A History of Motherhood, Food Procurement and Politics in East-Central Uganda to the Nineteenth Century

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This study explores the history of Bugwere, Busoga and Buganda, societies in present-day east-central Uganda, from the late first millennium and it does so through a focus on motherhood. Motherhood - as ideology and biology - impacted on almost every aspect of life in these societies, but did so in historically specific and changing ways. The reconstruction of the history of these societies over a thousand years is based on a range of sources and methodologies: historical linguistics, comparative ethnography and the analysis of oral traditions. The use of a range of sources allows us to move outside of the traditional focus of royal palaces, while still recognizing the ways in which political authority shaped the lives of commoners. As the ancestors of Bagwere, Basoga and Baganda, people speaking North Nyanza, expanded their settlements on the western shores of Lake Victoria-Nyanza and moved towards intensive banana-cultivation, motherhood shaped the ways in which they organised their communities and food procurement. At this time in a lightly populated land, people were preoccupied with creating durable settlements. To meet this challenge, they placed women's maternity at the center of networks which cut across patrilineages and patriclans, and in some areas across linguistic divides. These networks of contrasting and reinforcing ties of obligation underwrote the centralisation of political power in royal families in varying ways and at different times throughout much of the region. As a form of governance which embodied social reproduction - ideologies and realities of motherhood lay at the heart of emergent states. By tracing the changes in social conceptions of motherhood, in practices and ideologies of food procurement and in political life through to the nineteenth century, this dissertation shows how people in this region adapted to new physical and social environments. In the increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse eastern borderlands, this meant giving prominence to social motherhood in the organization of households and political authority. In Buganda, to the west, the growing centralization of power gave a new focus to biological motherhood as the state increasingly moved to co-opt broader conceptualisations of social motherhood to its own ends.

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  • 08/27/2018
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