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83 4 Ambiguities of Interaction: South West Africa, Angola and Tanganyika, 1920–1930 the white man covered me... the white man covered my legs (thighs) the white man covered my lower legs ... the white man covered my body the white man covered my chest ...[further parts of body specified] I’m very cold1 This reference to body casting arises unexpectedly in Dorothea’s field notebook amid exchanges about extracting poison from worms for use in hunting, and a discussion about the role of ‘old’ and ‘young’ women ‘doktors’ [sic] in healing. It was December 1920, and Dorothea was at the start of a five-month-long, government-initiated research sojourn in which the aim was to document the ‘bushman types’ of the territory that Dorothea mistakenly referred to as the SouthWest Protectorate (SWP),more commonly known as South West Africa (now Namibia). It was also the beginning of what was arguably the most active decade in Dorothea’s career , in terms of both fieldwork and publications. This chapter deals with Dorothea’s research trips to South West Africa (November 1920 to March 1921, and again from November 1921 to March 1922), Angola (1925) and Tanganyika (1930), and describes the day-to-day practice and texture of her work in the field, locating these in relation to Dorothea’s intellectual progression and the development of her research process and methodology. It suggests too what these ideas and practices have brought to understandings of the term ‘bushman’ in popular and academic contexts in southern Africa and the world. Book 1.indb 83 10/12/15 10:57 AM D O R O T H E A B L E E K 84 In South West Africa, first at the Windhoek prison and later at Sandfontein , Dorothea was working alongside‘two gentlemen’from the South African Museum whom she did not identify. Collectively, their task was to undertake ‘anthropological research among the Bushmen of the Protectorate’.2 The men, one of whom was identified in later correspondence as James Drury, were assigned ‘the physical research work, such as taking casts, measurements, etc., and I, though unconnected with the Museum, was asked to undertake the philological research’, she wrote later in her monograph The Naron.3 The reference to casting confirms Dorothea’s continued albeit peripheral involvement in this intrusive form of body sampling. It was not the first time that Dorothea had worked alongside Drury. Their association went back to her 1910 and 1911 trips to the northern Cape, where she had helped to identify ‘pure bushman’ types as suitable specimens for life casting. We have seen too that she participated in collecting human remains for ‘scientific’ study while in the Kalahari with Maria Wilman and George Lennox in 1911. Such practices highlight scholarly alignments between language and ‘race’ that underpinned linguistic research and physical anthropology at the time.4 Now, nearly 10 years later, Drury’s project was still under way, fuelled by museum director Louis Péringuey’s enthusiastic desire to collect anthropometric data from exact‘models’ produced from the‘living flesh’ of people he insisted were doomed to extinction.5 British art historian Annie Coombes argues that Péringuey’s interest in bushman bodies amounted to a ‘virtual obsession’ that influenced the direction of the museum’s research for the next two decades, and contributed to the elevation of physical anthropology (a branch of anthropology that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used physical data to determine the intellectual, moral and evolutionary status of people, but that in contemporary times concerns itself with the study of the origin, evolution and diversity of human groups) as a‘dominating intellectual force’ in South African prehistory.6 Péringuey’s legacy at the museum continued well into the early 2000s through the presentation of ‘ethnic’ displays including the notorious bushman diorama which was constructed in the 1950s using body casts that had been made by Drury. The museum researchers’trip to South West Africa was in some respects modelled on British colonial projects of research aimed at understanding and controlling native populations. Dorothea’s research, admittedly on a Book 1.indb 84 10/12/15 10:57 AM A M B I G U I T I E S O F I N T E R AC T I O N : S O U T H W E S T A F R I C A , A N G O L A A N D TA N G A N Y...


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