Society, State, and Infant Welfare: Negotiating Medical Interventions in Colonial Tanzania, 1920 to 1950


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships




This project examines the development of infant welfare interventions in colonial Tanzania from 1920 to 1950. The British colonial government first initiated the interventions in the early 1920s to deal with the perceived problem of high infant mortality. It proposed preventive medical programs to alleviate maternal ignorance through mothercraft classes, advice on infant care, and practical demonstrations on infant management in rural African communities. Effective implementation of the programs began in 1928. Peasant men and women, however, frequently interpreted the interventions as lacking the viability to achieve the intended objectives because they did not incorporate curative medicine. Through their local chiefs, these peasants demanded that the colonial government incorporate treatment of infant diseases as an integral component of the welfare programs. In response to this demand, the colonial government integrated preventive and curative medicine in the late 1930s. Using southwest Tanzania as a case study, this project argues that although colonial government officials initiated and implemented the infant welfare policy in the 1920s, the development of infant survival interventions from exclusive preventive educational programs in the 1920s and early 1930s to those that integrated preventive and curative medicines in the late 1930s was a negotiated process between peasant men and women, health officials, political administrators, local chiefs, and dressers. The project draws on a critical reading of oral sources, archival records, and letters that local chiefs wrote to articulate the unfolding negotiations that shaped the development of infant welfare interventions in colonial Tanzania.