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  • Practicing History in Central Tanzania: writing, memory and performance
  • Felicitas Becker
Gregory Maddox and Ernest Musa Kongola, Practicing History in Central Tanzania: writing, memory and performance. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann (Social History of Africa series) (pb $29.95 – 978 0 3250 7056 8 and hb $99.95 – 978 0 3250 7057 5). 2006, 200 pp.

This study is a perceptive discussion of the views of the people whom Gregory Maddox studies, which moreover openly addresses the dilemmas of an academic observer among makers of vernacular history. It also suggests further lines of enquiry which the author chose not to follow. The material for Practicing History derives from Maddox's long-standing cooperation with Ernest Musa Kongola, a notable non-academic historian of Ugogo, the region to which Maddox has devoted most of his work. The book consists of extensive extracts from Kongola's writings, complemented and contextualized by Maddox's analysis.

Kongola's writing is fascinating: a constant negotiation between heterogeneous frames of reference (the clan, the state, the Church, local religious practice), and between written and oral methods of narration. Maddox is thankfully explicit about his own framework for interpreting it. According to him, Kongola's accounts fit his and his relations' life stories into 'three different visions of the past. One defines community created by ties of blood and located in a specific place. A second projects history as the development of the modern nation. The third sees history as a struggle to obtain a "state of grace" with the divine.'

These three levels of reference are well chosen to help an uninitiated reader make sense of Kongola's narratives. The book gives the impression of being written not only with an expert, but also with a student audience in mind. It may be rewarding to experiment with its use in the classroom: it promises to be very helpful in demonstrating that Africans may approach African history with a subjectivity different from the students' own, but one that is nevertheless rooted in the same world and present time as theirs.

Maddox and Kongola recount the trauma of colonial warfare, the uneasy negotiation between indirect-rule appointees and unappointed local power brokers, and the growth of mission Christianity, followed by the emancipatory modernism of the independence struggle and the persistent search for 'development' in the post-colonial period. Their cooperation provides unusual insight into the way people in Ugogo lived through, thought about, and sought to act about these processes. Maddox demonstrates that Kongola reworks the narratives of clan history, of clan founders, their migration and new settlement, to make meaning of his generation's life journey within the new institutions of church and state, constructing entirely new kinds of networks in the process.

Yet the interpretive framework of local community, nation, and the relationship to the divine also suggests questions that here remain unstated. The book can be read as a group biography: Kongola, who ended his career in the Ministry of Education, stands for an entire generation of local leaders who eventually became members of the national elite of independent Tanzania. Maddox discusses some of the tensions surrounding this process, describing Kongola's project as both hegemonic (inasmuch as it vindicates the nation) and counter-hegemonic (inasmuch as it asserts local and regional community). He is also at pains to point out lacunae in Kongola's accounts, especially regarding relations between genders and generations. [End Page 308]

Still, he often refers to modernity, nation and the Church as if the meaning, and largely positive valuation, of these terms were self-evident, to the English-language reader as well as the Gogo narrators and their intended audiences. But not every inhabitant of Ugogo would hear Kongola's accounts in the same way as members of his own circle. For most people the promises of the new nation have not materialized; the region continues to suffer from a dire lack of opportunity. In the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, Gogo people are said to be numerous among beggars, itinerant coffee sellers and abattoir workers: marginal, desperate ways of life. Kongola himself details numerous setbacks in his pursuit of economic security in retirement.

Against this background, Kongola's narratives...


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pp. 308-309
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