'House of Believers': Irony and Commensurability in Tanganyikan Colonial Discourse


History and Philosophy

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This article is an historical analysis of a colonial vernacular (Kiswahili) newspaper. As Mambo Leo(‘Today's Events’) was sold across Tanganyika to a Kiswahili readership of new East African British subjects, the task necessarily requires an appreciation of irony. In fact, it is irony and humour that was crucial to Mambo Leo reaching its audience, crossing thresholds between Western news reporting and East African oral performance, between literacy and orality. In particular, it was the newspaper's cartoons that attracted its readership. Like cartoons elsewhere, Mambo Leo's represent captured moments of laughter, which, for want of these comic strips, might escape history's notice. Crafted by coastal Tanganyikans (for whom Kiswahili was at least a familiar second language) under editorial direction of British editors, they attempt to plumb the contentious process of identity construction in a colonial cultural milieu for all of its comedic potential. The vernacular news publication, ostensibly a vehicle of British Imperial hegemony, ingratiated itself to Tanganyikan readers by observing the absurd in fraught relationships between Africans and Europeans, with both categories finding themselves reified in stark ink black and paper white.