Starving Flies, Exterminating Animals: The Game-Nagana Link, the Great Game Drive, and the Dynamism of ‘Zulu Knowledge’, ca. 1890s-1920s

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


In the 1890s, the British sought to open the Colony of Zululand to European settlement. The country, characterised by abundant green pastures, was a paradise for cattle, but had been plagued by a livestock disease that the Zulu called uNakane (Anglicised as nagana). Its cause, Zulu farmers insisted, was the presence of legally-protected big-game. David Bruce, a Scottish surgeon-major was commissioned to investigate the disease. His revelations would stimulate a thirty-year controversy into the “game-nagana link” – whether big-game were the source of the disease, and whether exterminating them would eradicate nagana. In 1920, this culminated in a field-experiment dubbed “The Great Game Drive”, in which two-thousand settlers and six-hundred Zulu attempted to exterminate all wildlife south of the Umfolozi Game Reserve. This ‘experiment’ and its reception shaped nagana science in Zululand and entangled the fate of the fauna in a web of class and race conflicts.
The game-nagana controversy complicates ideas about the relationship between African knowledge and the sciences as being one of appropriation and erasure. ‘Zulu knowledge’ was a dynamic construct: some settler scientists mobilised it as a form of ancient wisdom, while others took it as a touchstone of ‘primitivity’ and used it to challenge their opponents. In the wake of the Great Game Drive, it lost its intellectual currency as the purview of science narrowed. The Umfolozi Game Reserve was transformed into a field laboratory in which big-game extermination became yoked to ‘African primitivity’, while bionomics and bacteriology became the ‘official’ means of nagana control.
Period26 Jul 2019
Event titleHistory of Science Society Annual Meeting 2019, Utrecht
Event typeConference
LocationUtrecht, NetherlandsShow on map