Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World

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What happens to marginalized groups from Africa when they ally with the indigenous peoples’ movement? Who claims to be indigenous and why? Dorothy L. Hodgson explores how indigenous identity, both in concept and in practice, plays out in the context of economic liberalization, transnational capitalism, state restructuring, and political democratization.
Hodgson brings her long experience with Maasai to her understanding of the shifting contours of their contemporary struggles for recognition, representation, rights, and resources. Being Maasai,
Becoming Indigenous is a deep and sensitive reflection on the possibilities and limits of transnational advocacy and the dilemmas of political action, civil society, and change in Maasai communities.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews


"Highly recommended." —Choice


"Hodgson looks at why some marginalised groups in Africa decide to identify themselves as 'indigenous', and what 'indigenous identity' means in an environment of economic liberalisation, transnational capitalism, state restructuring and political democratisation." —Survival

African Affairs

"This book is at once a fascinating ethnographic work in its own right, an object lesson for anyone with an interest in the socio-political context of development issues, and an immensely useful practical guide for anyone working in this particular region...
I [Katherine Homewood] personally will use the insights from this book for years to come." —African Affairs

Anthropological Quarterly

"[This] book... comprehensively and accurately portrays a struggle for rights and resources that addresses quintessentially what it means to be ethnically marginal and postcolonial in the early 21st century." —Anthropological Quarterly

Journal of Southern African Studies

"The discovery of indigeneity and the intersection of the local and global are no longer new; nor is the study of NGOs and development. But few accounts are as ethnographically informed and assured—and readable and absorbing—as Hodgson's." —Journal of Southern African Studies

Elliot Fratkin

"The most comprehensive study of local NGOs and perhaps the only genuine ethnography of African (or other) 'indigenous' rights organizations." —Elliot Fratkin, Smith College

John G. Galaty

"Captures with detail and fidelity the historically important story of the evolution of Tanzanian Maasai internal politics and the emergence of local heroes willing and able to exercise a new form of leadership in a context of political repression." —John G. Galaty, McGill University

Christine Walley

"For readers interested in NGO politics, sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous movement, neo-liberalism, and gender studies, among others." —Christine Walley, MIT

W. Arens

Rather than rewriting her previous books, anthropologist Hodgson (Rutgers), already well known for her work on the Maasai of Tanzania (Once Intrepid Warriors, CH, Mar'02, 39-4053; The Church of Women, CH, Jan'06, 43-2875), takes readers in a new direction. In this instance, her concern is with how the Maasai have been converted by themselves (and others) in the postcolonial era from romantic traditionalists into an 'indigenous' people replete with numerous NGOs, a strong political rights agenda, and significant financial support from powerful global financial institutions. Hodgson documents this fascinating transformation in informative chapters with data collected in the halls of United Nations headquarters, hotel conference sites in Arusha, and remote countryside locations. A brief conclusion considers what the future might hold for these fascinating people and the worldwide indigenous peoples' movement... Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students/faculty. -- ChoiceW. Arens, Stony Brook University, February 2012

Leeds African Studies Bulletin

"[P]rovide[s] invaluableinsight into the regional context, as well as useful analyses for those researching ethnic conflictand policy implications in other parts of the world." —Leeds African Studies Bulletin


"The book is a wonderful achievement and evident in it is the author's genuine hopefulness and sensitivity about the goals and future of Maasai in Tanzania. For this reader, ethnographic description of Maasai distributed throughout the chapters working in ways to scaffold larger arguments was done extremely effectively. This adds to the book's readability and careful assembling of the author's arguments. It deserves a wide readership in anthropology, African studies and Indigenous studies." —Pastoralism

African Studies Quarterly

"Dorothy Hodgson has taken a complex subject and presented it in an engaging and highly readable account. I recommend her book to anthropologists, historians, and anyone interested in how modern Africans deal with the legacies of colonialism. Scholars teaching graduate and postcolonial survey courses will find it especially useful." —African Studies Quarterly

From the Publisher
"[S]erves as an important reminder of the ongoing struggle for political representation and recognition of rights and resources faced by marginalized pastoralist communities throughout
Africa." —Bulletin of S.O.A.S.

"In this excellent book, Hodgson examines how and why, in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, Maasai activists in Tanzania positioned and then repositioned themselves as indigenous and then as pastoralists in their struggles for representation, recognition, resources, and rights." —PoLAR

Intnl Journal African Historical Studies IJAHS

"Hodgson... investigate[s]... the political struggles of groups such as the Maasai to assert their rights to resources and political recognition. [S]he is successful in this endeavor as readers gain an understanding of the motivations, limitations, conflicts, and ironies that constrain and facilitate this movement." —Intnl Journal African Historical Studies IJAHS

Bulletin of S.O.A.S.

"[S]erves as an important reminder of the ongoing struggle for political representation and recognition of rights and resources faced by marginalized pastoralist communities throughout
Africa." —Bulletin of S.O.A.S.


"Highly recommended." —Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253223050
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorothy L. Hodgson is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Rutgers University,
where she is affiliated with the Center for African Studies and the Women's and Gender Studies
Department. She is author of Once Intrepid Warriors (IUP, 2001) and The Church of Women (IUP,

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

List of Key Organizations and Documents xvii

Introduction 1

Positionings-The Cultural Politics of Representation, Recognition, Resources, and Rights

1 Becoming Indigenous in Africa 25

2 Maasai NGOs, the Tanzanian State, and the Politics of Indigeneity 63

3 Precarious Alliances 105

4 Repositionings 157

From Indigenous Rights to Pastoralist Livelihoods

5 "If We Had Our Cows" 181

Community Perspectives on the Challenge of Change

Conclusion 211

What Do You Want?

Notes 217

Bibliography 233

Index 255

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