How Pictures of Nude African Women Were Used By The Europeans To Enlist Volunteers During Colonization

Not many know that the colonization of Africa was possible due to the promises made to European men of sexually promiscuous African women. In fact, pictures of nude African women were used in luring men to volunteer to work in Africa. How did it begin?

nude african woman
“Western Africa. Young Arab women” — Credit: wikimedia

The early 15th century was the beginning of colonization in Africa, starting with the Portuguese who had just conquered Ceuta. From then on, transatlantic slave trade began. This period of colonization was nightmarish for Africans both in Africa, Europe and America.

nude african arab women
Somali Postcard, Credit: Library of Congress

Colonization of Africa was important because it was home to abundant raw materials like cotton, copper, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea and tin, and these were essential commodities in the European industry.

However, while these reasons – the presence of raw materials on African soil – was important to the countries involved in colonization, there was not enough motivation for men to volunteer for the important task of working in the new colonial territories.

Nude African Women
“You can look, but you cannot touch” Credit:

And so, postcards of “promiscuous” or semi nude and nude African women were sent to Europe. These postcards featured women in alluring and inviting postures. Even postcards that did not have any images of nude African women on it would have suggestive captions. These postcards captured the attention of the average European man whose wife was prim and proper. And soon, these men would volunteer to work in Africa.

“SCENES and TYPES – Arab woman with the Yachmak” Credit: wikipedia
“SCENES and TYPES – Arab woman with the Yachmak” Credit: wikipedia

Malek Allola, author of  Le Harem colonial, collects an album of such postcards sent from Northern Africa during the colonial period. These postcards contain images taken by French men. He also explains how this perpetuated the “harem fantasy” through which Africa was viewed by the colonial masters.

Malek Allola also empahasizes that many African women were raped and sexually assaulted by these men who upon getting to Africa, found it to be a sharp contrast to what they were promised. But still proceeded to get what they were promised anyway.

“MADAGASCAR _ Oh! But they are kind, the little negresses, and tame!” Credit:
“MADAGASCAR _ Oh! But they are kind, the little negresses, and tame!” Credit:

It wasn’t much better overseas, as most slave owners raped their slaves and used them as a medium of entertainment. Flemish painter, Christiaen van Couwenbergh successfully captured the rape of a black woman by three white men in his famous 17th-century oil painting, “Rape of the Negress”.

Even after slave trade was abolished, black women were still being raped and sexually assaulted. It is even more mind blowing that though the crime of rape was common, no Southern white male was convicted of rape from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, according to the Blackburn Center”.

Apparently, black women and girls were still viewed as hyper-sexual and so were not believed anytime they reported rape or sexual assault.

Read Also: Child Marriage: In Northern Nigeria, Life of the Girl Child Begins at 9

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