African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

proportion of male servants, as well as those with the most specialized skills such as cooks or gardeners. African employers take on fewer domestic workers and expect them to be general workers rather than specialists. They employ the lowest proportion of men and pay wages on average below the legal minimum wage. On all these counts Asians fall somewhere in the middle. The new ruling class is remunerated on a lesser scale than its colonial predecessors; it is more concerned with petty capital accumulation than with excessively conspicuous consumption. On this account, the sheer cheapness of domestic labor can weigh more heavily than questions of "quality" or skill. African employers are also in a better position to mobilize networks of kin and clients to bring in young female servants from the countryside. Although they express a preference for male domestic workers, they are increasingly employing women for inside work. And whereas the African employing class is expanding, fewer and fewer Europeans are permanent residents.

Although women are now more available as domestic workers, and more in demand in some quarters, men have continued to hold their own overall because they are still regarded as the "beat men for the job" and are motivated to sustain this view amongst employers.


Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Marjorie Mbilinyi and Caroline Ramazanoglu for their constant encouragement in the writing of this chapter; the Economic and Social Research Council of Britain for funding my research; and the many people in Tanzania and Britain whose interest and support were vital to the success of my work.


Notes
1.
The data used here are based on participant observation, the collection of life histories of male and female servants, and a survey of (mainly female) employers. Forty-four life histories of women servants and exservants were collected; thirty-four of men. Sixty employers were surveyed, of whom 40 percent were African, 45 percent Asian, 11 percent European, and 5 percent respectively Arabs and Goans. Nearly all my work was carried out in Swahili, although English was used with Europeans, and assistance from a Gujerati interpreter helped me to interview some Asians whose English was limited or whose Asian Swahili I could not follow. Quotations from my life history work and survey are supplemented by other quotations culled from everyday life.

-262-

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