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Historical memory as a foundation for peace: Network formation and ethnic identity in North Mara, Tanzania


  • Jan Bender Shetler

    (Department of History and Political Science, Goshen College,


While ethnic identity formulated by historical memory is often understood as the cause of violent conflict in Africa, this qualitative historical study of interethnic relations between Luo and Bantu-speaking communities on the borderlands of Tanzania and western Kenya demonstrates just the opposite. In fact, migration and violent conflicts over land in the late 19th century were the basis for oral traditions that established new microethnic identities. It was only in the colonial era that the modern macroethnicities of Luo and Suba (Bantu), as rigid oppositional identities, began to solidify around land disputes. Historical memory constructs these dynamic microethnic identities around interethnic reciprocal networks that were necessary for gaining security and access to land in the past. During these late 19th-century conflicts, interethnic alliances and marriages were the norm, resulting in many Bantu-speaking communities becoming Luo, to one degree or another. Historical memory, as the central tool for constructing ethnicity, can be used to promote either violence or peace, depending on how it is deployed. In western Kenya, an oppositional Luo identity resulted from the colonial construction of macroethnicity, while in North Mara, Tanzania, a different national narrative has resulted in relative peace. In his collection of oral traditions from North Mara, Zedekia Oloo Siso makes a case for these still salient microethnicities, based on regional networks that cross-cut ethnic boundaries, as the indigenous networks necessary for peace.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan Bender Shetler, 2010. "Historical memory as a foundation for peace: Network formation and ethnic identity in North Mara, Tanzania," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 47(5), pages 639-650, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:47:y:2010:i:5:p:639-650

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