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Pangolins and Politics in the Great Ruaha Valley, Tanzania: Symbol, Ritual and Difference

Pangolins and Politics in the Great Ruaha Valley, Tanzania: Symbol, Ritual and Difference

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Published by Martin Walsh
Citation: Walsh, M. T. 2007. Pangolins and Politics in the Great Ruaha Valley, Tanzania: Symbol, Ritual and Difference / Pangolin et politique dans la Vallée du Great Ruaha, Tanzanie: Symbole, rituel et différence. In Edmond Dounias, Elisabeth Motte-Florac and Margaret Dunham (eds.) Le symbolisme des animaux: L'animal, clef de voûte de la relation entre l'homme et la nature? / Animal symbolism: Animals, keystone of the relationship between man and nature? (collection ‘colloques et séminaires’). Paris: Éditions de l’IRD (Institut de recherché pour le développement). 1003-1044.
Citation: Walsh, M. T. 2007. Pangolins and Politics in the Great Ruaha Valley, Tanzania: Symbol, Ritual and Difference / Pangolin et politique dans la Vallée du Great Ruaha, Tanzanie: Symbole, rituel et différence. In Edmond Dounias, Elisabeth Motte-Florac and Margaret Dunham (eds.) Le symbolisme des animaux: L'animal, clef de voûte de la relation entre l'homme et la nature? / Animal symbolism: Animals, keystone of the relationship between man and nature? (collection ‘colloques et séminaires’). Paris: Éditions de l’IRD (Institut de recherché pour le développement). 1003-1044.

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Published by: Martin Walsh on Apr 08, 2009
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P
angolins and politicsin the Great Ruaha valley, TanzaniaSymbol, ritual and difference
Martin T. W
ALSH
 
mtw30@cam.ac.uk
Abstract
The Ground pangolin,
 Manis temminckii
Smuts (Manidae), is a shy mammal that is rarelyseen by people living in the Great Ruaha valley in south-central Tanzania. This paper,based on case studies recorded in 2002-2003, describes what happens when pangolins areencountered, and how their ritual and other uses are sometimes bitterly contested by theindigenous and immigrant inhabitants of the area. Pangolins are not only ‘good to think’and ‘good to eat’, but also ‘good to argue about’. Conflicting views about their symbolicand economic values undermine any simple interpretation of their role as culturally salientanimals or ‘cultural keystone species’.
Keywords
 political animal, divination, traditional authorities, political history, protected areas
 ▌
 Introduction
Pangolins (scaly anteaters) occupy a special place in the beliefs and rituals of manyAfrican peoples. Since Mary Douglas’s description and analysis (1957, 1966) of the role of pangolins in a Lele fertility cult, these ‘anomalous’ animals have alsooccupied a special place in the anthropological literature on animal symbolism(Bulmer 1967, Wijeyewardene 1968, Tambiah 1969, Ellen 1972, Willis 1974,Lewis 1991, Richards 1993, Sperber 1996, Morris 1998) (
cf 
. É. Motte-Florac(Introduction), this volume). Discussion of Douglas’s material has focused on theclassificatory status and cultural significance of different species of pangolinamong the Lele and their Congolese neighbors (de Heusch 1985, 1993; Douglas1990; Lewis 1991, 1993a, 1993b, 2003). Unfortunately the cult described byM. Douglas has now lapsed, and, as she and some of her critics have pointed out,
© IRD, 2007
 
 
Le symbolisme des animaux. L'animal, clef de voûte de la relation entre l’homme et la nature ?
Animal symbolism. Animals, keystone in the relationship between Man and Nature? 
1004there remain significant gaps in our knowledge of the ideas and practices involved(Douglas 1990, Lewis 1993a, Ellen 1994). This lack of ethnographic detail hasmade it difficult to reanalyze the Lele case, except in general theoretical terms andwith reference to other studies of significant animals.Pangolins are accorded cultural significance throughout the Bantu Diaspora, and itis possible that some of the ideas and attitudes relating to these unusual animals,were carried by early migrants from the rainforest (Vansina 1990: 74, 277; Walsh1995-1996: 162-163). Belief in the protective and curative properties of pangolinscales is widespread in eastern and southern Africa, and in recent years has becomea cause for concern among conservation agencies (McColaugh 1989; Marshall1998). In some places pangolins play a more elaborate role in local beliefs andrituals. A number of Tanzanian peoples treat encounters with pangolins asauspicious events requiring special ritual action, and this often includes theperformance of a form of public divination in which the live animals are believedto foretell the future (Walsh 1995/1996, 1997: 12-13; Keregero 1998). In this paperI will examine examples of this practice among the Hehe and other inhabitants of the Great Ruaha valley in Iringa District in south-central Tanzania. There are someparallels as well as obvious differences between this and the Lele case. Rather thanfocus on general questions of classification and meaning, I have chosen instead toemphasize historical processes and the social contexts of symbolic practice. Thisreflects villagers’ own experience of pangolins and their interactions with them.Differences of interpretation and disagreements about action were commonoccurrences, and I will attempt to explain why this was and what its widerimplications for the analysis of animal symbolism are.
 ▌
 1. The Great Ruaha valley and its inhabitants
The Great Ruaha river, a major tributary of the Rufiji, rises in the SouthernHighlands of Tanzania. For part of its course, between the Usangu wetland andMtera reservoir, the river follows an arm of the Rift Valley, hemmed in byescarpments on both sides. This was once part of an important trade route, butsince the internecine wars of the 19
th
century has been politically and economicallymarginalized. The Great Ruaha and its valley do, however, provide good huntinggrounds, attractive dry season grazing, and fertile farmland along the river banksand in the virgin woodlands of the area. These give it the character of an economicand ethnic frontier, where different groups have moved in to take advantage of itsrich natural resources. This has resulted in increasing pressure and conflict overthose resources, exacerbated by the progressive alienation of large parts of thevalley to different categories of protected area, the largest of which is RuahaNational Park (fig. 1).
 
M.T. Walsh – Pangolins and politics in the Great Ruaha valley, Tanzania
 
Pangolin et politique dans la Vallée du Great Ruaha, Tanzanie 
 
1005The Tanzanian national census conducted in August 2002 (URT 2003) recorded atotal of 43,810 people living in 10,203 households in the two administrativedivisions, Idodi and Pawaga, in which research for this paper was conducted(photo 1). The total population had grown from 30,846 in 1988, an increase of over42% that is partly explained by continuing immigration to the area. The census datado not indicate ethnic affiliation, but a 1998 survey in 16 villages showed that morethan 30 ethnic groups were represented. More than half of the 1,106 respondentsidentified themselves as Hehe (61.6%), with rather fewer claiming Bena (10.8%),Gogo (8.0%) and Sangu (4.4%) ethnicity. Other groups represented in the sampleincluded Nyamwezi (2.4%), Kinga (1.9%), Wanji (1.4%), Sagara (1.4%), Maasai(1.1%) and Sukuma (1.0%) (Nahonyo
et al
. 1998: 15).Hehe have been the dominant ethnic group in Iringa District since the second half of the 19
th
century when a number of smaller polities were united under the rule of a single chief (Redmayne 1968: 37-46). These pre-Hehe groups included theinhabitants of the Great Ruaha valley and some of the people who were then livingin what is now Ruaha National Park. The latter, known locally as Kosisamba, wereejected from the area to the north of the river following its gazettement in 1951 as apart of Rungwa Game Reserve. This area became a national park in 1964, andmore evictions followed when its boundaries were extended across the southernbank of the Great Ruaha. In the mid-1970s Tanzania’s state-imposed ‘villagization’program resulted in further displacements and a reshuffling of settlement andpopulation in the valley (Jennings 1994: 5-9).The Gogo are northern neighbors of the Hehe, and the dominant ethnic group inDodoma District as well as in some Iringa villages to the south and west of Mterareservoir. Like the Hehe, the Gogo are Bantu speakers and mixed farmers, thoughbetter adapted to a drier environment and typically keeping more cattle (Rigby1969: 11-47). Unlike the Hehe, the Gogo were never united in a single precolonialpolity, but belonged to many small and localized chiefships. The Sangu and Sagaraare western and eastern neighbors of the Hehe respectively: the Sangu were onceruled by a single chief and in the 19
th
century provided a model for the unificationof the Hehe (Walsh 1984: 36-45).The Bena, Kinga and Wanji are more recent Bantu-speaking immigrants to thevalley from the south and south-west; the Nyamwezi and Sukuma from the north-west. Many of them were attracted to this area by the availability of land forfarming and especially irrigated rice cultivation. Il-Parakuyu Maasai, who cultivateas well as keep livestock, have been settled in the valley since the colonial period,living outside the main village centers. The Barabaig are more recent and mostlyseasonal migrants to the valley from north-central Tanzania, bringing largenumbers of cattle in search of dry season grazing. Because of their mobility theywere not represented in the 1998 village survey.Another incentive for settlement in the valley has been its wildlife resources.Hunting and honey gathering have long been important economic activities for theindigenous Kosisamba and others. In the 1970s and 1980s commercial gamepoaching was an important source of wealth; since the mid-1990s a communitywildlife management initiative supported by the Tanzanian and British

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