“The editors have succeeded in assembling a remarkably integrated set of essays that is at once the most historical study of the Maasai yet published and a significant contribution to the growing volume of literature on ethnicity and identity in Africa.”
Charles Ambler, University of Texas, El Paso
“This is a rich collection, crammed with information presented from several different analytical perspectives, and the pieces repeatedly offer valuable critical insights on each other.”
Justin Willis, British Institute in Eastern Africa
Everyone “knows” the Maasai as proud pastoralists who once dominated the Rift Valley from northern Kenya to central Tanzania.
But many people who identity themselves as Maasai, or who speak Maa, are not pastoralist at all, but farmers and hunters. Over time many different people have “become” something else. And what it means to be Maasai has changed radically over the past several centuries and is still changing today.
This collection by historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists examines how Maasai identity has been created, evoked, contested, and transformed from the time of their earliest settlement in Kenya to the present, as well as raising questions about the nature of ethnicity generally.
Thomas Spear received his doctorate in history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has written histories of Zwangendaba’s Ngoni, the Mijikenda (The Kaya Complex), eastern and central Kenya (Kenya’s Past), The Swahili (with Derek Nurse); and the Meru and Arusha peoples of Tanzania (Mountain Farmers). Formerly at La Trobe University and Williams College, he is professor of history emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. More info →
Richard Waller is Professor Emeritus of History at Bucknell University. More info →
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Since 1991, Ethiopia has gone further than any other country in using ethnicity as the fundamental organizing principle of a federal system of government. Ethnic Federalism closely examines aspects of the Ethiopean case and asks why the use of territorial decentralism to accommodate ethnic differences has been generally unpopular in Africa.
Kiswahili has become the lingua franca of eastern Africa. Yet there can be few historic peoples whose identity is as elusive as that of the Swahili. Some have described themselves as Arabs, as Persians or even, in one place, as Portuguese. It is doubtful whether, even today, most of the people about whom this book is written would unhesitatingly and in all contexts accept the name Swahili. This book was central to the thought and lifework of the late James de Vere Allen.
Eastern African pastoralists often present themselves as being egalitarian, equating cattle ownership with wealth. By this definition “the poor are not us”, poverty is confined to non-pastoralist, socially excluded persons and groups. Exploring this notion means discovering something about self-perceptions and community consciousness, how pastoralist identity has been made in opposition to other modes of production, how pastoralists want others to see them and how they see themselves.