African Encounters with Domesticity

By Karen Tranberg Hansen | Go to book overview

10 Cookstoves and Charcoal Braziers: Culinary Practices, Gender, and Class in Zambia

Karen Tranberg Hansen

From the early colonial period in what then was Northern Rhodesia until today in the cities and towns of Zambia, domestic service has been a crucial wage occupation for a large proportion of men and, after independence in 1964, an increasing number of women. Their work experiences between then and now have changed and the consequences are vexing. This was the sentiment of BaNkuwa, 1 a man in his late sixties, whom I began interviewing in 1984 about his Iffe and experience as a domestic servant to colonial white and expatriate employers after independence. "Domestic servants," he said, "lead miserable lives. In the past, they were smart. Today, cooks look like gardeners. If I had known this would become a woman's job, I would have sought work as a driver" ( Hansen 1989, 215). Out of work, he complained that expatriate employers now leave the country too soon and that there are too few jobs available for skilled cooks such as he. When I asked if he would work as a servant in a Zambian household, he smiled, saying "I can't cook Zambian food." We laughed, both knowing that of course he was able to prepare Zambian food; his point was that he did not consider it to be proper work for an experienced cook.

Exploring the confrontation between ideas about work, gender, race, and class embodied in BaNkuwa's comments, this chapter considers the acquisition of skills and knowledge in colonial household employment. As such, it provides a commentary on my own analysis of continuities and changes in domestic service between the colonial period and the present in Zambia ( Hansen 1989). 2 Since that study did not examine cooking practices per se, it is in the spirit of challenge that this chapter offers food for thought on cooking. In it, I raise questions about the transfer and/or transformation of skills acquired in domestic service to African households. I also examine some of the causes and consequences recent changes in the supply of foodstuffs

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