Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-cjp7w Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-18T00:46:05.888Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Moving Location of Empire: Indirect Rule, International Law, and the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2018


Between 1935 and 1937, the International Missionary Council conducted the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment. The objective was to produce silent educational films and screen them to ‘native’ people via mobile cinemas in the British territories in East and Central Africa. Embracing the principle of ‘indirect rule’, and its role in training colonial subjects in economic self-sufficiency and political self-rule, as then advocated by leading colonial figures and the League of Nations, the films strived to capture ‘the native point of view’ through an ‘ethnographic sensitivity’ towards local cultures, concerns and needs. Hoping to educate the natives from ‘within’, they used local actors, familiar locations and pedagogical instructions that were believed to meet the target audience's cognitive capacity. Though in many respects unsuccessful, the experiment cemented the use of cinema in the late colonial project and, more importantly, embodied the clear move at the time towards a more dynamic and disaggregated, yet perhaps never fully post-imperial, international order. I argue in this article that the Bantu Experiment is thus a telling instance through which to examine both the mobility and multiplicity of late imperial locations and the system of modern international administration that emerged during the interwar period. I suggest that this mobility and multiplicity continue to characterize the workings of today's international order, indicating the key role that ‘indirect rule’, as a silent principle of international law, still plays in its functioning today.

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL THEORY: Symposium on ‘Imperial Locations’
Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Senior Lecturer in International Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Critical International Law (CeCIL), Kent Law School; Senior Fellow and Visiting Scholar (January–June 2018), Melbourne Law School []. I must thank Rose Parfitt, Emily Haslam and the reviewers for their invaluable comments, James Parker for drawing my attention to Goodrich's Screening Law, and Eric Loefflad for his usual meticulous research assistance. Needless to say, all shortcomings of this text are entirely mine. The photographs used in this article were included in Notcutt and Latham, infra note 1. I use the photographs with the permission of the World Council of Churches (the successor of the International Missionary Council).


1 For a complete list of films produced by the Bantu Experiment, as well as its rationale and the places where the films were made and displayed see the final report of the project, published under the title: Notcutt, L.A. and Latham, G.C., The African and the Cinema: An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment During the Period March 1935 to May 1937 (with a foreword by Davis, J. Merle) (1937)Google Scholar.

2 International Missionary Council: Production and Circulation of Educational Films for Natives of South, Central and East Africa (1937/1938), CO 323/1421/11 (1937).

3 Ibid.

4 See especially, Bantu Experiment: The Bantu Kinema Experiment – Origin and History, CO 323/1316/5 (1935). See on the turn to ‘culture’ in the context of colonial cinematography, Grieveson, L., ‘The Cinema and the (Common) Wealth of Nations’, in Grieveson, L. and MacCabe, C. (eds.), Empire and Film (2011), 73CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See more generally on the encounter between anthropological and colonial administrative agendas in the interwar period, in particular what Luongo calls the ‘anthro-administrative complex’ that emerged at this point, K. Luongo, Witchcraft and Colonial Rule in Kenya, 1900–1955 (2011); Foks, F., ‘Bronislaw Malinowski, “Indirect Rule,” and the Colonial Politics of Functionalist Anthropology, ca. 1925–1940’, (2018) 60 (1) Comparative Studies in Society and History 35CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 A. Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (2004), 133.

6 J. Merle Davis, An International Study of the Cinema (Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Room, Carnegie Corporation Grant Files, Box 186, Folder: IMC/Study of Cinema), 2, cited in Reynolds, G., ‘The Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment and the Struggle for Hegemony in British East and Central Africa, 1935–1937’, (2009) 29 (1) Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 57CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 60.

7 International Missionary Council: Production and Circulation of Educational Films for Natives of South, Central and East Africa (1937/1938), CO 323/1421/11 (1937).

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Since its beginnings, cinema accompanied the operations of the British Empire. See on the early use of films in colonial administration and the expansion of the British Empire, Christie, I., ‘“The captains and the kings depart”: Imperial Departure and Arrival in Early Cinema’, in Grieveson, L. and MacCabe, C. (eds.), Empire and Film (2011), 21CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See on the role of the Bantu Experiment in the development of instructional cinema in Africa: Shaka, F. Okiremuete, ‘Instructional Cinema in Colonial Africa: An Historical Reappraisal’, (1999) 27 (1/3) Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 27Google Scholar; G. Reynolds, Colonial Cinema in Africa: Origins, Images, Audiences (2015), 171–96. See generally on colonial cinematography in African as an ‘instrument of modernization’: Smyth, R., ‘Film as Instrument of Modernization and Social Change in Africa: The Long View’, in Bloom, P.J, Miescher, S.F and Manuh, T. (eds.), Modernization as Spectacle in Africa (2014), 65Google Scholar.

11 J. Merle Davis, Letter to R.V. Vernon, Esq. British Colonial Office, Downing Street (10 October 1934), Attachment, CO 323/1253/5 (1934).

12 Lugard established the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, also in association with the International Missionary Council, in 1926. See on the broader landscape surrounding the establishment of the Institute Foks, supra note 4.

13 P. Goodrich, ‘Screening Law’, (2009) 21(1) Law & Literature 1.

14 Twining to Gorrell Barnes, 12 November 1956 CO 822/912, BDEEP – Conservative Government 1951–1957, Part II, 272, cited in Louis, W.M. Roger and Robinson, Ronald, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonization’, (1994) 22 (3) The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 462CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 508.

15 J. Merle Davis, Letter to R.V. Vernon, Esq. Colonial Office, Downing Street (5 November 1935), CO 323/1316/5.

16 The literature on these topics is vast but see, for example, on the League of Nations, the Mandates System and the question of ‘self-rule’: S. Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2015), 1–16, 45–76; on the emergence of colonial subjects as political and economic actors: F. Cooper, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (1996), 1–56; on Europe, America and the reorganization of the colonial project at the beginning of the twentieth century E. Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2009), 3–54; on the ‘internationalization’ of global relations: D. Gorman, The Emergence of International Society in the 1920s (2014), 1–18; and on the financial cost of imperial administration, M. Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009), 1–65.

17 J. Merle Davis, ‘Foreword’, in Notcutt and Latham, supra note 1, at 13.

18 See on the use of the metaphor of consciousness in the inter-war period, Anghie, supra note 5, at 133–4.

19 Reynolds, supra note 10, 174. See on the intense conversations and different positions at this time on the value of ‘native’ cultures and the role and function of anthropology in the colonial project, James, W., ‘The Anthropologist as Reluctant Imperialist’, in Asad, T., Anthropology & the Colonial Encounter (1973), 41Google Scholar.

20 Cooper, F., ‘Development, Modernization, and the Social Sciences: The Examples of British and French Africa’, in Jerónimo, M. Bandeira and Pinto, A. Costa (eds.), The Ends of European Colonial Empires: Cases and Comparisons (2015), 15CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 19.

21 Reynolds, supra note 10, at 172–3.

22 Notcutt and Latham, supra note 1, at 22–3.

23 See especially, Anghie, supra note 5, at 115–95.

24 L. de Feo, Director of the International Educational Cinematograph Institute to Rheinallt Jones, Wits. SAIRR, B.61.3 (8 March 1933). Cited in Reynolds, supra note 10, at 169–70.

25 See especially, Reynolds, ibid.

26 Cited in Druick, Z., ‘The International Educational Cinematograph Institute, Reactionary Modernism, and the Formation of Film Studies’, (2007) 16 (1) Canadian Journal of Film Studies 80CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 82.

27 Until the 1970s there were intense debates about the differences between British ‘indirect rule’ and French ‘direct rule’, with the latter described through ideas of association or assimilation. This distinction has been problematized in recent decades on the basis of the widespread use of local structures for the spread of colonial interests across empires, as well as attention to how the ethos of indirect rule came to percolate into international institutions and the international legal order during the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. See as an example of literature arguing for the differences between British and French rule, Crowder, M., ‘Indirect Rule: French and British Style’, (1964) 34 (3) Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 197CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See as an early example of literature problematizing this distinction, Derrick, J., ‘The “Native Clerk” in Colonial West Africa’, (1983) 82 (326) African Affairs 61CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See especially on the widespread use of indirect rule in Africa, M. Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (1996); K. Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (2010); Cooper, supra note 16. See in the case of Japan, for example, Camacho, K.L., ‘The Politics of Indigenous Collaboration: The Role of Chamorro Interpreters in Japan's Pacific Empire, 1914–45’, (2008) 43 (2) The Journal of Pacific History 207CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 See, e.g., Manela, supra note 16, at 3–54. On the question of white settlers, see Foks, supra note 4.

29 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations, 27 LNTS 350, Art. 22.

30 See, e.g., Manela, supra note 16.

31 Ibid, at 3–54. See also, in terms of the intellectual underpinnings of Russia's position at this point, V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism [1917] (2013).

32 See on the larger and older background of indirect rule, Mantena, K., ‘Law and “Tradition”: Henry Maine and the Theoretical Origins of Indirect Rule’, in Lewis, A. and M. Lobban (eds.), Law and History: Current Legal Issues (2004), Vol. 6, at 159Google Scholar. See also M. Mamdani, Define and Rule: Native a Political Identity (2012); Uzoigwe, G.N., ‘Indirect Rule, Africa’, in Benjamin, T. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450 (2007), at 629Google Scholar.

33 F. Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (1922). See also Lugard's earlier work, Political Memoranda, Revision of Instructions to Political Officers on Subjects Chiefly Political and Administrative 1913–1918 [1906] (1970).

34 See for a biographical account of Lugard's service to the British Empire, Calchi-Novati, G., ‘Lugard, Frederick John Dealtry’, in Benjamin, T. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450 (2007), 738Google Scholar. See also Lugard's autobiographical text, The Rise of our East African Empire: Early Efforts in Nyasaland and Uganda (1968). See particularly on the role of Lugard in the League of Nations, Pedersen, supra note 16, at 107–94; Gorman, supra note 16, at 130–4.

35 Lugard, The Dual Mandate, supra note 33, at 1–31.

36 Ibid., at 94.

37 Ibid., at 608.

38 Ibid., Lugard is citing here Sir C. Lucas.

39 Ibid.

40 Mamdani, supra note 32, at 6–8.

41 Ibid.

42 See especially G. Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith (2004), 79.

43 M. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1994).

44 Grieveson, supra note 4, at 73. See also James, supra note 19.

45 See especially B. Malinowsky, ‘Practical Anthropology’, (1929) 2(1) Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 22. See on the context that surrounded Malinowsky's proposals and their similarities to, and some important differences from, Lugard and the broader anthropological and colonial administrative community, Foks, supra note 4.

46 Malinowsky, supra note 45, at 24. See also, on how indirect rule was a shared concern of Malinowski and Lugard, G.W. Stocking, The Ethnographer's Magic: And Other Essays in the History of Anthropology (1995), 258–61.

47 Malinowsky, supra note 45, at 24.

48 Ibid. (emphasis added).

49 Ibid.

50 Latham, G.C., ‘Indirect Rule and Education in East Africa’, (1934) 7 (4) Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 423CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 430.

51 ‘Films for Africa’ (1935) 4(13) Sight and Sound 41.

52 Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment, African Peasant Farms – The Kingolwira Experiment (Director, L.A. Notcutt, 16mm Film, 9 minutes, 308 ft, Black/White, Silent, 1936). Held by the BFI (ID. 11274). Available through the catalogue of the project: Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire:

53 See especially the review of African Peasant Farms by T. Rice (2008) included in the project: Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire, available at

54 Swai, B., ‘Tanganyika and the Great Depression 1929–1936’, (1980) 9 Transafrican Journal of History 192Google Scholar, at 199.

55 Lugard, Lord, 'Foreword' to C. Strickland, Cooperation in Africa (1933)Google Scholar, cited in ibid., at 206.

56 ‘Empire and Cotton Growing’, The Times, 17 February 1936, at 9, cited in Rice, supra note 53. See also on the interest on mix-farming by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, H.E. Armstrong and A. Howard, ‘Humus Manure’, The Times, 27 January 1936, at 16.

57 H. Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950 (2011), 169–216.

58 See, e.g., ‘Cotton Growing in The Empire’, The Times, 27 July 1935, at 4; ‘Cotton Growing in The Empire’, The Times, 21 May 1936, at 10. On the early interest and use of experiment stations by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, see ‘Empire Cotton Research Station’, (1925) 16(7) Journal of Textile Institute Proceedings, 235.

59 Empire Cotton Growing Corporation. Letter from the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission submitting in response to Senate Resolution No. 317, 68th Congress, 2nd Session, 27 January 1925, a report regarding the development, method, and activities of the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation, a British firm. 26 February (calendar day, 28 February) 1925, at 3.

60 F. Lugard, Education in Tropical Africa (1930).

61 Swai, supra note 54, at 199.

62 See generally on the standard of civilization and international law, Obregón, L., ‘The Civilized and the Uncivilized’, in Fassbender, B. and Peters, A. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (2012), at 917Google Scholar.

63 Lugard, F., ‘The Colour Problem’, (1921) 233 (476) Edinburgh Review 267Google Scholar. See also Lugard, F., ‘Education and Race Relations’, (1933) 32 (126) Journal of the African Society 1Google Scholar; Lugard, F., ‘The Principle of Trusteeship for Backward Races’, (1925) Church Congressional Report 151Google Scholar.

64 Burns, J., ‘American Philanthropy and Colonial Film-making: The Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Birth of Colonial Cinema’, in Grieveson, L. and MacCabe, C. (eds.), Empire and Film (2011), at 5564CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Reynolds, supra 10, at 166–7.

65 Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies – Minutes of 15th–95th meetings (Government Papers, The National Archives, Kew, 1934–1939). CO 885/41. Minutes of the 68th Meeting. 28 May 1936, 62.

66 See especially on knowledge, agriculture and the colonial project, M. Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2002).

67 See on the German colonial origins and long-term effects of labour and agricultural colonial policies in Tanganyika/Tanzania, Biermann, W., ‘A Survey of Generative Factors in Poverty: Colonialism and Politics of Transformation’, in Biermann, W. and Moshi, H.P.S. (eds.), Contextualising Poverty in Tanzania: Historical Origins, Policy Failures and Recent Trends (1997), 33Google Scholar.

68 See, e.g., on the long and wide history of economic specialization, R. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (2000); S. Beckart, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2015).

69 See especially Swai, supra note 54.

70 Ibid.

71 See in this sense how export crops contributed to the ‘underdevelopment’ of Tanzania, Bowles, B., ‘Export Crops and Underdevelopment in Tanganyika, 1929–61’, (1976) 1 Utafiti 71Google Scholar.

72 Rice, supra note 53. See also Swai, B., ‘Crisis in Colonial Agriculture: Soil Erosion in Tanganyika During the Interwar Period’, (1980) 5 Utafiti 27Google Scholar.

73 See especially on the idea of enframing, Mitchell, T., ‘Everyday Metaphors of Power’, (1990) 19 Theory and Society 545CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also A. Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995); J.C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998); T. Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt (1988); T. Murray Li, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (2007).

74 Notcutt and Latham, supra note 1, at 101.

75 Africa has been the official publication of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures, today the International African Institute, since 1928. Malinowsky's 1929 article ‘Practical Anthropology’, discussed above, was also published in Africa.

76 Blumer, H., ‘Review Work: The African and the Cinema by L.A. Notcutt and G.C. Latham’, (1938) 43 (6) American Journal of Sociology 1031CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77 See especially Anghie, supra note 5, at 103–4.

78 A similar reading was shared by some reviewers of The African and the Cinema, supra note 1. For example, in a review for the Journal of the Royal African Society it was stated how ‘[t]he adventures of [Notcutt and Latham] make excellent reading. But more important than their adventures, or than their pictures (which are frankly experimental) are the experience and knowledge which they have gained and made available for all who care to profit by them’. H.M. ‘Reviewed Work: The African and the Cinema by L. A. Notcutt and G. R. Latham’, (1938) 37(146) Journal of the Royal African Society 127.

79 Taiwo, O., ‘Reading the Colonizer's Mind: Lord Lugard and the Philosophical Foundations of British Colonialism’, in Babbitt, S.E. and Campbell, S. (eds.), Racism and Philosophy (1999), 157Google Scholar.

80 See especially Anghie, supra note 5, at 133.

81 Reynolds, supra note 10, at 172–87.

82 Ibid, at 175.

83 Notcutt and Latham, supra note 1, at 183.

84 Ibid.

85 Foucault, M., ‘The Subject and the Power’, in Dreyfus, H.L. and Rabinow, P. (eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (1982)Google Scholar.

86 Cited in Rice, T., ‘From the Inside: The Colonial Film Unit and the Beginning of the End’, in Grieveson, L. and MacCabe, C. (eds.), Film and the End of Empire (2011), 135CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 Ibid., at 136.

91 Louis and Robinson, supra note 14.

92 Ibid, at 485. See also Gallagher, J. and Robinson, R., ‘The Imperialism of Free Trade’, (1953) 6 (1) The Economic History Review 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

93 See, e.g., A. Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962 (2006); M. Evans, Algeria: France's Undeclared War (2013).

94 See especially Webster, W., ‘Mumbo-jumbo, Magic and Modernity: Africa in British Cinema, 1946–65’, in Grieveson, L. and MacCabe, C. (eds.), Film and the End of Empire (2011), 237CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

95 See especially how this was evidenced in the petitions made by colonial elites before the League of Nations, Pedersen, supra note 16, at 77–103.

96 Notcutt and Latham, supra note 1, at 113.

97 For a more detailed discussion of the relationship between the nation-state, indirect rule and the process of decolonization see L. Eslava, ‘The Developmental State: Independency, Dependency and the History of the South’, in J. von Bernstorff and P. Dann (eds.), The Battle for International Law in the Decolonization Era (forthcoming).

98 Anglo-American official talks, Washington, 12 September 1949, FRUS, 1949, VII, Part 2, 1199, cited in Louis and Robinson, supra note 14, at 472.

99 Agreed US-UK paper, ‘Means of Combatting Communist Influence in Tropical Africa, 13 March 1957’, FRUS, 1955-1957, XXVII, 759, cited in Louis and Robinson, supra note 14, at 487.

100 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, UN General Assembly Resolution 1514(XV) (1960).

101 Pahuja, S., ‘Decolonization and the Eventness of International Law’, in Johns, F., Joyce, R. and Pahuja, S. (eds.), Events: The Force of International Law (2011), 91 at 92Google Scholar.

102 See, e.g., Orford, A., ‘Constituting Order’, in Crawford, J. and Koskenniemi, M. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to International Law (2012), 271CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

103 See especially Eslava, L., ‘Istanbul Vignettes: Observing the Everyday Operation of International Law’, (2014) 2 (1) London Review of International Law 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; L. Eslava, Local Space, Global Life: The Everyday Operation of International Law and Development (2015).

104 Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies – Minutes of 15th–95th meetings (Government Papers, The National Archives, Kew, 1934–1939). CO 885/41. Minutes of the 78th Meeting. 22 July 1937.

105 Grieveson, supra note 4, at 73.

106 See, e.g., Stockwell, S., ‘Exporting Britishness: Decolonization in Africa, the British State and Its Clients’, in Jerónimo, M. Bandeira and Pinto, A. Costa (eds.), The Ends of European Colonial Empires: Cases and Comparisons (2015), 148CrossRefGoogle Scholar; J. Dülffer and M. Frey (eds.), Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (2011).

107 Louis and Robinson, supra note 14, at 495.

108 Ibid.

109 See, e.g., M. Chikowero, ‘Is Propaganda Modernity? Press and Radio for “Africans” in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi during World War II and Its Aftermath’ and Bloom, P.J., ‘Elocution, Englishness, and Empire: Film and Radio in Late Colonial Ghana’, both in Bloom, P.J, Miescher, S.F and Manuh, T. (eds.), Modernization as Spectacle in Africa (2014), 112 and 136Google Scholar.

110 See, e.g., S. Anderson and M. Chakars (eds.), Modernization, Nation-Building, and Television History (2014).

111 S. Strasser, C. McGovern and M. Judt (eds.), Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century (1998).

112 See, e.g., Widdis, E., ‘Socialist Senses: Film and the Creation of Soviet Subjectivity’, (2012) 71 (3) Slavic Review 590CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tsvetkova, N., ‘International Education during the Cold War: Soviet Social Transformation and American Social Reproduction’, (2008) 52 (2) Comparative Education Review 199CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

113 See, e.g., Goldman, R. and Papson, S., Landscapes of Capital (2011); Stadler, F. and Lauresen, O. Birk (eds.), Networking the Globe: New Technologies and the Postcolonial (2015)Google Scholar.

114 Goodrich, supra note 13.

115 See on glimpses of this other history, of alternative post-colonial and post-imperial use of images, T. J. Demos, Return to the Postcolony: Specters of Colonialism in Contemporary Art (2013).