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International Migration Review, Winter 1972, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 471-472.

The Social Consequences of Resettlement. By Elizabeth Colson. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971. p277.


In these days of massive urban renewal and removal, this book stimulates some very important and relevant insights. As people are forcibly allocated under pressure of remote government and technical enterprise, things happen to their society. Family and kinship groupings, local political leadership, and religious understandings and practices change drastically. Neighboring communities are replaced by those with other customs, and great physical hardship seems meaningless. For some all life becomes meaningless.

Elizabeth Colson, who worked in collaboration with Dr. Thayer Scudder, has carefully recorded and analyzed the impact of the construction of the Kariba Dam on the Gwembe Tonga people. Located in the region where Zambia and Rhodesia come together, the events that surrounded the preparation for and building of the dam, in 1947-58, as well as the relocation of the people, became a comedy of errors with different levels of governmental bureaucracy acting with conflicting goals in mind,-stumbling and bumbling. Tragedy is seen as soon as one turns his attention to the people who are forced to relocate. Human concerns were not important to the national and international promoters. Indeed, among the international world of technology and finance, few bothered about the implications for the Gwembe people, although some who lived outside Central Africa worried about the effect upon the wild life of Gwembe, and organized expeditions to rescue wart-hogs, baboons, snakes, and various other animals from the rising flood waters.

Colson and Scudder followed the relocation of the Gwembe people by living with them during extended periods before, during and after the relocation as well as through the use of official records and extensive interviewing.

This book is not an argument against change and technological development. Rather it's message is that it is folly to allow technology to determine policy.

Resettlement of the Gwembe threatened their basic security, as they did not under stand the technical forces or policy decisions that were coming to them from the outside. They were called on to make enormous sacrifices for the benefit of a larger community with which they could not identify. The rise of African nationalism and changes in the nation's economy all played a part, along with the construction of the dam, in shaping a changed society. Colson discusses these as they become relevant to the resettlement of the Gwembe. Much of what happened when the large hydro-clectric dam was built across the Zambegi River at Kariba Gorge was what other anthropological studies lead us to believe is common phenomena when peoples are forced to migrate and relocate their well established communities. The following sequence of events is well documented:

The immediate result is a period of upheaval in economic and social routines which can be expected to last for approximately five years, before people are sufficiently reestablished in their new areas to see themselves as settled communities. The period is one of hostility towards Government and its officials, who are represented as disregarding local interests to advance some other section. Local leaders associated with resettlement lose legitimacy. Officials rule more openly by force and less by consent. Religious practices associated with community life come in question at a time when people are most vulnerable to fears and insecurity. In contrast to this, there is a new emphasis upon kinship ties and familiar relationships which provide the principal sense of continuity through the crisis. Residential patterns reflect the desire of kinsmen to be together immediately after the move. Close proximity then gives rise to tension and ultimately to quarrels once people feet some security in their new homes, and the latter portion of the period is likely to be marked by numerous disputes and a scattering of kin. In the general insecurity, people will be unwilling to experiment with new technical possibilities except on a minimal basis that will not commit their resources to untried innovations. The first years will be marked by many small experiments as people test the potential of the new environment. They expand from this stage only when there is a clear advantage to them in the next step. They will be equally unwilling to experiment with large-scale social innovation; and since the success of new forms of social organization is less easily demonstrated than the success of crops or new productive techniques, such smallscale experimenting with social organization as takes place is not likely to be followed by a massive reordering of social life. Instead they will consciously maintain the formal structure of their society, subst- actors without altering roles, providing symbolic actions when customary transactions cannot be carfied out. Ultimately, when the crisis is seen as over, the need to organize action with reference to the newphysical and social order associated with messianic and other revitalization movements is not a phenomenon associated with a cfisis engineered by external force, though it may occur as an aftermath when people ponder why their traditional order failed them in their need or when they begin to perceive that it no longer accounts for the realities they now face. (Pp. 1-2)

Thus Colson and Scudder add another piece of evidence toward predictability in Anthropological and Social Sciences.



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