Song WalkingWomen, Music, and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland

Song WalkingWomen, Music, and Environmental Justice in an African Borderland

Angela Impey

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226537962

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book explores contrasting histories of western Maputaland, a remote South African rural locality bordering Mozambique and the kingdom of Swaziland. It builds on interweaving narratives, offsetting its documented history with the experiences of two groups of elderly women whose memories, songs and practices narrativise a century of borderland politics. Specifically, it draws on memories inspired by the mouth harp (isitweletwele), a tiny metal instrument introduced into the region by European traders in the mid-1800s and adopted by women to accompany long-distance walking. Extending the premise that sound and motion represent elemental though much under-explored mnemonics in the construction of oral histories, the book engages women’s walking songs (amaculo manihamba) as the prompts that guide the recovery of a gendered epistemology of place. The book is structured as a dialogue between contrasting political histories of land in western Maputaland. Its concern is essentially the tension between macro-level spatial planning and local dwelling practices, manifest especially in the disparity between human livelihood needs based on localized mobilities, and environmental conservation, invested in enclosure. Seeking to better understand the social and emotional ecologies of this longstanding conflict, it exposes through the intimacy of women’s songs, stories, and silence, situated meanings of land and legacies of environmental injustice resulting from its annexation. By bringing to the fore an everyday dimension to this historical encounter, it aims to draw attention to the consequences of contemporary transfrontier conservation expansion, arguing that the globalist rhetoric of ‘conservation-with-development’ camouflages entrenched colonial patterns of land appropriation and control.