Ives, Sarah. Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.
"Which tea would you like? English or Rooibos?" (xiv) A staple of South African hospitality, rooibos tea serves the Rainbow Nation as a source of national pride, cultural importance, and economic significance. In Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea, Sarah Ives, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University, presents a fascinating blend of historical, anthropological, economic, and geographical knowledge about rooibos, the "commodity of contrasts" from South Africa's Western Cape region (22). Ives connects race, heritage, and identity through the lens of rooibos and the community surrounding it. Among her many arguments, Ives emphasizes exploring a "culturally indigenous identity" of the people who claim to have a sense of belonging to rooibos and its economy (31). This theme of identity is challenged as Ives explores the local, regional, and global effects the rooibos industry has had upon South Africa in recent decades.
The book is structured thematically. Five chapters discuss the people who grow rooibos, the local identity of the plant, the role of nonnative intrusions, the regional narratives of the commodity, and the uncertain future of rooibos. The people connected to rooibos farming, with whom Ives lived for a brief time in a rural Cape community, include a complicated mix of Afrikaaners descended from early Dutch settlers, colored or mixed-race people, and blacks, either native Africans indigenous to the area or immigrants from nearby countries. The local identity of rooibos appears at the nexus of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity as each group struggles to lay claim to its inherent connection with the plant. Native rooibos, or "red bush" in Afrikaans, grows wild yet is also cultivated for profit, a paradox Ives addresses. A high point of interest, Ives explains, is the deeply rooted love the locals have for rooibos and the rooibos industry. This cohesion has been interrupted in recent years as migrant workers and immigrants have come to the area, changing the demographic landscape for the local community. Ives also explores recent ecological changes to the environment caused by non-invasive plant species and highlights the impact of these species on local residents.
These changes in a small community have led to rumors and gossip about the people who...