This article explores the interaction of popular culture and imperial science, arguing that the very specific vampire accusations that emerged in the Northern Province of Northern Rhodesia in the 1930s involved local and colonial ideas about the relationship between wild animals, tsetse flies, authority and shifting cultivation (citemene).(1) Neither African nor European ideas were fixed, nor were they untouched by each other. Although I will present European ideas and African ideas in sequence, I do not see them as separate and distinct. European ideas about tsetse control were shaped by African experiences with the anti-tsetse measures, and Western biomedical thinking about tsetse control was made to fit African realities.(2) Indeed, it may be more useful to think of what follows as a presentation of scientific evidence (i.e. the kind of evidence we expect to find in technical essays about shifting cultivation) followed by a presentation of evidence of a very different sort (i.e. the kind usually considered appropriate for historiography). Both are woven around contested terrains, European and African uses of land in the Northern Province of colonial Northern Rhodesia, in the name of ecology.
This essay also suggests, with some trepidation, that views of African ecology as a nightmare, whether of disease or overpopulation, are in part a trope.(3) `Science' and `medicine' have become, in the last one hundred years, ways of talking about Africa that embody ideas about disaster and renewal; the ecological history of Africa needs to incorporate data that will move scholars away from unconsidered focus on this paradigm. Though sleeping sickness is a real and virulent disease, my task here is not merely to identify a discourse but also to describe and elaborate other visions in Northern Rhodesia in which sleeping sickness was a manageable disease. The alternative visions are not expressed in the language of germs, parasites or apocalyptic epidemics; they are expressed in the language of colonial departments, officials and assistants and blood. There is a body of thought in cultural studies that claims that people not only debate the changes taking place around them, but also debate the terms in which those changes are described.(4) But to distinguish either of these constructions as exclusively `African' or `European' would be a mistake, I think, and I suggest that readers think of both as unintentionally collaborative constructions, in which the project and the materials are the same, though the positions of the narrators are different.
What is the evidence of these other visions? It is rumors, specifically those in which some agency of the colonial state -- usually black men working for white men -- captured Africans and took their blood. This oral genre is fairly widespread throughout East and Central Africa, but in each place the details of who captures whom, how and with what instruments differ significantly. For example, generic firemen captured Africans in much of East Africa; victims were often trapped in pits in colonial Nairobi but in small rooms in western Kenya. It is a mistake to think of these differences as `variants', however, which would imply that there was some Ur-version from which all distortions could be traced; instead they are independent, though parallel, local idioms that express local issues and concerns.
But what kind of evidence is rumor, and how can I use it to move from the politics of representation to the politics of land use, debated with reference to tsetse control? In its most positivist form, rumor is officials' concept for information they have not engendered, shaped or controlled. It is a category that simultaneously reveals popular conceptions about the actions and ideas of those in authority and declares the weakness of official channels of information and education. But what happens when I read rumors alongside naturalists' studies and colonial biomedicine? I want to suggest that for late twentieth-century academics, the differences between rumor and research reports are great; they are recounted in different media, and they have completely different levels of credibility. But for the subjects of the research and of colonial biomedicine, rumor and our own notions of fact may not have been all that different. The Bemba word for rumor, talk and conversation was the same (ilyashi); it referred to how people exchanged information, not the credibility of that information. Indeed, how rumor was distinguished from fact in the 1930s is not at all clear.(5) Both covered the same ground, both contained the same actors and issues, but the rumor -- at least as it was told and retold in colonial Northern Rhodesia in the 1930s -- had the advantage of being a first-person account. When rumors were not first-person accounts they were frequently told with great thoughtfulness and care, to make them more credible. Scientific knowledge, however, could be and frequently was disseminated in fragments, without the very frameworks that made it make sense.(6) The vampire accusations of the early 1930s, for example, referred to distant activities in Tanganyika Territory, said to be about to shift to Northern Rhodesia's Northern Province, but they were no less apparent -- or frightening -- to officials because no one had experienced them.(7) For Africans, on the other hand, official arguments about citemene, cassava and deforestation were often made without reference to African ideas about tsetse flies, ecology and wildlife. Moreover, officials frequently anticipated that their arguments would be ignored.
The world in which Northern Rhodesians lived seems to have had more varied forms of information than that of their British counterparts. From the 1920s on, Bemba-speaking peoples heard tales of a twig that could strip a man of his willpower and of Kasai cannibals who kidnapped Copperbelt workers; they heard that Catholic priests ate people; during the early years of the depression they heard that the King of England was in jail and that Black Americans would come to replace the British.(8) They also heard of Europeans who hired African agents specifically to capture them and take their blood, just as they heard about the dangers of citemene. This does not mean that everyone believed each and every one of these tales, but it does mean that the reasons why one such story was credible while another sounded ludicrous had to do with local peoples' appreciation and apprehension of certain facts, not because a story was grandiose, frightful and transmitted orally. From the vantage point of a Bemba village, 1930s beliefs in `rumors' and `facts' appeared to be tentative. Audrey Richards dismissed muchape, the early 1930s transnational witchfinding movement, as a novelty of precisely the kind that the Bemba frequently took up and quickly abandoned.(9)
But colonial science was not a European mirror image of an African intellectual faddishness. Colonial science was anything but a monolith; officials continually argued with the state and each other about forests, wild animals and African agriculture. `Scientific research' had a credibility in official colonial circles that the eye-witness accounts of naturalists did not have. But rather than evaluate various trends in colonial thinking in terms of their ecological soundness, I want to find a way to interpret them all as representing plausible, though different, visions of the world and ways to understand it. Recent trends in literary criticism have argued that it is worthwhile to read scientific texts the way we read novels, as cultural products that reveal the concerns and anxieties of the milieu in which they arise.(10) In this article I suggest that it is possible to read the fictive as a source for cultural history in the same way that we can read scientific texts.
This article, then, is about the mosaic of colonial beliefs, African and European, the supposedly superstitious and the supposedly scientific, about sleeping sickness control. It argues that these beliefs, like so many tiles, can be placed alongside each other so that an observer can discern the different narratives of science, land use and medicine. What follows are two discrete histories, one of pathogens, the other of vampires. Without oral evidence, this may be the only way I can proceed. The mosaic of who is saying what, when, and who repeats which rumor with intense belief and who argues against it with equal passion -- the very evidence that makes rumors form a debate rather than a monolith -- is barely discernible from archival sources.(11) Where individual African viewpoints appear, they do so at the behest of colonial authorities, so that I am hesitant to read the words of an African columnist for a government-sponsored newspaper or a district clerk or messenger as anything more than a man doing his job. What follows, I hasten to point out, is a very conservative interpretation, in which I have stayed very close to my documents. The exegesis is based on a reading that could best be called vampire-driven: the questions I have asked and the ways in which I have sought to answer them have all been propelled by my reading of the Northern Rhodesian vampire accusations of 1931.
Tsetse flies carry the protozoa, a trypanosome, that causes sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) in humans and domestic livestock. There are two kinds of trypanosome and two kinds of sleeping sickness, the origins and nature of which are by no means agreed upon: some think these are different environmental responses to the same organism, while others think that the structure of the trypanosomes differs. Thus, the two kinds are either called by the name of the protozoa -- trypanosoma gambiense and trypanosoma rhodesiense -- or by the environments in which they occur, riverain and savanna. The terminologies of both types of sleeping sickness involved animal hosts (sometimes called the reservoir), vectors that carry the protozoa from one host to the next and ecologies. The vector, the tsetse fly (glossina), is the only method of disease transmission, as the trypanosome must transform in the fly's body over several days to become infectious. In gambiense, infected flies live in the shade of riverbanks and feed off humans or occasionally reptiles and infect them; because the disease can be transmitted from human to human it can be spread by relatively small numbers of flies. Humans are the hosts, flies the vector. In rhodesiense, tsetses live in wooded areas -- the bush -- and feed off wild animals, which do not become infected, but can also feed off humans or domestic ungulates when they are available: wild animals are the host, flies are again the vector. Entomologists -- amateur and professional -- tended to ignore the protozoa to concentrate on the fly and studied the behavior of various species of tsetse in order to show how different varieties of trypanosomiasis were spread and how different ecosystems encouraged that spread. Sleeping sickness control organizations in British Africa invariably included entomologists.(12) Protozoologists, who seemed to be more influential in Francophone Africa, saw the differences between the trypanosomes as crucial and viewed t. gambiense as an entirely different disease from t. rhodesiense.(13)
The `discovery' of sleeping sickness was truly a colonial phenomenon. While the disease had been known, and endemic, in West Africa for centuries, it spread in the havoc of colonial conquest to previously uninfected regions to create epidemics of apocalyptic proportions -- the Congo River basin and Busoga are perhaps the most dramatic examples. The other discovery, of the cause and etiology of the disease, is one of the great stories of tropical medicine, combining all that was exotic about epidemics in Africa with all that was memorable about scientists' and explorers' egos.(14) It was a discovery that would not have been possible without the scientific advances of the late nineteenth century, particularly germ theory. Germ theory made the debilitating diseases of the tropics avoidable; they were not caused by the gaseous matter of climate and decaying organisms (miasma), as had been previously thought, but by protozoa and bacteria which could be conquered as they had been defeated in Europe.(15) But as Maryinez Lyons has argued, germ theory had its drawbacks. If the miasma theory had related tropical diseases mechanically to their geographical location, the bacteriology and protozoology of tropical medicine alienated disease from the landscape.(16)
But the sleeping sickness of this grand tradition was t. gambiense; the discovery -- or invention, depending on whether one stands with the protozoologists or entomologists -- of t. rhodesiense soldiered on with far less excitement and even some trepidation, as researchers concerned themselves with identifying an etiology and relating its cause to the trypanosomiasis of domestic stock, nagana, believed caused by a distinct protozoa, t. brucei, discovered by David Bruce in Natal in 1894. Trypanosomiasis rhodesiense was difficult to identify in part because local doctors expected humans to develop t. gambiense and partly because victims sickened and died so rapidly that Africans identified only the last stages of the disease, and then only for adults; presumably children succumbed so rapidly that sleeping sickness was confused with other afflictions. It was only in 1912 that the Luangwa Sleeping Sickness Commission in Northern Rhodesia, headed by investigators from the Liverpool School of Hygiene, demonstrated that the trypanosome carried by glossina morsitans could feed off wild animals and humans alike.(17) Research in Nyasaland and South Africa in 1913 showed that t. rhodesiense was identical to t. brucei, the cause of nagana.(18) Not everyone accepted the idea that t. rhodesiense was caused by the trypanosome of wild animals and domestic livestock, but the theory shaped sleeping sickness and tsetse control policies in the 1930s.
In areas where gambiense was prevalent attempts to control sleeping sickness became attempts to control populations -- by restricting their movements, isolating the sick or removing whole villages.(19) But areas where rhodesiense was prevalent were, according to the thinking of the times, areas where cattle keeping …