Water Brings No Harm: Management Knowledge and the Struggle for the Waters of Kilimanjaro.

AuthorSkidmore-Hess, Cathy

Bender, Matthew V. Water Brings No Harm: Management Knowledge and the Struggle for the Waters of Kilimanjaro. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019.

In Matthew Bender's Water Brings No Harm, WaChagga agriculturists declare "Without water our farms will be as bodies without blood." Thus, Bender asserts the centrality of water to the peoples of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro. For Bender, technical, hydrological, cultural, and spiritual actions and knowledge are intertwined and closely connected to something he refers to as waterscape, the way people see water. In historicizing water use and management, he argues that "Groups of people who have encountered Kilimanjaro since 1850 have been looking at the same but not seeing the same thing." Bender's Kilimanjaro, then, exists not just in physical space, but in the realm of perception.

Through creating a history of Kilimanjaro's waterscape Bender illuminates the close relationship between power, perception, and action. In 1850, the peoples of Kilimanjaro saw the mountain as multiple places with one reference point Kibo, the highest peak on Kilimanjaro. Water came from a Supreme Being, Ruwa, and Kibo was a source of life and abundance. Responsibility for water management was diffuse and ranged from specialists such as rainmakers to the women and children who acquired water for the home. One significant feature of water management was the use of irrigation canals, mifongo. Adult men controlled the mifongos and the water knowledge associated with them. Nevertheless, Bender asserts that water knowledge and management was localized and diffuse. Later in the century, despite the increasing centralization brought about as a result of warfare and integration into the Swahili trade networks, there remained a shared understanding that people acquired water from multiple sources and utilized it in multiple ways with a common point of reference, Kibo.

For outsiders, Kilimanjaro also became symbolically significant and economically essential, in part because of water. For European and Swahili travelers, Kilimanjaro was a lush paradise, a stark contrast to the arid plain and the difficulties that they had faced before reaching the mountain. Perceived of as a place of water abundance, missionaries and European settlers initially made use of the local water knowledge and systems. Likewise, while German colonial rule brought the imposition of cash crops and a more authoritarian tendency to the regulation of most...

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