Tanzanian Talk, Global Misreadings
Katrina Daly Thompson
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/06/2017
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-02456-5
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Since the 1960s, people on the islands off the coast of Tanzania have talked about being attacked by a mysterious creature called Popobawa, a shapeshifter often described as having an enormous penis. Popobawa’s recurring attacks have become a popular subject for stories, conversation, gossip, and humor that has spread far beyond East Africa. Katrina Daly Thompson shows that talk about Popobawa becomes a tool that Swahili speakers use for various creative purposes such as subverting gender segregation, advertising homosexuality, or discussing female sexuality. By situating Popobawa discourse within the social and cultural world of the Swahili Coast as well as the wider world of global popular culture, Thompson demonstrates that uses of this legend are more diverse and complex than previously thought and provides insight into how women and men communicate in a place where taboo, prohibition, and restraint remain powerful cultural forces.

Author Bio

Katrina Daly Thompson is Professor and Director of the Program in African Languages in the Department of African Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is author of Zimbabwe’s Cinematic Arts.


“While Popobawa surely belong to one of the most interesting African legends, Katrina Daly Thompson, instead of asking where the story originated, asks about how people talk about this trickster and what these conversations really mean.”
 — Claudia Boehme, University of Trier

“Katrina Daly Thompson emphasizes the importance of understanding African cultural texts in relation to both local and global contexts. The result is a fascinating study that moves in a compelling dialectic from the general to the specific and back again, entrancing and enlightening the reader in equal measure.”
 — Martin Walsh, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

“Thompson’s movement between local and global discourses demonstrates the importance of a phenomenon that could otherwise be viewed as exotic ethnographic trivia, while her theoretical orientation makes the text as relevant to linguistic anthropologists as to African studies scholars. Especially important is her understanding that marginalized individuals in Zanzibar do offer social critique. ”
 — African Studies Review

“A well-researched and well-documented addition to the body of knowledge on local legends and their global manifestations.”
 — Journal of Folklore Research

Popobawa joins the ranks of zombies, witches and vampire studies of Africa and proves that there is still more to say in the generative discourses of the monstrous and mysterious if we are willing to listen well.”
 — Journal of Modern African Studies

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Table of Contents

1. Contextualizing Popobawa
2. Voicing Expertise and Authority
3. Talk and Believe: How to Prevent a Popobawa Attack in Two Easy Steps
4. The Butt of a Joke
5. Queering Popobawa
6. Women as Sexual and Discursive Agents
7. Batman in Africa
8. Global Metanarratives

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