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Periodical article Periodical article
Title:'Whoever Leaves Their Traditions Is A Slave': Contemporary notions of servitude in an East African town
Author:Hillewaert, S.
Geographic term:Kenya
Discipline:Anthropology & Ethnology
Abstract:This article examines contemporary discourses on and conceptions of utumwa or 'slavery' on the Indian Ocean island of Lamu. It discusses how residents of this Swahili town use historical understandings of servitude as moral rather than mere physical subjugation to formulate judgements on current processes of change within the town. Central to the discussion are ideologies of uungwana (civilization) and heshima (respectability) that historically shaped social stratification in Lamu, and particularly the enduring views that an embodiment of heshima and its visible mediation within material practices facilitate a distinction between nobleman and slave. By examining how these norms are currently incorporated within everyday assessments of young people's public behaviour, I argue that the moral ideologies that shaped social structure during the era of slavery meaningfully influence ascriptions of social standing within contemporary Lamu. Specifically, the article explores how discourses about utumwa are grafted onto contemporary moral assessments of 'beach boys' or Lamu youth working in the local tourism industry. I suggest that the ideologies of utumwa, and the moral values that accompany it, motivate and facilitate the discursive constructions of beach boys' work as idleness rather than gainful employment. (Journal Abstract).