This book takes the reader to Zambia's northwestern province, into a district situated on the social, economic, and political margins of the country, and hence, one of the poorest districts of this southern African nation. The common themes woven through this book are commoditization, and the impact that capitalism has had on two communities in this impoverished district. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I can recommend that only those with a special interest in southern African political economy read it in its entirety. Three chapters, however, are appropriate for and should be interesting to a general audience. Moreover, these chapters stand alone quite well. They are the introductory chapter on Granisci and Bakhtin, the author's candid reflection on fieldwork, and the chapter on bulozhi or witchcraft.
A lengthy theoretical introduction (which begins with Marx, journeys through Grainsci, and ends with Bakhtin) is followed by a personal reflection on participant observation and a discussion of how anthropologists and colonial administrators made the Kaonde into a tribe. In the second third of the book, the reader is finally introduced to ethnogrpahic data and the topic of how commoditization has changed social relations in Zambia's Chizela District. Over the next four chapters, Crehan tells the story of the towns of Kibala and Bukama (whose names have been changed). The first of these chapters leads us into this "rural backwater" and details the social organization of these communities, addressing kinship, descent, marriage, and local level political organizations. The second examines the types of interactions that take place between these villages and national political institutions (such as the Zambian government and the then ruling United National Independence Party). The third chapter in this section looks at how commoditization -- principally in the form of cash crops -- has influenced men and women differently. The last of these chapters considers contemporary uses of witchcraft among the Kaonde.
The author's introductory discussion of Gramsci and Bakhtin is interesting and well worth reading. It foreshadows an ethnogrpahic analysis that will demonstrate how power is deployed through "naming and locating." I was disappointed, however, that Crehan did not really apply these approaches in her ethnographic chapters. As for the ethnographic chapters themselves, while they are not ground-breaking, they provide valuable documentation of economic processes that scholars of this part of southern Africa will find useful. They also help us better understand one of the best portions of the book, the final chapter on bulozhi. Here Crehan treats the reader to a thoughtful and engaging illustration of how bulozhi has come to be deeply embedded in commodities, capitalism, kinship, and gender relations in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa.
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