Consumer Choice and Beads in Fugitive Slave Villages in Nineteenth-Century Kenya

  • Lydia Wilson Marshall


This study analyzes the consumption of European glass beads at two fugitive slave villages in nineteenth-century Kenya, Koromio and Makoroboi. The consumer choices of Koromio and Makoroboi residents reveal a strategic and symbolic material language. Specifically, the inter-household distribution of European glass beads reflects considerable variation in the performance of female identity. This distribution suggests varying norms of feminine adornment. Some of these norms likely originated in runaways’ natal communities; others may have developed during enslavement. The variability in adornment practices additionally points to women’s improvisation amid shifting gender relations in these nascent fugitive slave communities.


Consumption Beads Gender Runaway slaves 



Particular thanks are due to Dr. Suzanne Spencer-Wood for her invitation to participate in the symposium “Gendering Consumer Choice” at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology in Leicester, England. In the intervening years, Dr. Spencer-Wood has provided valuable critiques and guidance that materially improved this article’s argument; I am grateful for her scholarly generosity. I am thankful for the advice and assistance of current and past staff at the Coastal Archaeology Division of the National Museums of Kenya, including Jambo Haro, Dr. Herman Kiriama, Ibrahim Busolo, George Ghandi, Philip Wanyama, Mohamed Mchulla Mohamed, and the late Kaingu Kalume Tinga. I am also grateful to landowners Kaingu Hanga, Nyevu Menza, Kang’ombe Nzaro Moka, and Karisa Iha Nyundo for permitting excavation at Koromio and Makoroboi. Thanks are due to Drs. Adria LaViolette, Jeffrey Hantman, Joseph Miller, and Patricia Wattenmaker for their guidance of the larger dissertation project from which this article originated. I am also very thankful to Dr. Sarah Walshaw for archaeobotanical analysis and Ogeto Mwebi and his team at the Osteology Department of the National Museums of Kenya for faunal analysis. Thanks also to my colleagues in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at DePauw University for their encouragement and support. A preliminary season of fieldwork in summer 2006 was funded by the Explorers Club Washington Group and the University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Fieldwork in 2007-2008 was supported by a Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship (#P022A070037), a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (#0733784), and an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council. Additional funding for this project was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies Early Career Fellowship Program. Finally, I am very grateful to International Journal of Historical Archaeology editor Charles E. Orser, Jr. and three anonymous reviewers for substantively improving this manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyDePauw UniversityGreencastleUSA

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