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Lines of Desire: Power and Materiality Along a Tanzanian Caravan Route

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Publication details

JournalJournal of World Prehistory
DatePublished - Dec 2010
Issue number4
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)219-237
Original languageEnglish


The caravan routes that connected the East African interior to the coast are well known from the nineteenth century, when trade along them was intense and increasingly formalised. It is understood that this brought important changes in the structure of society, in people-object relations and in the opportunities for the exercise of power; we also assume that this situation differed from pre-colonial periods, yet very little archaeological work has examined that assumption. Understandings of the incorporation of this region into a larger world of commodity exchange have been based upon implicit assumptions about the role of trade; these often stress the underdevelopment of East Africa. Yet it is necessary to examine the ways in which foreign goods were made commensurable with valuables and assets in the regional economy before it is possible to discuss the ways that access to these goods may have affected local power structures. This paper attempts such an analysis, through a focus on two areas in the interior which have been the subject of recent archaeological field work. By tracing the specific histories of their interaction with objects before and during the nineteenth century, it examines the assumption that the accumulation of exotic objects was necessarily the basis of authority. Instead, it will be argued that the ways in which new opportunities and objects were incorporated were specific and local, fitting within existing schemes of understanding and the authorisation of power.

    Research areas

  • Power, Prestige goods, Trade, Materiality, AFRICA, 19TH-CENTURY, TRADE, COAST

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