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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: April 2017

Chapter Two - Implementing the Genocide: Annihilating ‘The African Tribes with Streams of Blood and Streams of Gold’


I am sending a word to you Hereros, you who are Hereros are no longer under the Germans … You Hereros must now leave this land it belongs to the Germans. If you do not do this I shall remove you with the big gun. A person in German land shall be killed by the gun. I shall not catch women and the sick but I will chase them after their chiefs or I will kill them with the gun. These are my words to the Herero nation.

— The Great General of the Kaiser, Trotha

In order to secure the peaceful White settlement against the bad, culturally inept and predatory native tribe, it is possible that its actual eradication may become necessary under certain conditions.

— Settlement Commissioner Dr Paul Rohrbach

German brutalities before 1904

Many have debated whether German cruelty in the colonies exceeded that of other colonial powers. According to Cooper, what the Germans did to the Herero was ‘among the most inhumane actions of the colonial era’. On the other hand, Howard notes the matching brutality of the British: ‘The British were often quite ruthless in their suppression of resistance. For example, every person in the market of the village of Muruka (Kenya) was slaughtered to revenge the killing of one British soldier in 1902.’ Yet others have argued that despite their abhorrent treatment of the Herero and Nama, ‘the Germans treated the Herero more carefully than the British had treated Aboriginal Tasmanians or white Californians the Yuki’. Similarly, Stratton argues that Germany's colonial history was ‘no more bloodthirsty than that of the other European nation states’. Some at the time even saw the results of the genocide as positive.

While German conduct towards the Herero was unique in that it constituted genocide, brutal violence against and mass killings of colonial subjects were ubiquitous and date back to the earliest times of German settlement. Even if the general violent conduct was not specifically ordered, it was habitually condoned; more often it was exalted and rewarded by those in authority, both in and outside the military.