Association for Africanist Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In the Uluguru Mountains of Tanzania, a site of small-scale mining of gold and minor gemstones, stories of mineral wealth are entangled with memories of the region’s colonial past, as many believe that German settlers, driven out by the British, buried their valuables in secret locations throughout the mountains. The categories of natural mineral wealth and buried German treasure overlap in local imaginaries in ways that trouble commonplace ideas about the relationships between nature, culture, and history. In Uluguru, ancestor spirits are widely believed to live underground, with caves, waterways, and trees serving as gateways between worlds. Logging and mining are both potentially dangerous activities because they may involve disturbing spirits, who often respond by causing injury, illness or death. In this context, descriptions of sites where Germans are rumored to have buried gold or money resemble descriptions of sacred places. Those who have visited the locations of buried treasure report supernatural dangers left by German settlers to guard their belongings until their return, and rumors abound of Europeans, believed to be descendants of the settlers, returning with strange technologies, digging, and departing with mysterious cargo. These stories have sparked local debates about ownership of subterranean resources that parallel but diverge from recent legal controversies over gold and oil in Tanzania. This paper argues that the theories of property that emerge from local conversations in Uluguru productively trouble existing legal and anthropological ideas of ownership and demand new ways of thinking about natural resources, colonialism, land and history.