Crafting Identity in Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Crafting Identity in Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Elizabeth MacGonagle


University of Rochester Press



Crosses conventional theoretical, temporal, and geographical boundaries to show how the Ndau of southeast Africa actively shaped their own identity over a four-hundred-year period.
In an examination of historical patterns over four centuries, Elizabeth MacGonagle reveals both continuities and changes in the crafting of identity in southeast Africa. This work challenges conventional approaches to the study of ethnicity and "tribalism" in Africa by showing that contemporary ethnicity is not merely a creation of the colonial and postcolonial eras, but has much deeper roots in the precolonial past. By focusing on collective historical experiences that affected ethnic identity before the influence of European colonialism, MacGonagle contends that the long history behind ethnicity reveals African agency as central to the formation of "tribalism."
With this first comprehensive history of the Ndau of eastern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique, Elizabeth MacGonagle moves beyond national borders to show how cultural identities are woven from historical memories that predate the arrival of missionaries and colonial officials on the African continent. Drawing on archival records and oral histories from throughout the Ndau region, her study analyzes the complex relationships between social identity and political power from 1500 to 1900.
Ndauness has been created and recreated within communities through marriages and social structures, cultural practices that mark the body, and rituals that help to sustain shared beliefs. A sense of being Ndau continues to exist into the present, despite different colonial histories, postcolonial trajectories, and official languages in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. MacGonagle's study of ethnic identities among the marginalized Ndau sheds light on the conflicts and divisions that haunt southeast Africa today. This compelling interpretation of the crafting of identity in one corner of Africa has relevance for readers interested in identity formation and ethnic conflict around the world.

Elizabeth MacGonagle is Assistant Professor of African History at the University of Kansas.


8 black and white, 3 line illustrations
205 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
Hardback, 9781580462570, October 2007
Paperback, 9781580463652, August 2013
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
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Table of Contents

A Mixed Pot: The Crafting of Identity
The Historical Landscape of Southeast Africa
Early Exchanges: Political and Economic Contexts
Ties That Bind: Social Structures and Cultural Practices
Keeping Up Appearances: Identity and Adornment
Brewing Beer, Making Rain, and Holding Court
Memories and Identities in the Shadow of Ngungunyana
Past and Present in the Ndau Region


Elizabeth MacGonagle has produced a study long awaited by scholars of southeast Africa. . . . The book's real strength is in its mapping of Ndau identity, reflected in the region's cartography but also etched onto people's bodies, shaped into cooking vessels and counted in the cadence of hand claps offered to visitors. This mapping will prompt other historians to ask what made -- and might still make -- 'Ndauness' distinct from other identities." JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORY, 2008 (Eric Allina-Pisano)

(A) smoothly written, concise, and exhaustively documented account of that indistinct entity called the Ndau . . . For anyone working on the history of the Zimbabwe-Mozambique borderlands, this is an excellent place to start reading. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, October 2008 (Amy Kaler)

Elizabeth MacGonagle has written an extremely important and meticulously researched historical study of the complex and contested Ndau-speaking region on the Zimbabwe-Mozambican frontier. This excellent study explores the issues of identity formation and memory, crucial for understanding contemporary politics in Mozambique. Essential reading for students interested in the history of this strategic borderland. --Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History, University of Minnesota

(MacGonagle) makes pragmatic use of every type of evidence and source to compose more straightforward narrative and descriptive accounts of Ndau history. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORICAL STUDIES

Author Bio

Elizabeth MacGonagle is assistant professsor of history, University of Kansas.

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