Christians and Chiefs in Zimbabwe

A Social History of the Hwesa c.1870s-1990s

David Maxwell



David Maxwell's timely book makes an important contribution to the discourse about identity, and to local history generally. Its subject, Katerere, is a small, remote and rather insignificant polity on Zimbabwe's eastern border with Mozambique, largely neglected until the 1950s by the authorities. In his study, Maxwell shows how its autochthonous people, the Hwesa, have created and re-created their political, cultural and religious identities in response to a process of fundamental social change over the past century.


Maxwell has preferred to get to know one people very well, and to interview as many suitable informants as possible. In doing so, he is acting as a local historian, but it should be stressed that, rather than pursuing the parochial or 'antiquarian' agenda that sometimes characterizes such enquiries, he sets out a more challenging academic menu that is alive to the dynamics of change, generated by exposure to the outside world, and the way that it has reshaped identities within Hwesa society. To this he adds a clarity of style without losing intellectual acuity; an effective use of oral testimonies; and a critical awareness of the problems he encountered as a participant observer, mediated by a manifest empathy with his Hwesa hosts. In short, this is a book to value. - Murray Steele, African Affairs


David Maxwell, past editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa, is senior lecturer at the University of Keele.