African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

1
Home-Made Hegemony: Modernity, Domesticity, and Colonialism in South Africa

Jean and John L. Comaroff

It is not so much the reality of the home that is my subject as the idea of the home. . . .

Rybczynski ( 1986, viii)


Prologue

Witness a curious parallel between two turn-of-the-century pieces of social commentary. One, by the Nonconformist missionary Rev. W C. Willoughby ( 1911, 70), describes the peoples of Bechuanaland. In it, he laments the impossibility of a "beautiful, healthy home-life" for "people who live in one-roomed mud-huts," and goes on to speak of the need to teach the natives how to build proper, civilized homes. The other, by Henry Jephson ( 1907, 31), sometime chief sanitary engineer of London, bemoans the condition of the urban poor in England:

Physically, mentally and morally, the overcrowded people suffered . . . [and it] was usually at its worst in one-roomed tenements. . . . In one room they were born, and lived, and slept and died amidst the other inmates. . . . The consequences to the individual living in an overcrowded . . . dwelling were always disastrous.

Could the similarity in subject and tone have been mere coincidence, or did these texts have some historical link? Was there any connection between the aspirations of African missions and the exertions of London's sanitary supervisor? Between the effort to "improve" those who live[d] "in one-roomed mud-huts" on the imperial frontier and those who lived "in one-roomed tenements" at its core, within walking distance of the palace gates? Was the making of modern "homelife" in black South Africa--which is what Willoughby sought to justify--somehow implicated in the making of modern English

-37-

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