Long before the creation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the people of the western Serengeti had established settlements and interacted with the environment in ways that created a landscape we now misconstrue as natural. Western Serengeti peoples imagine the environment not as a pristine wilderness, but as a differentiated social landscape that embodies their history and identity. Conservationist literature has ignored these now-displaced peoples and relegated them to the margins of modern society. Their oral traditions, however, provide the means for seeing the landscape from a new perspective. Imagining Serengeti allows us to see the Serengeti landscape as a book of memory that preserves the ways in which western Serengeti peoples have actively transformed their environment and their societies. Moreover, it strengthens the case for involving local communities in conservation efforts that will preserve African environments for the future.
Using a new methodology to analyze precolonial oral traditions, Jan Shetler identifies core spatial images, which are then recontextualized into historical time periods through the use of archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic, ecological, and archival evidence. Imagining Serengeti reconstructs a socioenvironmental history of landscape memory of the western Serengeti spanning the last eighteen hundred years.
Jan Bender Shetler is an associate professor of African and world history at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. She is the author of Telling Our Own Stories: Local Histories from South Mara, Tanzania.
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