Fugitive Slaves and Community Creation in 19th-Century Kenya: An Archaeological and Historical Investigation of Watoro Villages

Marshall, Lydia Lee Ann Wilson, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
LaViolette, Adria, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wattenmaker, Patricia, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Miller, Joseph, Department of History, University of Virginia

Integrating the analysis of archaeological, oral historical, and documentary data, this dissertation examines the creation of new communities by people escaping slavery in 19 th -century Kenya. In Swahili, runaway slaves were known as watoro. This project investigates the creation of watoro communities through a dual focus on interand intragroup relationships. First, it explores the relative economic integration of these nascent groups into regional networks. Second, given the social and cultural diversity of people enslaved on the coast, this dissertation examines the extent to which watoro communities developed homogenized sociocultural norms or, alternately, maintained long-term cultural heterogeneity. Two fugitive slave sites were excavated, the 1840s settlement Koromio and the 1880s settlement Makoroboi; these excavations were house-focused in order to facilitate inter-household analysis of artifact distributions. For comparative archaeological data, Amwathoya-a Giriama homestead close to and contemporaneous with Makoroboi-was also excavated; the Giriama were one of the most populous ethnic groups in the 19 th -century coastal hinterland. In addition, 40 interviews focused on oral history were conducted with elders living near the three excavated sites. This project's analysis of watoro economic organization highlights the concurrent pressure that such refugees faced in order to engage with some outsiders while restricting contact with others. For example, Koromio and Makoroboi's locations point to defensive strategies in settlement placement. However, whether through interactions with British missionaries at Makoroboi or intensive participation in regional trade at Koromio, these villages' attempts to connect with outsiders are equally apparent. This dissertation's inquiry into watoro cultural plurality encountered more interpretive dissonance between ii different evidentiary types. Homogenous architectural remains at both Koromio and Makoroboi suggest shared house style may have been a means to reinforce a shared identity. Oral and written historical data revealed additional non-material means by which group cohesion may have been strengthened, including communal Christian worship at Makoroboi. Yet artifact distributions within both watoro sites consistently reflect inter-household heterogeneity in cultural practice, suggesting that earlier cultural affiliations also continued to be both relevant and expressed. This dissertation's analyses highlight the fractal and unstable nature of not only watoro identity but also identity more generally.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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