The Triple Play of Violence in Ismael R. Mbise’s Blood on Our Land

History, Law, and Development

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Ismael R. Mbise’s novel Blood on Our Land (1974) re-creates the events known as the Meru Land Case, when in 1951 a group of Wameru from northern Tanganyika petitioned the UN to prevent the British authorities from evicting them from their land. The petition drew international attention to the area for a fleeting moment and, though unsuccessful, it has since entered the national imaginary as an original gesture of peaceful resistance to colonial control. Mbise’s re-creation has also been read as a critical allegory of the implementation of villagization associated with the policies of Ujamaa. The novel does this and more in its brilliant comparative analysis of the vectors of violence within the politics of language, history, and representation, the practices of Indirect Rule and its force of law, and development and its mechanics of ‘modernization’: a triple play.


Journal for African Culture and Society




See Kirilo Japhat & Earle Seaton, The Meru Land Case (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1967) for a detailed account of the legal campaign by the two principal participants, Anton Nelson, The Free Men of Meru (Nairobi: Oxford UP, 1967), for an account by a close ally, and Thomas Spear, Mountain Farmers: Moral Economies of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, Berkeley: U of California P & Oxford: James Currey, 1997), for a detailed history, and Roderick P. Neumann, Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa (Berkeley: U of California P, 1998) for another detailed scholarly analysis of the case and its consequences. More recently, the Tanzanian scholar Simeon Mesak has ‘recapped’ the case: “Recapping the Meru Land Case, Tanzania,” Global Journal of Human Social Sciences Economics 13.1 (2013), (accessed 25 July 2016). The phrase ‘iron ring’ is a quotation from the Tanganyika Territory “Report of the Arusha-Moshi Lands Commission, 1947,” also known as the Wilson Report referenced in the novel and in Nelson, The Free Men of Meru, 13–20, Neumann, Imposing Wilderness, 68, and Spear, Mountain Farmers, 210–234.


In 1968, Paul Puritt’s review of both the Japhet and Seaton account and Anton Nelson’s criticizes both for omitting to offer a satisfactory history of the Wameru. It is worth noting that Mbise’s novel fills in this gap very nicely. Paul Puritt, “Review of Kirilo Japhat and Earle Seaton. The Meru Land Case. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1967, and Anton Nelson, The Free Men of Meru. Nairobi: OUP, 1967,” Tanganyika Notes and Records 69 (1968): 53–57. See also Michael Andindilile, “When ‘the Centre Cannot Hold’: Achebe and Anglophone African Literary Discourse,” LWATI: A Journal of Contemporary Research 8.2 (2011): 106–126 for the accommodation of local languages within literary English, or the anglophonic.


Ismael R. Mbise, Blood on Our Land (Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House, 1974): vi. Further references are in the main text.


See Stephen Best & Sharon Marcus, “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” Representations 108.1 (Fall 2009): 14.


Mary Louise Pratt, “Transculturation and Autoethnography: Peru 1650/1980,” in Colonial Discourse/Postcolonial Theory, ed. Francis Barker et al. (Manchester & New York: Manchester UP, 1994): 24–46. See also Habari ya English? What about Kiswahili?: East Africa as a Literary and Linguistic Contact Zone, ed. Lutz Deigner & Frank Schulze–Enger (Matatu 46; Leiden & Boston: Brill | Rodopi, 2015), for a fuller and more nuanced exploration of this paradigm within the East African setting.


See also Ismael R. Mbise, “Writing in English from Tanzania,” in The Writing of East and Central Africa, ed. G.D. Killam (London: Heinemann, 1984): 54–69. In this essay, Mbise notes that a German translation of his novel is available, and that a translation into Kiswahili by the Ministry of National Culture and Youth was “finalized.” He also mentions a second novel, Workers of Lokomoiye, though I have not been able to trace it at all. The bulk of the essay is an excellent reading of two other Tanzanian anglophone novels, Palengyo’s Dying in the Sun (1968) and Ruhumbika’s Village in Uhuru (1969).


H.A. Fosbrooke, “Arusha Boma,” in “Notes,” Tanzanian Notes and Records 38 (March 1955): 51–52. More recently reprinted in the Arusha Times, “How Germans Gained Control over Waarusha,” (9–15 June 2007),


Gilbert Rist, The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, 70–75.


Thomas Spear, “Struggles for the Land: The Political and Moral Economies of Land on Mount Meru,” in Custodians of the Land: Ecology and Culture in the History of Tanzania, ed. Gregory Maddox, James Giblin & Isaria Kimambo (London: James Currey, Nairobi: Mkuki na Nyota, Dar es Salaam: East African Publishing House & Athens: Ohio UP, 1996): 219.


See also Spear, Mountain Farmers, 223.


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