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Gridlocked in the city: kinship and witchcraft among Wayao street vendors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Alexis Malefakis

For a group of Wayao street vendors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kinship relations were simultaneously an advantage and a hindrance. Their migration to the city and entry into the urban economy had occurred along ethnic and kinship lines. But, as they perceived the socially heterogeneous environment of the city that potentially offered them opportunities to cooperate with people from different social or ethnic backgrounds, they experienced their continuing dependency on their relatives as a form of confinement. Against the backdrop of the city, the Wayao perceived their social relations as being burdened with an inescapable sameness that made it impossible to trust one another. Mistrust, contempt and mutual suspicion were the flip side of close social relations and culminated in accusations of uchawi (Swahili: witchcraft). However, these accusations did not have a disintegrative effect; paradoxically, their impact on social relations among the vendors was integrative. On the one hand, uchawi allegations expressed the claustrophobic feeling of stifling relations; on the other, they compelled the accused to adhere to a shared morality of egalitarian relations and exposed the feeling that the accused individual was worthy of scrutiny, indicating that relationships with him were of particular importance to others.

Les relations de parenté sont à la fois un avantage et une entrave pour un groupe de vendeurs ambulants wayao de Dar es Salaam (Tanzanie). Leur migration vers la ville et leur entrée dans l’économie urbaine se sont faites sur des lignes d'appartenance ethnique et de parenté. Mais alors qu'ils perçoivent l'environnement socialement hétérogène de la ville qui leur offre potentiellement des opportunités de coopérer avec des personnes de milieux sociaux ou ethniques différents, ils ressentent leur dépendance continue vis-à-vis de leurs parents comme une forme de confinement. Dans le contexte de la ville, les Wayao perçoivent leurs relations sociales comme étant chargées d'une similitude implacable qui empêche de se faire mutuellement confiance. La méfiance, le mépris et la suspicion mutuelle sont l'envers des rapports sociaux étroits et aboutissent à des accusations de uchawi (du swahili, signifiant sorcellerie). Néanmoins, ces accusations n'ont pas un effet désintégrant ; paradoxalement, leur impact sur les rapports sociaux entre vendeurs est intégrant. D'un côté, les accusations de uchawi expriment le sentiment claustrophobe des relations étouffantes ; de l'autre, elles forcent l'accusé à adhérer à une moralité partagée de rapports égalitaires et révèle le sentiment que l'accusé mérite qu'on le scrute, indiquant que les autres attachent une importance particulière aux rapports avec cet individu.

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