“That shameful trade in a person”: Ilobolo, polygamy, and the logics of settler colonialism in Natal, 1850-1893'

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Seminar Date
March 14, 2012
Like other British colonies of white settlement, Natal was conceived of as a space to accommodate extensive European immigration in a ‘new’ territory. Simultaneously, these immigrants—‘Natalians’—sought to create their own settler state that would enact what theorist Lorenzo Veracini has termed policies of “mass transfer”—the simultaneous removal of indigenous peoples from lands designated for settlement and the psychic and social recasting of European settlers as the (newly) autochthonous inhabitants. If the logics of settler colonialism lie in the violent dispossession of indigenous peoples from the land and the subsequent, naturalizing reinscription of settlers therein as the ‘new natives,’ the ability of Zulus to at least partially resist re-orienting projects exposed the inherent weaknesses of such an endeavor. The threat offered by indigenous social formations like isithembu (polygamy) and ilobolo (bride price) demonstrates that notions of race and gender could function not merely as identities, but as powerful articulations at the heart of settler claims to dominance—and sites of potentially powerful contestation by indigenous actors.