I den europeiska civilisationens tjänst


Swedish travel literature
1920’ and 1930’


In the Service of European Civilization: Swedish Colonization Narratives from Africa during the 1920s and 1930s

Research on Nordic colonialisms constitutes a growing field and has mainly been concerned with Nordic examples of oversees colonialism as well as with so-called internal colonialism, often connected with Sápmi and the Sami. This article highlights a third focus within the field of Nordic colonialism, examining Nordic participation in the wider field of European colonialism. The source material consists of five “colonization narratives” written by four authors based on their experiences of working and living in different colonial contexts in Central and East Africa. Margit Rundgren’s "Två år på Kongofloden" [Two Years on the Congo River] (1930) describes her time in the Belgian Congo, while Hjalmar Frisell’s two books, "Sju år i tält: Bland svarta och vita" [Seven Years in a Tent: Among Blacks and Whites] (1937) and "Leva farligt i Afrika" [Dangerous Living in Africa] (1937) as well as Eric von Otter’s "Som officer och storviltjägare i Turkana" [As an Officer and Hunter in Turkana] (1930) take place in British Kenya. Finally, Gunnar Agge’s "I svart tjänst mellan vita stormakter: Tre år som regeringsläkare i Ogadén" [In Black Service between White Great Powers: Three Years as Government Doctor in Ogadén] (1935) describes the author’s work in Ethiopia, which became an Italian colony 1935 after having been the sole remaining independent state in the area. The analysis of these texts is focused on the following research questions: How are the different colonial systems described and how do these Swedish writers relate to them and to the African contexts they encounter? How do these texts expose ideas about cultural difference and development? The article examines and analyzes the complexity in the colonial encounters described in the works as well as the differences between them.