Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Gary Wilder

Committee Members

Marc Edelman

Julie Skurski

Omri Elisha

Megan Vaughan

Subject Categories

African Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Uluguru, Tanzania, water, environment, agriculture, religion


Uluguru, a small mountain range in eastern Tanzania and one of the rainiest places in East Africa, serves as the principal water catchment for Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, and for commercial farms along the country’s central coast. Home to smallholder farmers who cultivate a variety of crops on mostly rain-fed farms, the catchment has been a site of struggle over water and nature since the nineteenth century. Today, climate change has rendered rainfall increasingly unpredictable, and a wave of “sustainable development” interventions has pressured farmers to change their practices and to engage in unpaid forms of ecological labor for the sake of downstream water users. Such projects are structured by relations of power across multiple scales and by global divisions of nature and labor. These dynamics converge in the space of the catchment, rendering it a site for the extraction of both resources and ecological labor.

Uluguru has also been home to regionally important rainmaking rituals for at least several centuries. Rainmaking rituals are a form of “social healing” which link questions of human health, agricultural success, and environmental well-being to care for the dead and the natural places they reside. Throughout the history of the mountains, discourses and practices surrounding rainmaking have served as key sites of ecological theorizing and political struggle. As political and economic relations have shifted in the mountains, these rituals have also changed, but they continue to emerge as spaces of debate over the proper relations between humans and the environment. Seen in this way, rainmaking and social healing are a dynamic form of politics which center questions of social reproduction.

Outside interventions aimed at protecting the watershed and the long history of political rainmaking can be understood as intertwined struggles over water, nature, and labor. Viewing these as struggles over the terms of social reproduction reveals that conflicts over nature are fundamentally bound up with questions of gender and with long histories of colonialism and neocolonialism. While the invisibility of ecological labor and ecological care has led to growing precarity in the mountains, discourses and practices of social healing reveal other possibilities. They suggest that human relationships to nature need not be limited to those of harm and extraction but can be rooted in more complex dynamics of ecological labor and ecological care.