Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Re-Creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Re-Creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia

Article excerpt

Re-creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia. By Emmanuel Kreike. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2004. Pp. x, 293. $29.95 paper.

Re-creating Eden is an exhaustively researched study of the disintegration and reconstruction of Kwanyama society under colonial rule. It tells the compelling story of the physical transfer of the kingdom from Portuguese-controlled Southern Angola across the border into British (South African)-controlled Namibia. The focus of the story is on how people facing violent and dislocating colonial conquest responded with flight and migration, in the process re-creating oshilongo-the lived and liveable human environment-out of the ofuka wilderness they encountered. Emmanuel Kreike takes an expansive view of environmental history, skillfully weaving into this story other stories of changing gender relations, religious affinities, community identities, and colonial personages and policies.

Between 1907 and the 1930s thousands of people from the Oukwanyama kingdom of Angola-and fewer from the neighboring, smaller Ombadja kingdom-crossed the colonial border into South-West Africa, seeking to avoid the terror tactics and high taxation rates that were features of Portuguese rule in Angola. This migration occurred in several phases: piecemeal prior to 1915, as Portuguese aggression became more intense in the region; in a more massive fashion to existing villages south of the border in a so-called "neutral zone" after Portuguese conquest in 1915; and again on a large scale to the wilderness of the lands farther south and east after the neutral zone was awarded to Portugal in 1926. As Kreike points out, this population shift was not confined to a few years around formal conquest, but went on for decades. He argues for reconsidering both the timing and the nature of colonial conquest and pacification across Africa, as well as its socioenvirorunental effects.

Once they had left the water and agricultural infrastructure of the Kwanyama oshilongo, migrants were faced with the realities of re-establishing human settlements in the hostile ofuka-the forested, waterless expanse that was home only to San and wild animals. The Kwanyama oshilongo was situated on a seasonal floodplain where watercourses provided surface water into the dry season, where people had dug wells and built dams to supplement water pans, where the presence of cattle had long enhanced soil fertility through manuring, and where processes of deforestation and reforestation had created large stands of fruit trees. The ofuka, by contrast, lacked all these things. Kreike's book tells not only the story of migration, but of how people re-created the features of oshilongo in a new setting and the social relations that both aided and emerged out of such processes.

The book draws on extensive oral interviews, as well as colonial archives in Portugal, Angola, and Namibia and mission archives in Germany and France. Its chapters are organized around chronological and thematic lines, and begin with an overview of the floodplain oshilongo in the late nineteenth century, followed by an examination of how ecological disasters paired with colonial aggression to create wilderness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These two chapters are the most detailed examination of the Angolan side of the floodplain to date. Kreike then moves the narrative south of the Angolan-Namibian border to examine population flight, the impact of migrant labor on the re-creation of Kwanyama communities, transformations in gender relations, and, in the face of land pressure, the further extension of Oukwanyama into the remote and waterless ofuka east of the floodplain after 1930. …

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