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Don't Show A Hyena How Well You Can Bite: Performance, Race and the Animal Subaltern in Eastern Africa


This dissertation explores the mutual imbrication of race and animality in Kenyan and Tanzanian politics and performance from the 1910s through to the 1990s. It is a cultural history of the non-human under conditions of colonial governmentality and its afterlives. I argue that animal bodies, both actual and figural, were central to the cultural and political project of British colonialism in Africa – and in particular eastern Africa, which continues to be imagined in many circles as both “safari country” and the “cradle of humankind.” I build on extensive archival research to suggest that artistic and scientific activity in colonial Kenya, from the amateur and professional theatre to the natural-historical research conducted at the Coryndon Memorial Museum, helped to define a category of sub-political being that I call “the animal subaltern.” The animal subaltern is a concatenation of all forms of animal life lived below the horizon of “the human.” During the colonial period, this included the wildlife of eastern Africa, the pre-human hominids whose fossilized remains paleoanthropologists like Louis Leakey unearthed, and “natives,” whose political subjectivity the colonial state was determined to suppress. I argue that the forced contiguity of these variously inflected forms of life had a pervasive, if uneven, racializing effect: all of these beings became black. In the post- Second World War struggle for political, cultural and economic independence in eastern Africa, members of the animal subaltern contested their exclusion from the category of the human. I read the work of the Kenyan writer and intellectual Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and the Tanzanian playwright Ebrahim Hussein as important interventions into this unfolding struggle and its implications for the postcolonial future of their communities. Finally, I consider the environmental activism of Kenya’s “Rhino Man,” Michael Werikhe, whose performative blurring of the distinction between human and animal in the 1980s and 1990s helped to inaugurate a new model of interspecies solidarity that continues to play itself out to this day.

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