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Walking the Rift

Imperialism and Idealism in East Africa

Alfred Robert Tucker 1890 – 1911

The Victorian encounter with Africa contains many micro-narratives that call for a questioning of an old consensus. Tentative assumptions as to the motives of early missionaries and colonial personnel often prove less than satisfactory due to stereotypes and unexplored archives. The need for new master narratives that move beyond the old paradigms of Western expansion and African victimization are being called for by scholars of the Global North and South–narratives that allow room for strong evidence of an egalitarian joint endeavor and African cultural vitality without avoiding the investment in imperialism practiced by colonial personnel. Based on extensive archival research, Walking the Rift advocates an alternative proposal–missionaries and administrators caught in the grinding of contradictory opposites. As a professional artist, Alfred Robert Tucker captured this tug-of-war on canvas, but similar dichotomies are found in his approach to marriage contracts, slavery, mission and church organizational structure, alliance with the colonial government and African partnership. Tucker is a representative figure–a prism to shine light on those involved in the British East African project. Like many in the early encounter with Africa, he was neither a consistent imperialist nor a complete egalitarian idealist, but operated in both spheres without creating a third.

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