Mortgaging the Ancestors

Ideologies of Attachment in Africa

Parker Shipton

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This fascinating interdisciplinary book is about land, belonging, and the mortgage—and how people of different cultural backgrounds understand them in Africa. Drawing on years of ethnographic observation, Parker Shipton discusses how people in Africa’s interior feel about their attachment to family, to clan land, and to ancestral graves on the land. He goes on to explain why systems of property, finance, and mortgaging imposed by outsiders threaten Africa’s rural people.


The book looks briefly at European and North American theories on private property and the mortgage, then shows how these theories have played out as attempted economic reforms in Africa. They affect not just personal ownership and possession, he suggests, but also the complex relationships that add up to civil order and episodic disorder over a longer history. Focusing particular attention on the Luo people of Kenya, Shipton challenges assumptions about rural economic development and calls for a broader understanding of local realities in Africa and beyond.

Parker Shipton is associate professor of anthropology and research fellow in African studies, Boston University. He is the author or editor of numerous scholarly publications on Africa and anthropological topics, including The Nature of Entrustment: Intimacy, Exchange, and the Sacred in Africa, published by Yale University Press. He lives in Cambridge, MA.

"In this second volume in a proposed trilogy on customary and externally imposed economic arrangements in Africa, Shipton considers land in relation to its traditional cultural, as opposed to contemporary economic, significance. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above."—Choice 

"In lithe and lucid prose, Shipton provides a lens through which scholars and students of changing societies may better see and understand the contexts in which they themselves work. Not all books do that." — Christian Lund, African Studies Review

'Accessible, provocative book, which should be of particular interest to development experts and policy makers.' — Carol Lentz, African Affairs

Finalist for the 2010 Melville J. Herskovits Award given by the African Studies Association
ISBN: 9780300116021
Publication Date: January 6, 2009
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
19 b/w illus in gallery; 1 map
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