Toward a Comparative Understanding of African and Indian Marriage Exchange Regulation in colonial Natal

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Seminar Date
September 7, 2011
Indian and African customary practices of marriage exchange both became the target of nineteenth century reformist discourse under colonial rule. The processes by which missionaries, settlers, state legislators and bureaucrats engaged these practices reflected the moral regulation inherent in state formation. Through the valorization of particularly gendered relationships and social roles amidst the contingencies of colonial administration in this nineteenth century moment, the Natal state began to establish differential patterns of gendered expectation for Africans and Indians. By setting the contemporaneous regulation of African and Indian custom alongside each other, I attempt to understand the differing historical and legal forms of gendered social order coming into being in this colony by the turn of the twentieth century. In each case, state administration was inflected by pre-existing forms of power and gender regulation which were appropriated and transformed by the colonial state?s legal institutions in conversation with those subjected to colonial rule. In the case of Indians this meant negotiating the terms of marriage exchange in a context of the existence of the labor contracts of both men and women. The civil implications of these work contracts, and the manner in which state regulation of the transfer of goods upon marriage eventually came to institute the right of Indian men and women to hold private forms of property, produced a qualified modern legal status vastly different to that permitted to Africans. For Africans, ukulobola regulation worked not only to undermine the power of senior African men in relation to younger men and the colonial state, but it was also a means of attenuating some of the unintended moral consequences of early forms of gender liberalization around African marriage. The legal accommodation of ukulobola by the state as a means both of securing male labor and the perpetual minority of African women not only exemplifies a narrative of frustrated modernity, but forms the foundation for the exclusion of African patriarchies from the colony?s ordinary civil realm.
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