I often wondered at the dilapidated state of many grain storage bins during my

I often wondered at the dilapidated state of many

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I often wondered at the dilapidated state of many grain storage bins during my 1994-95 GwembeValley residence—one of the very bad drought years. These round storage bins, built on a raised frame about two feet off the ground, with red clay plaster walls and a thatched roof, somehow looked drunk to me—disheveled thatch, poking in all directions like a head of uncombed hair; supporting beams of the roof exposed like a win dow frame with no glass; the whole roof structure barely attached to its body, dangling off one edge of the round wall—a drunken figure stum bling through a family’s homestead. These disintegrating grain bins looked as if they had been abandoned years before and were simply being kept around because no one wanted to expend the energy to fully disman tle them. Finally, one of my close confidants in the homestead where I lived explained to me, somewhat ashamed, that in fact the bins had been refurbished, including a new roof, just two years before. However, if they did not rebuild the grain bin, then itwould appear that the family had no food at all, and consequently extended family and neighborswould not come asking for a plate of corn meal. Elizabeth Colson also described how more tightly defined “nuclear” families will eat their meals indoors during hunger times, as opposed tothe normal practice of eating outside next to the cooking fires, in an effort to hide that a family is,in fact, eating, and thus avoid unexpected visitors and extraneous relatives appearing at meal time (Colson 1979).Clearly Gwembe Tonga people, and any other people around the world living in extreme environments and economic upheaval, are used to coping with recurrent hunger and other challenges to survival. They mobilize broad networks of kin and other social links, use substitutes for many needs, and limit their consumption, both in daily life and ritual activities, to the bare essentials for survival (Colson 1971,1979). People try to maxi mize their production while limiting their consumption, as these stories suggest. During the relatively good years of theearly 1970s, Gwembe people were consuming more town bought products and luxuries, and mi grants to town were closely linked to relatives in the village through kin ship, religion, and business (Colson and Scudder 1975). Sharing profits from business ventures and good harvests was common. More recently, cooperative businesses linking town and village residents have failed, as in dividuals strapped for money appropriate capital from the enterprises for their own individual needs. In this case, social alliances and networks con dense in an attempt to limit the number of people drawing on shared re sources. In both the past and the present, the Tonga demonstrate re siliency in their social systems. During the recent years of drought and hunger, some families have encouraged members to move to new locations in an effort to limit consumption and expenditures in the household, and withstand the current stress.
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