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Mnyampala’s ‘The Gogo’ as an artefact of colonialism

I mentioned in my brief timeline of the Ugogo region, that Mnyampala’s The Gogo: History, Customs and Traditions was commissioned by the colonial authorities. The introductory essay explains that the colonists were worried about the rise of nationalism, which could potentially throw them out, and so they commissioned studies like these to emphasise the uniqueness of each tribe in its own right. It seems they hoped that this tribalism would prevent a cohesive nationalist movement. The plan backfired big time. It actually fed nationalist spirit because it helped people to feel proud of who they were. However, there’s an emphasis on tribal unity in the book which may have more to do with the colonial agenda than be an accurate reflection of the Wagogo culture!

Mnyampala himself was a product of colonialism, having been educated under it and working as a Ruling Authorities. However, he was also an architect of its downfall, later becoming a leader in the nationalist movement. This is not an atypical story. Many of those who led the nationalist charge had benefited from colonialism, especially in education, but it could be argued that it was this education that gave them the desire and the tools to be rid of colonialism. For example, ‘The Gogo’ is written in Swahili, a third or perhaps fourth language for most Wagogo, after Cigogo and Maasai. It was the language of the colonisers, and only accessible to an educated portion of the Wagogo population. Yet, these were the people who were to lead the movement for nationalism.

All this means that you can’t read ‘The Gogo’ as an unbiased report on the Wagogo. What it does or doesn’t say is in itself testament to history. Mnyampala’s work is influenced both by his colonial patrons, and his own desire for nationalism which included a desire for ‘modernisation’ and ‘progress’. However, it does include loads of primary sources because Mnyampala’s main method of research was taking down oral history.

Next up, life for the Wagogo, including leisure, the effects of the climate, gender relations and religion.

Categories: Book Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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