Afroscientific

New Book on African Scientific Knowledge Creation

Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga is Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More pertinently to this post, he is a Zimbabwean and a Shona. He has just published a new book which delves into the ways in which the Shona and other African people’s dealt with the Tse Tse Fly prior to the arrival of Europeans and colonialism.

This is a snippet of MIT’s overview of the book;

“Few animals are more problematic than the tiny African insect known to English speakers as the tsetse fly. This is the carrier of “sleeping sickness,” an often deadly neurological illness in humans, as well as a disease that has killed millions of cattle, reshaping the landscape and economy in some parts of the continent.

For generations, vedzimbahwe (the “Shona” people, builders of houses) and their African neighbors, assembled a significant store of ruzivo — knowledge — about mhesvi, their name for the tsetse fly. As MIT Associate Professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga explains in a new book, this accumulation of local knowledge formed the basis for all subsequent efforts to control or destroy the tsetse fly and is an exemplary case of scientific knowledge being developed in Africa, by Africans.

“Ruzivo and practices based on it were the foundation of what became science and means and ways of tsetse control,” Mavhunga writes in “The Mobile Workshop: The Tsetse Fly and African Knowledge Production,” recently published by the MIT Press. However, he notes, Europeans nonetheless dismissed Africans as being “only good at creating and peddling myths and legends.”

In fact, Africans developed a diverse set of practices to combat mhesvi. For example, they used late-season forest burning to expose mhesvi to predators; moved herds through mhesvi-infested stretches at night while the insect was inactive; strategically located their settlements to neutralize the insect’s threat or turn it into a weapon against their human enemies; cleared bush and felled trees to create buffer zones between mhesvi-infested wildlife areas and human- and livestock-inhabited areas; and developed innoculations using live or dead mhesvi. Europeans appropriated many of these methods, or, at the very least, used their basic principles as starting points for what they then called “science.”  

Read the full article here.

This blogpost has been first published by Afroscientific.com

 

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