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The Colonial MisunderstandingWhen the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.

Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first elected Prime Minister and President

In The Colonial Misunderstanding Jean-Marie Teno sheds light on the complex and problematic relationship between colonization and European missionaries on the African continent.

The film looks at Christian evangelism as the forerunner of European colonialism in Africa, indeed, as the ideological model for the relationship between North and South even today. In particular it looks at the role of missionaries in Namibia on the centenary of the 1904 German genocide of the Herrero people there. It reveals how colonialism destroyed African beliefs and social systems and replaced them with European ones as if they were the only acceptable routes to modernity. As Prof. F. Kangué Ewané says in the film: “I can forgive Westerners for taking away my land …but not for taking away my mind and soul.”

Through an examination of the work of German missionary societies in Africa whose vocation was to bring Christianity – and by extension, European culture and European rule – to the heathens, Jean Marie Teno reveals The Colonial Misunderstanding.

Festival Screenings

  • IDFA 2004
  • FESPACO 2005
  • Fribourg Film Festival 2005

The film is Afropolitanism at its best…continually makes provocative points.

Robert Gordon, University of Vermont

Teno has been making a series of eloquent documentaries about the African legacy of colonialism. In this most recent work, Teno tells the story of the devastation of a continent with wit, irony and historical passion.

Linda Williams, University of California-Berkeley

This documentary distinguishes itself by taking a definitive point of view. Challenging Europe’s ‘amnesia’ surrounding the colonial era, the film interrogates the complex relationship between Europe and Africa.

Le Nouvel Observateur