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Realizing Civilization through Patrilineal Descent: The Intellectual Making of an African Racial Nationalism in Tanzania, 1920–501

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The emergence of an African racial nationalism in Tanzania was as much an intellectual re-articulation of basic categories of identity as it was a response to the racial inequities of coastal East African society and European colonial rule. This article explores the intellectual agency of African thinkers who operated within structures of thought that understood civilization as something diffused from outside of Africa—either in the form of Swahili Islamic culture or the European civilizing mission. Writers and poets within Tanzania between the 1920s and 1940s came to assert an African racial identity by inverting the norms of Swahili society that valorized patrilineal descent from the Middle East. Instead, they argued that Africans can only become civilized and realize their nation/race by honouring male ancestors from inside the continent. In practice this meant that African writers demanded to exercise greater control over the sexual behaviour of African women, whose fidelity to racial purity, they alleged, was critical for Africans to realize civilization and political advancement. In the process of these debates, African writers working within the idiom of descent retooled the intellectual building blocks that would support the African nationalist movement in Tanzania during the 1950s and after.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2006

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