Farmlands, or agricultural landscapes, captures the interest of a number of researchers based at the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. On this blog we share information about research findings, activities, events and comments related to our work.

Our interest in farmlands has three roots: farming, landscape and society.
Farming as a practice, including farmers knowledge and labour investments
Landscape as society-nature relations, congealed history, and as space and place
Society as a short form for institutions, gender relations, political economy and scientific relevance

Most Welcome to FarmLandS!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Through Maasailand by Joseph Thomson: a modern reiterpretation

Joseph Thomson was a British explorer commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society to travel from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. The aim of his expedition was ultimately to open a new commercial route for the British Empire. He was the one naming the Thomson´s fall and the Thomson´s gazelle.

I came across Thomson´s book Through Maasailand because he was the first to report on the irrigation system of Sibou in the Keryo Valley of Kenya, which is the focus of my PhD research. According to his writings, when he woke up one morning he realized that his camp was surrounded by several small furrows. Even though he didn´t provide an extensive description, it is believed that during his expedition in 1883 he was the first one to see and write on the irrigated landscape of Keryo Valley.

Most recently the British photographer Mike Hacker produced a documentary on his trip following the footsteps of Thomson´s exploration. His project focused mostly on so-called Maasailand, so it doesn´t cover the totality of Thomson´s expedition.

This documentary should be watched with a critical eye. Hacker celebrates the greatness of the British Empire and the solo male geographical expedition of Thomson. Because his work is directed towards the general public he also tends to portray a stereotypical image of Eastern Africa: a harsh, unsafe place whose people maintain the same rhytm and style of living of 130 years ago. Nevertheless, the 46 minutes documentary is worth watching to understand the background of this quest for a new trade route to Lake Victoria and the complex 2500 miles route walked by Thomson and his porters.

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