Legal Expert on Administration of Colonial Justice (1910)


The legal authority over the natives, insofar as they themselves don’t exercise it, rests in the hands of the administrative officials like office personnel or subordinates in the military who often haven’t even had any legal training. The district officials themselves are often young assessors (lower-level administrators) who don’t even know the local language let alone have any knowledge of the legal institutions of their courtroom participants. Neither the Berlin Seminar for Oriental Languages nor the Hamburg Colonial Institute in Hamburg has included the study of indigenous law as a particular discipline in a course of study. They think that it is sufficient when philologists and explorers lecture about local history and geography to young officials and that will furnish them with the necessary intellectual preparation for the completion of their difficult and responsible tasks. In the same manner one could entrust the instruction in international law to a geographer. Only through an exact study of comparative jurisprudence, whose aims would be to seek to establish what comprises primitive law and world law, is it possible to unravel from the material gathered by the ethnographers the pertinent legal material and to make it useful in its application.

Source: Felix Meyer, ‘Reform des Eingeborenenrechts’, in Verhandlungen des Deutschen Kolonialkongresses 1910, p.573 Reproduced in: Knoll, Arthur J. and Hermann J. Hiery (eds.), The German Colonial Experience: Select Documents on German Rule in Africa, China, and the Pacific (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2010), pp.42-43