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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'Whoever leaves their traditions is a slave': contemporary notions of servitude in an East African town
Author:Hillewaert, Sarah
Periodical:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute (ISSN 0001-9720)
Geographic terms:Kenya
Indian Ocean islands
Subjects:social classes
youth employment
External link:https://doi.org/10.1017/S0001972016000322
Abstract:This article examines contemporary discourses on and conceptions of 'utumwa' or 'slavery' on the Indian Ocean island of Lamu. It discusses how residents of this Swahili town use historical understandings of servitude as moral rather than mere physical subjugation to formulate judgements on current processes of change within the town. Central to the discussion are ideologies of 'uungwana' (civilization) and 'heshima' (respectability) that historically shaped social stratification in Lamu, and particularly the enduring views that an embodiment of 'heshima' and its visible mediation within material practices facilitate a distinction between nobleman and slave. By examining how these norms are currently incorporated within everyday assessments of young people's public behaviour, the author argues that the moral ideologies that shaped social structure during the era of slavery meaningfully influence ascriptions of social standing within contemporary Lamu. Specifically, the article explores how discourses about 'utumwa' are grafted onto contemporary moral assessments of 'beach boys' or Lamu youth working in the local tourism industry. The author suggests that the ideologies of 'utumwa', and the moral values that accompany it, motivate and facilitate the discursive constructions of beach boys' work as idleness rather than gainful employment. Bibliogr., notes, ref., summary in English and French. [Journal abstract]