Mortgaging the Ancestors Ideologies of Attachment in Africa Parker MacDonald Shipton

Yale Agrarian Studies Series
Publication date:
06 Jan 2009
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm
19 b-w illus in gallery; 1 map
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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.

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