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Bagagešu / those of my home : migrancy, gender and ethnicity in the Northern Province, South Africa

James, Deborah (1999) Bagagešu / those of my home : migrancy, gender and ethnicity in the Northern Province, South Africa. American Ethnologist, 26 (1). pp. 69-89. ISSN 0094-0496

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Identification Number: 10.1525/ae.1999.26.1.69


The efforts of southern African women migrant workers to gain control of resources in the linked spheres of urban workplace and rural base have rarely been characterised - by anthropologists or local communities - as ethnic in nature. This suggests the truth of the African proverb that "women have no tribe". Puzzlingly, though, women are seen in other contexts as quintessentially traditional. I discuss this paradox, referring to the mobilisation of a sotho identity centred on the ideas of "family" and "home" by groups of northern Transvaal migrant women performers. Both ideas are expressed and symbolised in emotive terms which make them appear intrinsic or primordial in nature but both on closer examination emerge as complex combinations of ascription and achievement. In conclusion, I show how women migrants' claim to be sotho gives them a right to a voice in the public arena which derives in part from the propinquity with male migrants' ethnic identity, but how it also speaks of a new and autonomous identity which selects and interweaves elements from the shifting terrains of sotho man- and woman-hood.

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Additional Information: "Published as 'Bagagešu/those of my home: migrancy, gender and ethnicity in the Northern Province, South Africa, American Ethnologist 26 (1):69-89'. © 1999 by The American Ethnological Society. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by The American Ethnological Society for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on [Caliber ( AnthroSource (] or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center," LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL (<>) of the LSE Research Online website.
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 19 May 2006
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2021 03:25

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