Rethinking African Gender Histories: Time, Change, and the Deeper Past in Northern Mozambique

Project Details


This project aims at rethinking ways of reading and writing change in African gender history. Looking at oral historical narratives and the transgenerational communication of historical knowledge among the Ciyaawo-speaking people in northern Mozambique, it brings the study of gender in African deeper pasts in dialogue with a cultural analysis of the contemporary historical moment. My starting argument is that our understanding of the contemporary historical moment in African gender history is strongly framed by the gender and development models of the social sciences which emphasize women’s struggle
for gender equality in relation to men. This understanding influences the way in which we approach the past and write our research narratives. Through this history writing, women’s historical experiences become fixed within teleological narratives of ‘liberation’ (/‘oppression’). The past is distanced from the present along a linear path, and what is termed the ‘precolonial past’ is isolated as a separate unit of study. In my research, I seek to challenge this temporal model and explore new ways to read and write gendered histories that more fully capture the multiplicity of the gendered temporalities that constitute African existence.

Overall, my study has a two-fold objective: Firstly, on the basis of the Yaawo oral historical narratives, it aims to contribute to our understanding of female political and spiritual power in Africa’s precolonial past and the historical processes of change in the colonial and postcolonial contexts. Secondly, I will study how these deeper histories also echo and are reworked in the present and thus constitute the contemporary historical experience in interaction with, for instance, more recent socialist ideas of women’s emancipation and the current development discourse on gender equality. Overall, my research proposes to open new routes in the theoretical thinking as well as the methodologies of African gender history.

Layman's description

My project aims at rethinking ways of reading and writing change in African gender history. It questions the current ways in which gender is connected to a teleological notion of history. This single narrative categorizes African gender history into three stages: an idealized monolithic precolonial past, a disruptive and oppressive colonial period, and a postcolonial present that focuses on ‘liberation’. In this project I will focus on the practices of oral historians in Niassa in northern Mozambique to analyze the gendered ways that deeper historical knowledge is passed from generation to generation. I suggest that looking at how people interpret and relate to the deeper past, and how this knowledge shapes gender identities and trajectories in the present can allow for a more multitemporal understanding of gender history. My main source material will consist of oral historical narratives as well as contemporary oral testimonies/histories, especially life narratives.
Effective start/end date01/02/2019 → …

Fields of Science

  • 615 History and Archaeology
  • African history
  • African cultural studies
  • Gender studies
  • Women's and gender history
  • Cultural studies
  • Oral history
  • Mozambique
  • Southeast Africa