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Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis in the Colonies: The Interwar Politics of Race, Culture, and Multiracial Legal Status in British Africa


In April 1929, an unremarkable man—a local entrepreneur and defendant in a minor lawsuit—entered the High Court of Nyasaland (contemporary Malawi) and made a remarkable gesture. The son of an Indian immigrant and an African woman, Suleman Abdul Karim declared himself a “non-native” and that he should consequently be tried as such. The lawsuit brought against him concerned the ownership of a Ford truck for which he had failed to complete payment. Approximately ten months earlier on June 28, 1928, Ernest Carr of Blantyre, Nyasaland—a local auctioneer and businessman who frequently ran advertisements in The Nyasaland Times during the 1920s—had sold the Ford to Karim with a written agreement that it would be paid for with £30 as a down payment, £20 on July 31, 1928, with the remaining £50 to be paid in monthly installments of £10 starting August 31, 1928. All told, this business transaction was intended to be resolved expeditiously, with its completion by the new year of 1929. However, the minor expectation that this contract had promised was not fulfilled. Two payments were made, an initial one on the day of sale for £30 and a second several months later on November 16, this time for £8. Karim defaulted on the remaining amount. Furthermore, he failed to make an insurance premium payment of £10 to the African Guarantee and Indemnity Co. Ltd., for which Carr was a local agent. Despite these defaults, Karim had not returned the Ford. Consequently, after several more months elapsed, a claim against Karim came before the High Court on April 11, 1929.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Ariela J. Gross , What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008)

Frederick Cooper , African Since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Uday S. Mehta , “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 5986

Robert Ross , Status and Respectability in the Cape Colony, 1750–1870: A Tragedy of Manners (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Frederick Cooper , Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Nancy Rose Hunt , A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999)

Martha Hodes , Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (New York: New York University Press, 1999)

James R. Brennan , “Blood Enemies: Exploitation and Urban Citizenship in the Nationalist Political Thought of Tanzania, 1958–75,” Journal of African History 47 (2006): 389413

Saul Dubow , Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in South Africa, 1919–36 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989)

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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