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Reviewed by:
  • Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World
  • Bilinda Straight
Dorothy L. Hodgson, Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. 288 pp.

Dorothy Hodgson situates the topic of her book, Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World at an intersection as important as it is intriguing: claiming indigenous identity in a postcolonial African state. Although Hodgson leaves this implicit, her book’s title is a play on Thomas Spear and Richard Waller’s (1993) Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in East Africa. Whereas those essays challenged their readers to consider what it meant to be Maasai in the globalizing late 20th century, Hodgson’s book—part homage, part playful wink—offers up a reflection of how Maasai themselves have self-consciously repositioned their own identities over the past several decades. By what process do ethnic marginals create a politically and economically empowered space for themselves within states that affirm the self-evident indigenous status of all their African citizens? Based on her experiences with Maasai spanning a quarter of a century, Hodgson offers an astute and sensitive response to this question, ultimately portraying a movement whose predication of indigenousness somewhat successfully created transnational alliances—but failed at home.

The book’s introduction highlights the contradictions of postcoloniality for cultural marginals like the Maasai, and defines her theoretical and methodological approaches. In order to consider Maasai activitists’ shifting strategies of self-representations in navigating diverse postcolonial arenas within and beyond states, Hodgson employs Stuart Hall’s concept of “positionings” as elaborated for indigenous politics by Tania Li. From here she proceeds to tell several biographies—of Maasai activists, indigenous movements, and resource-building organizations. [End Page 1295]

The ethnography of struggle at the core of Hodgson’s book begins in Chapter 1 with the professional biography of Maasai activist Moringe Ole Parkipuny, who was the first Maasai to make the connection between transnational indigenous rights struggles and the marginalization of certain African groups—namely, pastoralists and foragers. Parkipuny’s insight was the culmination of a trip he made to the United States in 1977, when he serendipitously met members of Navajo Nation and recognized their shared needs and agendas. The fact that all indigenous Tanzanians were, well, indigenous, might complicate the picture; nevertheless, like the Navajo, Tanzanian and Kenyan pastoralists and foragers were culturally distinct and politically marginalized within the nation-states that had forcibly encapsulated them. Initiating his activism before the era of Tanzanian civil society organizations, Parkipuny worked for ten years through government channels as a Minister of Parliament before working alongside, or rather, in open challenge to, the state. Parkipuny was a radical who assisted in making a place for Maasai as indigenous within the United Nations and founded one of the first NGOs in Tanzania.

Nevertheless, Parkipuny’s early successes were eventually weakened by a combination of timing—critiquing a Tanzanian state that viewed pastoralists and foragers as anachronistic to modernization, lack of civil society alternatives, and even his own success. Thus, Chapter 1 traces Parkipuny’s activist biography and the tense, early biography of the process of negotiating a place for pastoralists and foragers within the international indigenous rights movement. Chapter 2, in turn, examines the successes and failures of indigenous rights at home, as younger activists bring alternative visions and civil society organizations proliferate. A number of these younger activists viewed Parkipuny’s radicalism in strategically negative terms and instead sought more conciliatory methods to achieve their rights- and resource-based aims vis-à-vis the Tanzanian state. At each step of the way, whether in international or domestic arenas, differences between groups—based on racialized or ethnic identities, age, generation, gender, and agendas—undermined the indigenous rights movement.

Chapter 3 highlights the visionary fractures and crisis within the movement these differences generated. Internal disagreements and questions of identity—who is indigenous, what does it mean to be a pastoralist or forager—diluted the movement from its basis in transnational rights within which rights to resources and political voice were inherent, to multitudinous smaller economic victories. Chapter 4 considers the repositionings [End Page 1296] that followed, particularly the shift to strategically...


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