Famine and post-slavery society in tunduru, Tanzania 1929-1963

224, Arts building, Danford Room
Tuesday 6 November 2012 (17:00-19:00)

Speaker: Felicitas Becker (Cambridge)

In the 1920s and 30s, parts of the Southern Province of Tanganyika Territory, as it then was, were beset by a series of famines. The worst-affected district was Tunduru, which had been settled in the 1910s and 20s by Yao immigrants from the south, led by a number of so-called 'sultans', the most prominent of them Mataka. His was a dynasty of formerly large-scale slave traders and owners. In the resulting administrative discussion, the breakdown of order following on the disintegration of slavery was identified as a contributing factor to the famine. Oral sources about inter-war Tunduru emphasise the pragmatic, utilitarian character of slavery, its gradual attenuation, and the persistence of unequal relationships between sultans (now 'chiefs') and followers. They also highlight the transition from slavery to migrant labour (another element in the social crisis identified by investigations of the famine). Combined with the administrative sources, oral accounts paint a picture of a society in which all kinds of bonds, including marital ones and those between generations, were both under stress from famine and changing in response to the end of slavery. As for the actual causation of the famine, official explanations focusing on social crisis underplayed both environmental causes and the identification of populations affected by such events as groups with specific social characteristics, changing which would end the crises. If crisis kept recurring, conversely, this had to be due to these groups' resistance to change. Thus narratives of slavery become part of the ancestry of the 'rhetoric of problem and solution' and of 'conservative' peasants, still present in the development discourse today.