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Island Subsistence: Hunting, Trapping and the Translocation of Wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean

Island Subsistence: Hunting, Trapping and the Translocation of Wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean

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Published by Martin Walsh
A paper by Martin Walsh investigating the history of hunting, trapping and animal translocation in the western Indian Ocean.
Citation: Walsh, M. T. 2007. Island Subsistence: Hunting, Trapping and the Translocation of Wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean. Azania, 42 (Special issue: Stephanie Wynne-Jones (ed.) The Indian Ocean as a Cultural Community): 83-113. (With an online appendix: ‘Island Mammal Lists and Local Names’, http://www.biea.ac.uk/publications_pages/Walsh_appendix.pdf).
A paper by Martin Walsh investigating the history of hunting, trapping and animal translocation in the western Indian Ocean.
Citation: Walsh, M. T. 2007. Island Subsistence: Hunting, Trapping and the Translocation of Wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean. Azania, 42 (Special issue: Stephanie Wynne-Jones (ed.) The Indian Ocean as a Cultural Community): 83-113. (With an online appendix: ‘Island Mammal Lists and Local Names’, http://www.biea.ac.uk/publications_pages/Walsh_appendix.pdf).

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Martin Walsh on Apr 20, 2009
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Island subsistence: hunting, trapping and the translocation of wildlife in the WesternIndian Ocean
Martin T. Walsh
Researchers have recently begun to re-examine the settlement of the islands of the Western Indian Ocean from multi-disciplinary perspectives that incorporate evidencefrom both the natural and human sciences (Blench, this volume; Hurles
et al 
. 2005;Mitchell 2004, 2005). In this and other respects the study of the maritime heritage of theIndian Ocean lags behind that of the Pacific, where the history of human colonisationis the subject of lively interdisciplinary debate (cf. Hurles
et al 
. 2003). One particularly fertile area of research has been the historical ecology of oceanic islands and analysis of the environmental impacts of human settlement and subsistence practices (Kirch andHunt 1997). In the Western Indian Ocean Madagascar has been the focus of this kindof investigation (Goodman and Patterson 1997), but it has not been extended to otherislands or integrated with study of their settlement histories. In this paper I will makea preliminary attempt to do so, by reviewing the cultural and biological evidence forpeople’s interactions with the terrestrial fauna of island archipelagos that lie betweenEast Africa and Madagascar. I will argue that the significance of hunting, trapping andthe translocation of wild animals has been greatly underestimated in previous historiesof this region. The evidence presented here evokes a number of historical hypotheses,some contrary to received wisdom, about the settlement of the islands and relationsbetween the communities involved. It also suggests some general correlations betweenisland biogeography and human settlement that can be compared to observations basedon research in Oceania.
Old histories and new histories
Older histories of the three archipelagos surveyed in this paper – Zanzibar, Mafia,and the Comoros – make little reference to the importance of hunting and trappingfor island subsistence, and generally say nothing at all about the translocation of wildanimals or the ecological impacts of any of these activities. Even Ingrams, a key source,declared that there ‘is little game in Zanzibar, and so not much chance for the huntingfaculties of the natives to develop’ (1931: 290). He was, however, enthusiastic about the‘considerable ingenuity’ of their traps (1931: 291), and took some trouble to describe
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Island subsistence: hunting, trapping and the translocation of wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean
and illustrate them. The
Ethnographic Survey of Africa
volume on the Swahili-speakingpeoples devotes just three short paragraphs to hunting (Prins 1967: 49-50). Despite theamount of ink spilled on Swahili studies since, very little has been written about theutilisation of wildlife
on the East African coast and islands (Horton & Middleton 2000;Kusimba 1999; Spear 2000). The same can be said
mutatis mutandis 
of other maritimecommunities speaking languages related to Swahili, including the Bantu-speakinginhabitants of the Comoro archipelago. The possible historical impacts of hunting onMadagascar have attracted more scholarly interest (e.g. Dewar 1997; 2003).There are important exceptions to this general lack of interest in hunting and otheraspects of human-wildlife relations. Grottanelli’s (1955) ethnographic description of Bajuni practice in southern Somalia is more detailed than most, though it focuseson the exploitation of marine animals (not considered in this paper) and hunting by these northern Swahili speakers on the mainland opposite their island homes. Harpet’s(2002) short study of attitudes to the common brown lemur on Mayotte is among thebest of recent contributions by an anthropologist, in conjunction with her earlier book (2000) on the lemurs of Madagascar. The possible part played by human agency inintroducing animal species to the islands is considered at greatest length in the work of the natural historians and zoologists – most notably by Moreau and Pakenham (1940)for the Zanzibar and Mafia archipelagos, and Louette
et al 
. (2004) for the Comoros.Disappointingly, though, we lack even basic mammal lists for most of the smallerislands off the East African coast, from southern Somalia and the islands of the Lamuarchipelago in northern Kenya down to Mozambique. Mammal, bird and reptile listshave been drawn up for some islands associated with marine parks and other protectedareas (e.g. Downs and Wirminghaus 1997), but these are often unpublished.Excavation and archaeozoological reports are our best source for island wildlifeand its uses in the past, though well-researched archaeological sites are few and oftenfar-between in the archipelagos of the region (Chittick 1984; Horton 1996; Horton &Mudida 1993; Juma 2004; Mudida 1996; Redding 1992; Redding and Goodman 1984; Wright 1984, 1992). Unfortunately stratigraphy, dating, and the faunal identifications atsome recently surveyed insular sites have all been questioned (Sinclair 2006), and eventhe best reports tend to suffer from an absence of reliable biogeographical, zoologicaland ethnozoological information to place the archaeological data in context.The available archaeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of contemporary Swahili and Comorian speakers hunted and trapped animals for food, though this wasprobably always subsidiary to fishing, farming and other subsistence activities in thecommunity. Historical linguistics and comparative ethnography support and add tothis generalisation. Most mammal names on the islands included in this survey (see theonline Appendix and Tables A2-A7) reconstruct to proto-Sabaki, the ancestor of Swahili,Comorian and other languages that are thought to have first diverged from one anothersomewhere on the East African coast, most likely in what is now Kenya. Some can betraced even further back to proto-Northeast Coast Bantu and higher (earlier) nodes of Bantu (Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993). The same can be shown for other terminologiesassociated with hunting and trapping. The existence of such practices today, varying by island and fauna, supports the thesis that they must have been practised by early Swahiliand Comorian speakers as they moved down the coast and onto the islands, adaptingto local conditions as they did so.Recent research, however, suggests that this can only have been part of the story.
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 Martin T. Walsh
 Archaeological investigations by Chami and colleagues in Tanzania indicate that atleast some of the islands in the Zanzibar and Mafia archipelagos were occupied by people with Late Stone Age and Early Iron Age cultural assemblages long before theappearance of Triangular Incised Ware / Tana Tradition pottery in the second half of the first millennium AD (Chami 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004; Chami and Wafula 1999).The timing of the latter is consistent with presumed dates for the diversification andmovement of Sabaki speakers down the coast, including the linguistic ancestors of what was to become the Bantu-speaking community of the Comoros. Linguistic history and geography imply that the Late Stone Age fishers, foragers and hunters of the coastand nearby islands spoke non-Bantu languages, perhaps related to one or more of theisolates spoken by East African hunter-gatherers in recent times (see Walsh 2006 andreferences therein). There seems little doubt now that Bantu-speaking farmers also settledon nearby islands, some centuries before the southward migration of Sabaki speakers.The linguistic evidence suggests that these Early Iron Age islanders may have spokendifferent East African Bantu languages, not just early dialects of Northeast Coast Bantu,the language group which later spawned Sabaki. Archaeology has yet to provide convincing proof that the Comoros were also settledbefore the middle of the first millennium AD, though a growing volume of circumstantialevidence, linguistic and palaeozoological, suggests that this might have been the case. If Blench (in press, also this volume) is right in proposing that Madagascar was first settledby African hunter-gatherers, then it is not difficult to envisage similar sea-crossingsto the Comoros, whether direct from Africa or from Madagascar itself. A number of linguists, meanwhile, have argued that the proto-Malagasy themselves probably spenttime on the East African coast and then in the Comoros before they finally settled onMadagascar (e.g. Adelaar, in press; Simon 1988).
Hunting and the exploitation of island wildlife: a survey 
The following survey is based on a combination of different kinds of evidence from a wide variety of sources, among them the zoological, archaeological, linguistic, historicaland ethnographic. As part of this I have compiled mammal lists with scientific and localnames for six of the islands considered in the survey: Pemba, Unguja, Mafia, GrandComore, Anjouan, and Mayotte - a selection determined by the availability of data.These tables (numbered A2-A7) are referred to in the text and can be found in an onlineappendix. The sources that I have used in this survey are uneven in quality, and oftenprovide no more than a fragmentary view of what must be a more complex reality. If nothing else, I hope that this will highlight the many gaps in current knowledge, andsuggest future topics for research.
The Zanzibar Archipelago
The Zanzibar archipelago comprises two large islands, Pemba and Unguja, each of whichis associated with a number of smaller islets. Although Zanzibar is generally treatedas a single geographic unit, the two islands have had quite different geological andecological histories, and so are considered separately below. Research in Zanzibar since
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