way to leave Germany. In any case, I would be very grateful to your for this act of friendship.

I hope you and your wife are healthy. Warm greetings and please send my regards to your spouse. [StaHbg; 111-1 Senat VII, Lit. Lb. Nr. 28a2, Vol. 110, Fasc. 24; most of the letter is also reproduced in Levi : pp. 24-25. Levi does not mention names, and has left out the introductory and closing remarks: I have translated these from the archival letter, and have added the names, but otherwise I have not changed Victor Grove´s translation. All names were included in the letter´s reproduction in the Frankfurter Zeitung, 26. März 1906. The letter is dated 5. November 1902. I have reproduced the entire text here to demonstrate the warmth and courtesy of the first and last lines.]
When the Hamburg authorities were asked about this by the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office in 1906, five days after the letter was published by the Frankfurter Zeitung, the Hamburg Senate requested clarification from the Political Police. They denied that the letter was the reason for Mpondo´s expulsion, and instead referred to his apparent poverty, his debts and the fact that he was only occasionally in Hamburg at the time. This is the story that was sent on the Colonial Department, although a draft of the letter from the Political Police suggests that von Brauchitisch´s request did in fact play a role in their decision.[ StaHbg, 111-1 Senat VII, Lit. Lb. Nr. 28a2, Vol. 110, Fasc. 24. The draft states that the letter "was not the direct cause of the expulsion" but that it "gave the police authority cause to conduct thorough investigations into his situation, which led to the conclusion that not only was he completely without means, but also that he was not working [keine Berufstätigkeit ausübte], so that the fear that he would harm Hamburg residents seemed well grounded, not to mention that he was everywhere described as a careless and lazy person. Further it became known that he tried to obtain credit by illegitimately calling himself `Prince of Bonambela...... All of this was deleted from the final version, and replaced with a more watered-down description of what happened.]

Apart from expelling Mpondo from Hamburg, it is unclear what role the Hamburg police played, if any, in the events leading up to the trial. According to the original version of the letter of clarification, which was not sent to the Hamburg Senate, the Political Police unearthed in 1902 evidence that "[Mpondo] tried to obtain credit by illegitimately calling himself `Prince of Bonambela. "´37 They thus may have provided the impetus behind the whole affair. Charges of fraud were eventually brought against Mpondo Akwa by a Hamburg tobacconist named Benno Rosenbaum. It appears that when Mpondo Akwa tried to buy cigarettes from Rosenbaum on credit, explaining he was the son of King Akwa of Bonembela.
Rosenbaum inquired with the government of Kamerun to receive confirmation of Mpondo´s story. The district official of Douala, von Brauchitsch, apparently responded: “The man who calls himself Prince Ludwig Akwa of Bonembela is not [a prince]: His father is not King Akwa, but rather Dike Mpondo and owns absolutely nothing. Everything Prince Ludwig is saying over there is untrue. Absolutely no money is being collected for him in Kamerun.” [Frankfurter Zeitung, 4. Februar 1906. The original letter has not been located.] Based on this, Rosenbaum accused Mpondo with fraud.[ Altonaer Nachrichten, 27. Juni 1905, Abendblatt.]

Mpondo was arrested for fraud in April 1904. Dr. Levi was able to get him out of prison three months later so that Mpondo would not have to spend any more time behind bars awaiting his trial. According to a letter from Mpondo Akwa to Chancellor von Bülow, Levi also helped him find a job once he was let out. [BA- Berlin R1001 4300, 3-6. The employer and the nature of the job were not mentioned.] The trial took place over a year after Mpondo´s arrest.


MPUNDU AKWA: The Case of the Prince from Cameroon, the Newly Discovered Speech for the Defense by Dr.M. Levi
Von Joeden-Forgey, Elisa & Levi, Dr. M. (Eds.)
Notes, bib, vii, 137pp, GERMANY. LIT VERLAG, 3825873544

 

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