"The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us"
An advertisement for Pears' Soap, from the 1890s, instructing whites to promote cleanliness among other races
Public DomainAn 1899 advertisement for Pears' Soap instructing whites to promote cleanliness among other races - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Cartoon satirising the theme of 'The White Man's Burden' (1899
Public DomainThe White (?) Man's Burden (1899): satirical take on the theme of 'The White Man's Burden' - Credit: Life Magazine

The depiction of African society as primitive, even barbaric, was a recurrent theme during the 19th century European drive for possessions on the continent. Not only did this facilitate the justification of colonialism and imperialism (by asserting it Christianised the heathen, civilized the savages and brought everyone the miraculous benefits of free trade), it also gave rise to the view that white people had a moral obligation to rule over and encourage the cultural development of people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This school of thought soon became known as ‘The White Man’s Burden’ after the 1899 poem by Rudyard Kipling.