"Wisdom does not live in one house": compiling environmental knowledge in Lesotho, Southern Africa, c. 1880-1965
Conz, Christopher R.
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This dissertation reconstructs a history of the greater Qacha’s Nek district of Lesotho, southern Africa from 1880 when farmers first settled the area, until 1965 on the eve of independence from Great Britain. This place-based study speaks to broader questions. How have people incorporated new and often foreign ideas into existing beliefs and practices? How did a person’s social position affect how they interacted with new ideas? How have people applied knowledge to make and remake environments such as in gardens and fields? This study is based on field research in Lesotho, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The author examined archival materials including colonial records, agricultural reports and surveys, national council proceedings, and vernacular newspapers. During four months of rural fieldwork in Lesotho the author collected oral histories, took photographs, and participated in village life. The approach focuses on colonial government interventions into agriculture and pastoralism. These interventions serve as sites for examining historical changes in how Basotho people engaged with the non-human world. In so doing, the study makes three main interventions. First, the claims are situated within scholarly conversations about local knowledge, science, and environment under colonialism. Second, the stories of chiefs, farmers, and government employees told here extend the literature on Lesotho’s political and economic history by highlighting the nuance of local politics, ecology, and agency. Finally, to contribute to the environmental historiography on Africa and rural places in general, the study probes the interplay of culture and nature. To do this, it narrates how people deployed eclectic knowledge to build, rebuild, and redefine environments. The dissertation argues that the compilation of environmental knowledge must be understood as a historical process that encapsulates the meanings that people have imbued the landscape with, for example, by building homesteads, along with how people have understood the landscape as a system of resources to be used economically for subsistence and market purposes. These aspects of knowing are part of a single process that has unfolded, and continues to unfold, along a temporal trajectory that has varied across different social groups, such as men and women and chiefs and commoners.