Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mortgaging the Ancestors

Mortgaging the Ancestors: Ideologies of Attachment in Africa

Parker Shipton
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mortgaging the Ancestors
    Book Description:

    This fascinating interdisciplinary book is about land, belonging, and the mortgage-and how people of different cultural backgrounds understand them in Africa. Drawing on years of ethnographic observation, Parker Shipton discusses how people in Africa's interior feel about their attachment to family, to clan land, and to ancestral graves on the land. He goes on to explain why systems of property, finance, and mortgaging imposed by outsiders threaten Africa's rural people.

    The book looks briefly at European and North American theories on private property and the mortgage, then shows how these theories have played out as attempted economic reforms in Africa. They affect not just personal ownership and possession, he suggests, but also the complex relationships that add up to civil order and episodic disorder over a longer history. Focusing particular attention on the Luo people of Kenya, Shipton challenges assumptions about rural economic development and calls for a broader understanding of local realities in Africa and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15274-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Economics

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    “When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours,” proclaimed a character in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s short novelThe Little Prince. He went on, “when you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. . . . So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them” (Saint-Exupéry 1943, 56). When asked whether that was all, he replied, “That is enough.”

    In the world we live in, wherever someone can claim to own the land—or the sea, air, or stars—someone else has already set things up...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Sand and Gold: Some Property History and Theory
    (pp. 23-58)

    The world did not spin into being, it is safe to surmise, with private land titles already here. If it had—and if the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British agronomist and political economist Arthur Young is right—there would by now be little sand left.¹

    If private property in land is a human contrivance that only some times and places morally accept, the mortgage is a more recent and odder one, more scarcely accepted still. A mortgage, or pledge of security for a loan with a deadline, is a work of imagination, requiring as it does a land title...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Luo and Others: Migration, Settlement, Ethnicity
    (pp. 59-73)

    Some speak of human cultures or societies as though genetic stock, language spoken, and material culture neatly coincided in each case. But sometimes they do not: a people distinct in one way may not be so in another.

    People known as Luo live at one of the more important frontiers in Africa, at the edge between the language family called Nilotic that occupies much of east-northeast Africa, and the one most often called Bantu that takes up most of Africa’s southern half.¹ Around the edges of the Luo country one can walk from one farmer’s field to another’s and hear...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. 74-84)
  9. CHAPTER 4 An Earthly Anchorage: Graves and the Grounding of Belonging
    (pp. 85-108)

    Most scholars who have speculated over the past century or so on the origins of human society have supposed that the earliest, most sparsely settled human societies were organized mainly on the basis of kinship and descent, and that only later, under denser population settlements, did there evolve forms of organization based instead on territorially defined polity. Many have inferred from this premise, as noted earlier, that societies with central political organization were generally more highly evolved or civilized than those without.

    In Africa though, most societies combine the principles of kinship and territorial polity somehow in organizing loyalties and...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Birthright and Its Borrowing: Inheritance and Land Clientage Under Pressure
    (pp. 109-129)

    If humans have roots like trees, they are roots that sometimes tangle and compete with other humans’ roots. But a human’s roots, unlike a tree’s, can depend on continued connections to other humans in a particular place. Not just humans, not just their territories, but human territoriality itself may alter as people move and mix.

    Who claims to belong where in equatorial Africa, we know by now, depends on who can trace relationship to whom. We have seen that in the Luo country, ancestral graves are, or have become, a crucial part of that reckoning. Not anyone may be buried...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Thin End: Land and Credit in the Colonial Period
    (pp. 130-147)

    No attempt to individualize or privatize landholding in Africa has been more sweeping than Kenya’s, and no country’s experience provides a more promising place to try to find out what can go right and wrong in the process, or how the experience can feel. This chapter is an attempt to offer a glimpse into the formation of that process, which proceeded from central Kenya outward and from the highlands down, and to suggest what part the people to be affected—including the geographically and socially more marginal people, and others speaking for them—played or did not play in it....

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Ghost Market: Land Titling and Mortgaging After Independence
    (pp. 148-159)

    Rural people in many parts of the world whose communities have allowed their national governments to register their land as private property have done so largely in the hope of obtaining farm loans on the security of their land titles. The romance of the ghostwalk is a seductive fancy for Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre. Whether that scene be an enchanted, topsy-turvy world as Marx deemed it, or a straightforward place of pragmatism and “natural steps to evolution,” as the authors of the Swynnerton Plan theorized no less grandly, the temptation is palpable enough to farmer or financier....

  13. CHAPTER 8 Nothing More Serious: Mortgaging and Struggles over Ancestral Land
    (pp. 160-200)

    If human attachment to land is not by its very nature a matter of life and death, it can certainly be made to be. “There is nothing more serious in Luoland than someone snatching your land. . . . Land is life,” said Aluoch Ondiek of Kanyamkago. Juni Asiyo, a young woman from Karachuonyo and Nairobi, once added this wry remark when explaining such Luo feelings about land and about ancestors: “If you want to make an enemy for life, mess with a dead Luo.”

    But neither Aluoch Ondiek nor Juni Asiyo was talking about just the dead or about...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Bigger than Law: Land and Constitutionalism
    (pp. 201-222)

    There is change and there is change. Violence of the sort that beset western Kenyans in the foregoing chapter is piecemeal and sporadic, flaring up here and there in places of ethnic intersettling, and in anxious times like the run-up to elections. There it was carried out by excitable young men in gangs, playing savage, evidently egged on by particular politicians in the shadows (and maybe some women closer by), in insecure positions, as some law enforcers turned a blind eye. But there is another way of attempting change, a way more peaceful, sweeping, and methodical—or anyway more official....

  15. CHAPTER 10 Conclusion: Property, Improperty, and the Mortgage
    (pp. 223-254)

    “Reform, reform. Aren’t things bad enough already?” So said Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, in 1832, as England was just undergoing its second big wave of land enclosures, and before any European had reached the great lake that is the innermost source of the Nile.¹ If Africa’s adventures in property reform have taught us anything since then, it is that the grander theories of European or North American social philosophy seldom apply well or neatly, either as frameworks for analysis or as prescriptions for policy, on that continent astride the Equator. The evolutionary theories being tried out in...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 255-288)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-314)
  18. Index
    (pp. 315-327)