“A Fierce Hunger”: Tracing the Impacts of the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic in Southwest Tanzania

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Book Chapter

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The Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918: New Perspectives


In parts of Africa the influenza pandemic had dramatic long-term impacts, although people may not speak of the disease explicitly in oral histories. In southwest Tanzania, the pandemic claimed perhaps 10 per cent of the population and resulted in the worst famine recalled in oral histories. People associate the famine with the First World War, waged in the region from skirmishes at the German East Africa/Nyasaland border in 1914 to the final pillages before the German surrender in November 1918. As the opening quotations show, people also associate the famine with illness. That people name different illnesses, and not influenza, could lead to the interpretation that illness was incidental to the famine and subsequent developments. However, it was the peculiarity of the influenza of 1918-19 (high young adult morbidity and mortality rates) and its timing - both in the rhythmed yearly cycle (the planting season) and in coincidence with social and political upheavals - that led to famine and to people's responses. This chapter shows how those responses shaped the formation of a 'tribe' in ethnographies and in indirect rule from the 1920s.

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