Colonial Legal Regimes, Customary Law and Gender Justice among Maasai Pastoralists in Tanganyika, 1916-1961

Historians, anthropologists and other scholars of gender have long looked to the implementation and interaction of colonial and customary legal regimes as rich sites through which to explore colonial gender productions and contestations. Some scholars have examined how colonial efforts to codify customary laws fixed previously fluid and dynamic considerations and decisions into written legal principles that reinforced the power and privileges of elder men over women and junior men, especially in the realms of marriage, divorce, bridewealth and adultery. Others have documented how some African women took advantage of the presence of new colonial judicial bodies to circumvent customary mechanisms for dispute resolution. Few of these studies, however, take a step back to consider what the colonial insistence on creating and naming a discrete field of social relations as the realm of “law” meant for the complex moral, political, and social ideas, relations, and mechanisms of gendered justice among Africans: How did the colonial codification of customary law and creation of legal institutions like native courts marginalize other understandings of and approaches to justice, including those deployed by women? What were the gendered consequences of reinforcing androcentric forms and forums of “law” predicated on principles of individual rights, secularism, rationality, and neutrality for alternative conceptions of justice premised on ideas of morality, respect, and social interdependence? To explore these questions, I draw on long-term archival, oral historical, and ethnographic research about and among Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania to analyze the gendered consequences of the creation and implementation of customary law and colonial legal institutions for not just relations between and among men and women, but for broader Maasai ideas and practices of justice, respect and morality in which women and the (primarily female-identified) Maasai divinity Eng’ai were significant.

Dorothy L. Hodgson is Professor of Anthropology & Director, Institute for Research on Women of Rutgers University (New Brunswick). She is the author of Once Intrepid Warriors”: Gender, Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Maasai Development. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Paperback edition, 2004 ; The Church of Women: Gendered Encounters between Maasai and Missionaries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005 ; and Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neocolonial World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (in press).

Childbirth and Abortion in “German East Africa”. Unruliness of East African Women and the Instability of Colonial Power

 The German Empire turned to ‘welfarist’ policies with regards to the Black inhabitants of its colonies as early as the 1900s, as a reaction to the violent colonial wars it fought, which had resulted in a high number of African casualties. As part of this turn in colonialist policies and as a reaction to a perceived “underpopulation”, reproductive health and population issues emerged on the agenda of (mainly male) German colonialists in “German East Africa”. While the motivations were manifold – ranging from economic calculations to missionary ‘altruism’ – and the disciplinary investment diverse (medical, administrative, economic, missionary), three narratives – culturalist, medical, and modernist – dominated the discussions on “underpopulation” and served to uphold the German colonisers’ political, economic and cultural supremacy. Not surprisingly, Black women were regarded as key to the colonisers’ interventions, but were attributed an ambivalent role. On the one hand, they were portrayed as ‘endangered’ by the supposed “promiscuity” of their husbands, by certain “customs and traditions” (such as “child marriages” and abortions) as well as by their supposed “ignorance” regarding “hygiene” and the like. On the other hand, the supposed “promiscuity” and sex work of Black women was seen as dangerous for the White male colonisers’ health. While the trope “White men saving Black women from Black men” was ever-present, the appearance of White nurses and midwives from Germany complicated the picture. Especially missionary circles advocated the ‘import’ of White women to improve maternal and child health, because they were seen as able to forge closer relations with Black women. My paper is based on German state publications as well as politico-scientific journals and monographs concerned with health and population in “German East Africa”. In order to analyse the material, I mainly resort to postcolonial theory (esp. Frantz Fanon, Roland Barthes and bell hooks).

Daniel Bendix is a PhD student at the Institute for Development Policy and Management of the University of Manchester (UK). His dissertation deals with the colonial history and development present of German reproductive health policies in “German East Africa” (Tanzania). In addition, he works as a facilitator for political adult education in Germany on topics such as South-North relations, colonialism, racism, gender, and “development aid”.