Terra Nullius


A Latin expression derived from the Roman law meaning ‘land that belongs to no one’.This phrase regained popularity at the end of the 1800s when white settlers started stealing land around the world: in Canada and the USA, in South America and South Africa, in North Africa and Siberia, in central Asia and central Australia. The extermination of indigenous people produced no man’s land which, according to the doctrine of terra nullius, gave the white settlers the right to occupy it.
At the time, most whites believed non-whites were inferior racially i.e. doomed to be annihilated anyway. They could refer to Charles Darwin to back this up. In Chapter 5 and 6 of the Decent of Man (1871) he sees the extermination of indigenous peoples as a natural part of the evolutionary process. Animal species have always exterminated one and another; savages have always exterminated one and another. So now ‘civilised’ people will exterminate the savage races.

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state as we may hope, than the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”

- Charles Darwin, The descent of Man, 1871