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4 Kung Fu Cinema and Frugality Ujamaa and Tanzanian Youth in the 1970s In the opening scene of his performance piece “In Between Space,” Shishir Kurup, a Los Angeles–based Asian American performance artist, narrates growing up in Mombasa, Kenya, in the 1970s: We live over here in Pandya House, a tenement building with shops and of- fices below. Over here is the Regal Cinema which exclusively plays American shoot-’em-ups, Italian spaghetti shoot-’em-ups, and Chinese Kung-Fu-’emups . Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Run-Run Shaw, Raymond Chow. Tickets are two shillings and forty cents for rows A–J (which work out at about a quarter in American cash), 3/6 for rows K–Z, and 4/8 for the balcony. In this theater Eastwood is badass, McQueen is cool, Bronson is tough, and Bruce Lee can kick all their asses. Shane and Shaft and Superfly and Cleopatra Jones. We hear names like Thalmas Rasulala and Lee Van Cleef. Eli Wallach is the Ugly, Yul Brynner the King, and I the kid with the open mouth stuffing popcorn down my throat. In the Indian film houses, Rajesh Khanna, “Shotgun” Sinha, Dharmendra, reign supreme. Amitabh Bhachan isn’t quite the god he is soon to become and Zeenat Aman is the babe of all our nocturnal emissions.1 What Kurup invokes for Mombasa could be found elsewhere in East Africa at this time. Seventies cinema had a transnational impact that intertwines 5 49 5 broader ideological, nationalist, Pan-Africanist, and anticolonialist sentiments in the local cultural politics of production and consumption. In the midst of Cold War tensions, nationalist fervor, state sovereignty, and a visible Pan-African solidarity, East African popular culture is a crucible in the competing international ideologies of socialism, communism, and capitalism across and within national borders. The simultaneous transnational figuration of these ideologies had an impact on local cultural politics within Third World socialisms.2 In Tanzania, for example, experiments in socialist democracy foregrounded education and cultural nationalism as primary tools for solidifying the fledgling state. Tanzanian youth were mobilized toward the broader goal of promoting a socialist youth culture. The harnessing of youth in the interest of national culture influenced possible subjectivities, pleasures , and forms of spectatorship. This in turn affected the styles and selffashioning consumed and publicly exhibited by youth. In this chapter I investigate some of the connections among diasporic South Asian youth culture, state socialism, and transnationalism by considering the immense appeal and wide circulation of Bruce Lee and kung fu cinema during the 1970s in Tanzania. I examine the early years of nation building through the mobilization of youth from the subjective standpoint of my experiences as a Tanzanian Asian youth under the Africanization and nationalization measures enacted in Dar es Salaam during the 1960s and 1970s. The popular practices of ujamaa, Julius Nyerere’s implementation of Tanzanian socialism, coalesce in provocative ways with the phenomenology of kung fu spectatorship. Juxtaposed, they generate a montage of urban Tanzanian youth culture around the “performance of frugality.” By suggesting here that ideologies are enacted, I dislodge the structural/ functionalist approach to socialism and instead probe the phenomenological avenues of self-invention for youth within the discourses of the state. In this chapter I unpack the realms of imaginative self-fashioning that shape Tanzanian Asian youth culture under African socialist modernity.3 From 1962 to 1985, Tanzania developed a uniquely pedagogical approach to state formation that was known as ujamaa. In his controversial policy paper, “Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism,” Nyerere distinguishes Tanzania’s experiment in nation building, grounded in village communalism , from other strategies: Ujamaa, then, or “familyhood,” describes our socialism. It is opposed to capitalism , which seeks to build a happy society on the basis of exploitation of K u n g F u C i n e m a a n d F r u g a l i t y 5 50 5 man by man; and it is equally opposed to doctrinaire socialism which seeks to build its happy society on a philosophy of inevitable conflict between man and man. We in Africa have no more need of being “converted” to socialism than we have of being “taught” democracy. Both are rooted in our past—in the traditional society that produced us. Modern African socialism can draw from its traditional heritage the recognition of “society” as an extension of the basic family unit.4 Ujamaa implemented “villagization,” a system of rural development...


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