Law and History Review

Forum: Racial Determination and the Law in Comparative Perspective

Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis in the Colonies: The Interwar Politics of Race, Culture, and Multiracial Legal Status in British Africa

Christopher J. Lee c1

In April 1929, an unremarkable man—a local entrepreneur and defendant in a minor lawsuit—entered the High Court of Nyasaland (contemporary Malawi) and made a remarkable gesture. The son of an Indian immigrant and an African woman, Suleman Abdul Karim declared himself a “non-native” and that he should consequently be tried as such. The lawsuit brought against him concerned the ownership of a Ford truck for which he had failed to complete payment. Approximately ten months earlier on June 28, 1928, Ernest Carr of Blantyre, Nyasaland—a local auctioneer and businessman who frequently ran advertisements in The Nyasaland Times during the 1920s—had sold the Ford to Karim with a written agreement that it would be paid for with £30 as a down payment, £20 on July 31, 1928, with the remaining £50 to be paid in monthly installments of £10 starting August 31, 1928. All told, this business transaction was intended to be resolved expeditiously, with its completion by the new year of 1929. However, the minor expectation that this contract had promised was not fulfilled. Two payments were made, an initial one on the day of sale for £30 and a second several months later on November 16, this time for £8. Karim defaulted on the remaining amount. Furthermore, he failed to make an insurance premium payment of £10 to the African Guarantee and Indemnity Co. Ltd., for which Carr was a local agent. Despite these defaults, Karim had not returned the Ford. Consequently, after several more months elapsed, a claim against Karim came before the High Court on April 11, 1929.

(Online publication May 09 2011)



Christopher J. Lee is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina <>. This article was presented at the 2008 American Society for Legal History Meeting in Ottawa, Canada, as well as at the Triangle Legal History Seminar in January 2009. In addition to thanking the audience for their comments, I also thank my fellow panelists in Ottawa—John Wertheimer, Thomas Kaplan, and Ariela Gross—and Edward Balleisen and David Gilmartin of the Triangle Seminar. I also thank the anonymous peer reviewers of this journal for their helpful comments and insight.