I tell here a story of the multiple arenas in which a marginalized frontier community creatively shaped its pre-colonial pastoralist ethnic identity to adapt to change across colonial and post-colonial times. This dissertation is a socio-environmental history of the Babirwa of eastern Botswana who transitioned from sheep and goat herders into cattle herders from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present. Broadly, the dissertation examines the Babirwa's multiple engagements with social and environmental change in Botswana to shape their ethnic identity amid colonial and post-colonial states' modernist beef production policies. By ignoring the socio-cultural aspects of the Babirwa's pastoralist ethnicity, these modernist policies became part of a broader political ideology that circumscribed ethnic difference and promoted a homogenized citizenship based on Tswana national identity. To contest this Tswana-centric national project, the Babirwa re-appropriated cattle raising to give social meaning to their ethnic identity as the Bakgomong or "people of the cow." As a result, the evidentiary basis of this dissertation consists of their lived and learned experiences of fluctuations in cattle populations since pre-colonial times. Personal testimonies, rumor, vernacular expressions and folkloric texts are central to this story of change and continuity as the Babirwa creatively engaged with transformative and co-constitutive social and environmental landscapes and contested an elitist beef industry that threatened to dispossess them of their cattle herds across colonial and post-colonial temporal spaces. Written here is therefore an academically neglected history that explores the struggles of one of Botswana's obscure border communities over the control of cattle in a country where climate variability is high, droughts are recurrent, crop production is fragile and epidemics of cattle diseases are frequent.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2013. Major:History. Advisor: Allen Isaacman, Helena Pohlandt-McComirck. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 320 pages.
Molosiwa, Phuthego Phuthego.
"The tragedy of the Ababirwas": cattle herding, power and the socio-environmental History of the ethnic identity of the Babirwa in Botswana, 1920 to the present.
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