Black Poachers, White Hunter; A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya

Article excerpt

Black Poachers, White Hunter; A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya. By Edward I. Steinhart. Eastern African Studies. Athens: Ohio University Press; Oxford, U.K.: James Currey; Nairobi, Kenya: East African Educational Publishers, 2006. Pp.viii, 248; 5 maps and illustrations. $49.95 cloth, $26.95 paper.

This is a long-researched, well organized, and seasoned book about one of those perennial "silences" in African environmental history and social life. It is a social history of hunting in Kenya from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century "intended to illuminate the complex patterns of cultural and social conflicts and interaction that emerged in the struggle to lay claim to the rights and privileges, the rewards of wealth and prestige that hunting bestowed on its successful practitioners." The book chronicles three different cultures of hunting beginning with that practiced by Africans before and during the colonial era; that exercised by European settlers, visitors, and others; and finally that exercised by those, government agents and others, whose declared purpose was to preserve and conserve wildlife.

In providing the histories of these three types of hunters, Ed Steinhart demonstrates the variety and values, local knowledge, and efficient techniques that rural Africans adaptively cultivated in their lives and livelihoods about wildlife for food, for trade, and for sport. Yet these traditions and utilities were those that Europeans as colonials, settlers, and as hunters tried so desperately to suppress and silence as they sought mastery and hegemony over the wealth of these sporting fields. Europeans sought to establish and elaborate on many of the practices and class values of nineteenth-century aristocratic hunts on African soil and to develop supportive institutions while suppressing others. Steinhart shows that what materialized in the safari hunts and in the tourist traffic is a blending of the two continental traditions combining African ideas and means with those of the European "Hunt" and quest for adventure. The cost was the creation of the image of African inferiority and subordination while privileging European expertise in knowledge and hunting commerce. European hunters were to lose later as conservation aesthetics gained power over more utilitarian pursuits and Kenya totally banned hunting in 1977-an injunction that continues to this day.

Steinhart begins his exposition carefully by surveying the landscape, by disarming some criticisms early, by avoiding some snares deployed in the thickets of the bottom lands, and by keeping to the higher ground of acknowledging precedence and difference. …