Achim von Oppen :

Moving along, moving across. Linear geographies and translocal practices in an Angolan borderland (Upper Zambezi, 19th to 20th century)

Achim von Oppen

This contribution is about popular ways of conceptualizing space in the modern history of the upper reaches of the Zambezi river, an area which is now situated around the border between Angola and Zambia. It is an area in which due to the scarcity of population and the abundance of modestly fertile land, movement rather than boundary-making are the main practices in which the inhabitants structure their everyday geographies. According to their "mental maps", settlements and communications, social ties and political relations were and to some extent still are structured in linear, partly in concentric, but hardly in territorial terms. Watercourses, today also roads, are the most important axes that provide ((läßt sich das 2 Mal provide noch vermeiden?)) orientation and define proximity and distance in both spatial and socio-political terms. The paper first presents a reconstruction of these popular geographies for the late pre-colonial period, based on an analysis of locational terminology, written and oral narratives, field observations and early cartography. It then goes on to explore the clashes and interactions of these conceptualizations of space with the heavy-handed but often illusionary attempts by the colonial state, mainly using evidence from the British side, to impose a territorial order of things from the "international" down to the very local level. What will emerge is a history not only of mutual subversion of spatial concepts but also of mutual appropriation. This tendency was facilitated by the utterly peripheral position of this fim do mundo vis-a-vis the new central states on both sides, while hardly impeding mobility in the region.