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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Slavery and freedom in nineteenth century East Africa: the case of Waungwana caravan porters
Author:Rockel, Stephen J.ISNI
Periodical:African Studies
Geographic term:East Africa
road transport
long-distance trade
mercantile history
Abstract:The nineteenth-century East African caravan system was organized around the labour of itinerant caravan porters, most of whom were free wage labourers. However, a minority of the caravan labour force, and a section of the populations of new market and caravan towns on the coast and in the interior, were slaves or freed slaves, known as Waungwana, or 'gentlemen'. Waungwana caravan porters and retainers of Muslim traders were mostly coast-based, although many travelled for years in the far interior of Central and East Africa. To some degree the Waungwana were assimilated into Swahili culture, with its urban Muslim characteristics. Yet the Waungwana were from diverse origins across East Africa. They were also very mobile, and they were wage earning and often entrepreneurial. Paradoxically, it is this very mobility and frequently great distance from the centres of Swahili culture that gave the Waungwana social and economic opportunities, status, and a role as cultural brokers. They were men of the world, and lived their lives alongside the free caravan personnel of the non-Muslim interior. Waungwana were able, therefore, to negotiate limitations to their slave status and enlarge a sphere of freedom for themselves. They were also founding inhabitants of the new centres of urban modernity along the caravan routes. The Waungwana perfectly illustrate multiple conceptions of 'labour crossings'. First, they transcended the rather blurred boundaries between free and slave labour in nineteenth-century East Africa. Second, they utilized space and mobility in a fluid way to negotiate the conditions of slavery and freedom. Third, they were partners in processes of transregional, transnational and supraethnic interactions in Central and East Africa. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]