August 30, 2013

Angela Impey: When silence is the loudest song: Land, gender and conservation expansion in western Maputaland

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 12:21 pm


This paper explores the politics of land, its position in memories, and its foundation in changing spatial practices in western Maputaland, a borderland region situated at the juncture of South Africa, Mozambique, and the mountain kingdom of Swaziland.

Drawing on research conducted between 2002 and 2010, it explores the place of women’s voices in the conflict between transboundary conservation and local livelihood needs and practices. The paper focuses on a number of interpretive considerations implicit in the theme of ‘hearing landscapes critically’. The first examines the interpretation of women’s walking songs (amaculo manihamba) as geopolitical testimony, thus granting authority to information about land and spatiality as conveyed in sound and bodily praxis and challenging the primacy of speech in the communication of subjectivities and resistance. The second considers the translation of silence – a potentially more powerful, though ambiguous and culturally contingent form of embodied communication – and contemplates the boundaries of its agency within a scenario that is being increasingly regulated by international neoliberal conservation discourses and practice. The paper concludes with a reflection on the place of the ethnomusicological (ethnographic) voice within the noisy dialogue about land, biodiversity conservation and gender in Africa, and questions the scope of our reach as listeners, witnesses and cultural interlocutors.


Angela Impey (SOAS, London) is a lecturer in ethnomusicology and convenor of the MA Music in Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her research focuses on the intersection between music, memory, and the politics of place and belonging in southern Africa and the Horn. She has conducted research on walking songs and borderland poetics in southern Africa and has recently completed a British AHRC-funded project on Dinka cattle songs in South Sudan. She has just been awarded a 5-year AHRC grant to conduct research on music and perceptions of landscape change in the Damaraland region of Namibia.

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