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  • Travels and Travails of Settler Colonialism in Queer Natal
  • Tiffany Lethabo King (bio)
Queering Colonial Natal: Indigeneity and the Violence of Belonging in Southern Africa
T. J. Tallie
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 240 pp.

T. J. Tallie's intricate historical work at the intersection of queer theory and critical indigenous studies maps late nineteenth-century Natal as a shifting, anxious field of play where settler colonial governance and African indigenous resistance are in a tempestuous embrace. Tallie sets the stage of settler colonial encounter in Natal, where a former Dutch trade outpost transformed into a British colony (through conquest of Zulu and Dutch militaries) that is never able to recruit the white European settler population it needs to establish majority rule. The colony's inability to establish majority settler rule and secure European settler reproductive futurity animates the settler/African Indigenous tensions that Tallie traces through the critical axes of race, gender, and sexuality.

Queering Colonial Natal is a critical intervention into the fields of African studies, settler colonial studies, and queer theory. As Tallie argues, the "critical study of settler colonialism" has not been "widely applied to Southern Africa in gender and Natal in particular" (3). Equally as innovative are the transnational turns the book takes as it compares settler colonial regimes in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia to trace the ways that these modes of genocide and settler governance shaped British imperial and settler colonial rule in Natal. Tallie reads an array of archival material including legislation, minutes from legislative proceedings, court transcripts, civil servant reports, missionary correspondences, minutes from a 1910 teacher's conference, and English-and Zulu-language news-papers [End Page 485] to trace the regulation of African, Indian, and settler subjects through discourses of race, gender, and sexuality. Regulating the gender and sexuality of Native and settler populations is a massive and intricate project that Tallie judiciously tracks through the sites of ilobolo and polygamy (African marriage), the regulation of alcohol consumption, the discourse of friendship, missionary projects, and education.

With an elegant expertise, Tallie uses all of these sites of analysis as opportunities to perform "queer indigenous work" (9). Queering Colonial Natal's "queer work" avoids imposing queer theory as an exogenous intellectual project onto Natal. Rather, the book enacts its indigenous queer analytics by configuring African bodies as non-normative or queer bodies that disrupt the project of settlement and subvert the heteronormative settler order (10). Putting Judith Butler, Scott Morgensen, Michel Foucault, and Cathy Cohen in conversation inspires a conceptualization of queer as that which exceeds same-sex desire and sexual difference, pushing queer theory "beyond a normative/transgressive paradigm" (9).

The first chapter carefully scrutinizes the ways that laws regulating Zulu marriage rituals, specifically ilobolo (ritual exchange of cattle) and polygamy, index the reproductive anxieties of the white settler colony. From the mid-1800s to the end of the century, the colony's approach to regulating Zulu marriage changed from criminalization in 1853 to containment of the practice in 1881. Tallie's attention to the striking of a "patriarchal alliance" between white settlers and Zulu patriarchs who wanted to retain the tradition speaks to the mutability of settler governance in order to maintain colonial hegemony (41). When Tallie reads the archive against the grain (missionary correspondences, legislative archives and newspapers) in this chapter, the voices of Zulu patriarchs surface to contest settler rule. Other queer readings engage other non-normative social formations like white settler polygamy, settler practices of "Wife's Sister marriage," and Indian polygamy.

Chapter 2 scales down from the institution of marriage to the body and comportment. Tallie, reminiscent of Anne McClintock's (1995) sublime work with imperial commodity forms, treats the restrictions placed on alcohol consumption as a boundary-producing project that reveals the reach and limits of imperial power. The 1890 Liquor Law restricted alcohol consumption to Europeans for the most part. Africans and Indians were deemed "morally impressionable and unfit for alcohol consumption" (56). While the specter of African drinking posed a potential threat to the colony, particularly its labor force, actual incidents of white public intoxication subjected the settler population to the scrutiny of Zulu subjects who might see...