Among communities in the Mara region of Tanzania, it is considered men’s responsibility to maintain “history.” But when Jan Bender Shetler’s questions turned to specific familial connections within the village, she discovered her male informants had to occasionally leave the room—to ask their wives for clarification. The result is an original and wide-ranging investigation of the gendered nature of historical memory and its influence on the development of the region over the past 150 years. Shetler’s exploration of these oral traditions and histories opens exciting new vistas for understanding how women and men in this culture tell their stories and assert their roles as public intellectuals—with important implications for research in African and gender studies, and the history of ethnicity and nationalism.
Do African men and women think about and act out their ethnicity in different ways? Most studies of ethnicity in Africa consider men’s experiences, but rarely have scholars examined whether women have the same idea of what it means to be, for example, Igbo or Tswana or Kikuyu. Or, studies have invoked the adage “women have no tribe” to indicate a woman’s loss of ethnicity as she marries into her husband’s community. This volume engages directly the issue of women’s ethnicity and makes stimulating contributions to debates about how and why women’s movements have a unifying role in African political organization and peace movements.
Drawing on extensive field research in many different regions of Africa, the contributors demonstrate in their essays that women do make choices about the forms of ethnicity they embrace, creating alternatives to male-centered definitions—in some cases rejecting a specific ethnic identity in favor of an interethnic alliance, in others reinterpreting the meaning of ethnicity within gendered domains, and in others performing ethnic power in gendered ways. Their analysis helps explain why African women may be more likely to champion interethnic political movements while men often promote an ethnicity based on martial masculinity. Bringing together anthropologists, historians, linguists, and political scientists, Gendering Ethnicity in African Women’s Lives offers a diverse and timely look at a neglected but important topic.
Many students come to African history with a host of stereotypes that are not always easy to dislodge. One of the most common is that of Africa as safari grounds—as the land of expansive, unpopulated game reserves untouched by civilization and preserved in their original pristine state by the tireless efforts of contemporary conservationists. With prose that is elegant in its simplicity and analysis that is forceful and compelling, Jan Bender Shetler brings the landscape memory of the Serengeti to life. She demonstrates how the social identities of western Serengeti peoples are embedded in specific spaces and in their collective memories of those spaces. Using a new methodology to analyze precolonial oral traditions, Shetler identifies core spatial images and reevaluates them in their historical context through the use of archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic, ecological, and archival evidence. Imagining Serengeti is a lively environmental history that will ensure that we never look at images of the African landscape in quite the same way.