The Pass Tokens of German Southwest Africa

The German Colonial Administration felt that order and control for the local natives in the Colony of German Southwest Africa had to be introduced. Already during 1900, it was proposed that a pass system be introduced, but nothing materialized until much later, as will be seen. No control method prevalent in Europe during the late eighteen hundreds or the early nineteen hundreds was thought to apply to the native population. However, paper passes a-la-European style were introduced on a minimal scale within some districts. Tokens German Southwest Africa

Indigenous peoples experienced restrictions on their freedom to emigrate and leave the territory in DSWA, Togo, and Cameroon. Emigration was only theoretically possible since Africans had practically no legal claim to issuing an exit permit. A permit was linked to paying a high fee, and unlawful departure was punishable by heavy fines. Passport laws constituted another effective measure for Africans’ spatial and social fixation in German Southwest Africa. Tokens German Southwest Africa

The passport laws required that all Africans, from the age of seven, carry a visible brass tag, which was handed to them by the police and entered in a register. Consequently, they were obliged to wear the pass token at all times, which they had to show to any white person on demand. Each pass token was valid only for the respective district or county. If a native wanted to leave the district assigned to him, he also needed a passport from the responsible police station, which he had to hand in again at the end of the journey.

Captured Africans in chains around 1907. men on the left and right wear pass tokens around their necks.

This was also valid only for the time and itinerary specified therein and could only be issued if the African could prove that he was not in employment with a white person or if his employer had given his written consent. Furthermore, he had to have his arrival at the destination confirmed by a civil servant or another German. Also, any African could be forbidden to leave his district for “important reasons” and be refused a passport. Thoroughly supervised, the latter should have no possibility of free movement. An exception to the passport requirement was traveling on behalf of or in the company of his white employer; then, an accompanying letter was needed.

Tokens German Southwest Africa
Imperial Protection Force in German Southwest Africa: Pass Token for Natives Black brass embossed with the imperial crown, below “Keetmanshoop Pass” with stamped No. 15488, with mounting hole.

However, if he did not have either of these documents, no white person could provide him with work, maintenance, housing, or other assistance. He could be detained by any white person and turned to the nearest police station. Unrecognizable and lost passports/pass tokens had to be replaced immediately to ensure total surveillance. The service chief or relatives handed over the passports or tokens of deceased persons without delay. Since individual Africans were repeatedly caught without stamps, even branding was discussed. Tokens German Southwest Africa

A service book was obligatory since 1907 which recorded the actual content of the employment contract, the name of the employee, his tribal affiliation, the number of his pass token or passport, the name of the employer, the date of commencement of employment, the duration of work, the period of notice and the date of termination, and further the amount and type of remuneration. Those who could not prove what they did for a living were punished for “wandering. “

I do not collect such tokens, but I find them interesting to share.

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...