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

By Jacobs, Nancy | African Studies Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

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


Jacobs, Nancy, African Studies Review


Emmanuel Krieke. Re-creating Eden: Land Use, Environment, and Society in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2004. xi + 293 pp. Maps. Bibliography. Index. $99.94. Cloth. $29.95. Paper.

Re-creating Eden is a masterful work. Simply stated, the book maps the migrations of Ovambo speakers though different environments and territories, surveying the causes for the movements, the adaptations to and interventions in different environments, and the resulting social transformations. But nothing about this project is simple. It encompasses two territories, a buffer zone, three colonial administrations, three sections of the floodplain, and at least a half dozen separate polities, all over the better part of a century. Kreike adds another layer, a web of references to analogous developments elsewhere in colonial Africa, to place his own work in a comparative context.

The book draws upon religious language, the story-line moving from Eden's creation to apocalypse to re-creation. The emphasis, however, is on the ways that Ovambo speakers created domesticated spaces out of wilderness after a period of environmental trauma in the early twentieth century. To do this, Krieke builds on other historians' understandings of colonial annexation as environmental cataclysm and of African environmental initiative, but in his study the creation of environments is specifically historicized to a degree seldom before seen.

The introduction makes the point that the subject merits detailed consideration by discussing the historiography of colonial conquest and reconstruction in its aftermath. The endnotes are half again as long as the chapter itself, and authoritatively connect this history to many, many others. It also introduces the two key terms in the book, oshilongo (domesticated landscapes) and ofuka (wilderness). Yet the etymological review (4) meant to explicate the meaning of these words to Ovambo speakers is perhaps too brief to support the use of these foreign terms, rather than their English equivalents, throughout the book.

The precolonial baseline to this history is that the earliest known Ovambo landscapes were creations of humans who domesticated the territories by digging wells, planting trees, hunting wild animals, and importing cattle. "Eden," however, only fits the landscape, not the human society inhabiting it. Even before colonial annexation, inhabitants suffered violence and extractions, and they abandoned some settlements. Colonial annexation, with rinderpest, World War I, and famine in its wake, further depleted the oshilongo on the northern floodplain of inhabitants. …

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