Configuring ‘Maasainess’ : contested textual embodiments

Laizer, Neema (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this thesis I seek to trace the figure of the Maasai as a fossilized (visual) image circulated in local and global imaginaries since the nineteenth century by British explorers, missionaries and administrators. This image of either the male warrior or wounded woman continues to be reproduced in literary and cultural productions from East Africa, America and Europe. My study explores the notion of ‘Maasainess’ as a cultural identity being claimed, appropriated, redefined and performed in various genres by non-Maasai and Maasai authors and musicians. I am particularly interested in exploring how this construct circulates in contemporary texts and performances that also contest and transform it in response to the Maasais’ negotiation of their cultural identity due to land grabbing in the name of environmental sustainability and the impact of globalization and contact with other cultures, notably through the tourist industry and urbanisation. Following the introductory chapter in which the historical and theoretical framing of the thesis is established, I discuss four autobiographically inflected novels by the prolific Maasai male writer Henry Ole Kulet as a basis for my further exploration of the portrayal of ‘Maasainess’. This is followed by the third chapter in which four autobiographies by two male Maasai writers and two female non-Maasai writers, one from Switzerland and the other from the United States, are examined in relation to the notion of cultural appropriation. The fourth chapter looks at two historically inflected novels by the former British settler in Tanzania, David Read and the Australian UN expatriate in Kenya, Frank Coates, who both claim an affiliation with the Maasai as the basis for their fictions, in order to engage the history of settler colonialism. The fifth chapter shifts the focus to contemporary popular cultural performances of ‘Maasainess’ by analysing three songs by a non-Maasai duo, Shengena Gospel Panorama, and two Maasai musicians, Abel Motika and Lekishon Ole Kamwaro. The thesis therefore attempts a multi-genre approach to reading texts in which the figure of the Maasai is configured within a range of contexts. In this, I am primarily guided by Rosi Braidotti’s concept of “nomadic embodiment” and Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of the “contact zones” as facilitating change and challenging the fixity of stereotype. My argument is that ‘Maasainess’ is a shifting cultural signifier at porous contact zones where cultural exchanges continuously occur. Therefore, this figure renders itself available to various appropriations, reconfigurations and contestations.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie tesis poog ek om die beeld van die Maasai as ‘n gefossileerde (visuele) beeld soos versprei in plaaslike en globale verbeeldings van Britse ontdekkers, sendelinge en administrateurs sedert die negentiende eeu, na te vors. Hierdie beeld van óf die manlike kryger óf die gewonde vrou gaaan voort om gereproduseer te word in literêre en kulturele produksies vanaf Oos-Afrika, Amerika en Europa. My studie deursoek die idee van ‘Maasaiheid’ as ‘n kulturele identiteit wat aanspraak maak, gepas, geherdefinieer en verrig word in verskeie genres deur nie-Maasai en Maasai skrywers en musikante. Ek is veral geïnteresseerd om uit te vind hoe hierdie saamstelling sirkuleer in hedendaagse tekste en uitbeeldings wat dit ook kontesteer en vervorm in antwoord op die Maasai se onderhandeling van hul kulturele identiteit as gevolg van landinname in die naam van omgewingsduursaamheid en die impak van globalisering en kontak met ander kulture, veral die toerisme bedryf en industrialisering. Na die inleidende hoofstuk waarin die geskiedkundige en teoretiese raamwerk van die tesis gevestig is, bespreek ek vier romans met outobiografiese invloede deur die prolifieke Maasai skrywer Henry Ole Kulet as ‘n fondament vir my verdere ondersoek na die uitbeelding van ‘Maasaiheid’. Dit word gevolg deur ‘n derde hoofstuk waarin vier outobiografië deur twee manlike Maasai skrywers en twee vroulike nie-Maasai skrywers, een afkomstig uit Duitsland en een afkomstig uit die Verenigde State, bestudeer word in verband met die idee van kulturele toewysing. Die vierde hoofstuk kyk na twee geskiedenis-beïnvloede romans deur die voormalige Britse nedersetter, David Read en die Australiëse VN-uitgewekene in Kenya, Frank Coates, wat albei aanspraak maak op ‘n affiliasie met die Maasai as ‘n fondament vir hul fiksies om beter ineengryping te maak met die geskiedenis van nedersetterkolonialisme. Die vyfde hoofstuk verander die fokus na hedendaagse populêrekultuur uitbeeldings van ‘Maasaiheid’ deur die ontleding van drie liedjies deur ‘n nie-Maasai duo, Shengena Gospel Panorama, en twee Maasai-musikante, Abel Motika en Lekishon Ole Kamwaro. Hierdie tesis probeer om‘n veelsydige-genre uitgangspunt te bereik in die leesvan tekste waarin die figuur van die Maasai gekonfigureer is binnein ‘n meetgebied van konteks. Hierin word ek hoofsaaklik gelei deur Rosi Braidott se konsep van “nomadiese beliggaming” en Mary Louise Pratt se idee van die “kontak areas” wat verandering kan veroorsaak, en wat ‘n uitdaging rig teen die stewigheid van die stereotipe. My argument is dat ‘Maasaiheid’ ‘n veranderde kulturele aanduider is van deurdringbare kontak-areas waar kulturele uitruiling deurlopend plaasvind. Hierdie figuur maak homself dus beskikbaar aan verskeie toe-eiening, herkonfigurering en omstredenheid.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103477
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