Delegates at the recent ASAUK conference in Cambridge were treated to a surprise when they attended the launch of Giacomo Macola’s book The Gun in Central Africa: A History of Technology and Politics (Ohio University Press). After Professors John Iliffe and Robert Ross had made their scholarly comments on the book, Ray Abrahams, a former chair of the Centre of African Studies management committee, presented Macola with a hundred-year old gun from East Africa.
In his reflections, Abrahams noted that the gun came into his possession in the 1950s with the help of the Tabora District Commissioner in what was then Tanganyika. A social anthropologist with extensive research experience on political and social organization in East Africa, Abrahams further remarked that the gun is typical of the sort used by members of the local hunting guild – known as badandu – and still has a woven band around it for hunting medicine.
Macola’s new book is the first detailed history of firearms in Central and East Africa between the early nineteenth and the early twentieth century. It documents a variety of socio-cultural – as opposed to narrowly military or economic – uses attributed to guns. Gender identities and honour cultures are some of the themes it develops as it presents Africans as agents of technological re-innovation.
Macola, a former Smuts Fellow at CAS, is currently Reader in African History at the University of Kent and Director of its Centre for the History of Colonialisms.
The book launch, which was a part of the CAS 50th anniversary celebrations at the ASAUK conference, filled the room beyond capacity.