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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 248-258

Parks and People: Expropriation of Nature and Multispecies Alienation in Nthongoni, Eastern Kenya

Current affiliation: Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya; Research undertaken at: Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham, UK

Correspondence Address:
Mwangi Danson Kareri
Current affiliation: Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya; Research undertaken at: Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_196_20

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Date of Submission24-Sep-2020
Date of Acceptance20-Sep-2021
Date of Web Publication19-Oct-2021


This article uses Marx's concept of alienation in theorising the everyday estrangement encountered by people living in areas adjoining Tsavo and Chyulu Hills National Parks, in eastern Kenya. It focuses on how colonial and post-colonial conservation initiatives served to expropriate and alienate people from indigenous land that once provided livelihoods and lifeways that were central to people's spiritual wellbeing. Ethnographic fieldwork shows that those living at the edge of the parks and of their subsistence strategies, endeavoured to reconstitute their lives and eke out a living, but conservationists saw most activities as incompatible with conservation, and branded the residents aberrant and lawless. This heightened conflict between residents and wildlife, and between residents and wildlife managers, increasingly making the residents feel like aliens in their own land. The context allows us to see alienation not just as proletarianisation, but as a process through which people are estranged from their land, cultural heritage and the socioeconomic gains that parks produce, and subsequently from their own humanity. This alienation includes non-human beings and should be considered a more-than-human process.

Keywords: human-wildlife relations, alienation, expropriation, neoliberalism, colonial conservation.

How to cite this article:
Kareri MD. Parks and People: Expropriation of Nature and Multispecies Alienation in Nthongoni, Eastern Kenya. Conservat Soc 2021;19:248-58

How to cite this URL:
Kareri MD. Parks and People: Expropriation of Nature and Multispecies Alienation in Nthongoni, Eastern Kenya. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 May 25];19:248-58. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2021/19/4/248/330243

   Introduction Top

Mr Mwalua is an elderly man who lives on the border of Tsavo West National Park, in Kenya. Prior to the establishment of the park, Mwalua's family lived inside the park area, interacted freely with wildlife and had unrestricted access to forest resources. Boundaries were marked by environmental features rather than fences: “The River Tsavo marked our boundary with the Taita people while the Chyulu Hills marked the boundary between the Kamba and the Maasai1,” he says. Trouble started in 19362 when the colonial government converted Tsavo area into a national park.

“The 'white man' [colonial government] asked us to relocate to Nthongoni and although we were not happy with the orders, we complied. However, Nthongoni was not only drier than our original home, but was also inhabited by other people3, hence there was competition for pasture. Because there were no physical borders, we continued grazing and accessing forest resources in Tsavo. Over time, we resettled into our original homes. We kept being ejected and coming back until 1948, when armed rangers stormed on us. They killed our livestock, torched down our houses and crops, and prohibited us from entering the park again.” Mr Mwalua, a resident of Nthongoni.

This article uses the example of Nthongoni, an area surrounded by two of Kenya's national parks [Figure 1], to focus on how conservation areas might estrange indigenous inhabitants from land and resources, and from their sense of humanity. The majority of residents of Nthongoni are 'serial evictees' with diverse histories of displacement. The first group was officially evicted in 1948, when the larger Tsavo National Park was established. Some evictees settled in Nthongoni while others settled at the foot of Chyulu hills. A separate group from the central uplands of Kenya was resettled in Nthongoni after colonial displacement from the ensuing 'white highlands'. At independence in 1963, some of the people who were detained during the Mau Mau uprisings were settled in Nthongoni and part of Chyulu hills by the Kenyan government. In 1983, Chyulu hills was made a national park, and inhabitants evicted into what is now Nthongoni.
Figure 1: Nthongoni and surrounding National Parks Note: Sourced with modification from the Kenya Wildlife Service (2008)

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The indigenous4 people of Nthongoni were predominantly two sub-groups of the Kamba community: a hunter-gatherer group named Ngulia, and an agro-pastoral group. The Ngulia lived permanently in Ngulia hills inside what is now Tsavo West National Park (hereafter, Tsavo) and subsisted on forest resources. The agro-pastoral group had semi-permanent homes in the foothills of Ngulia and Chyulu hills, and in the present day Nthongoni. During the rainy season they drove their livestock downhill and relied on pasture that flourished in the plains. When the season dried, they moved to the hills, which had permanent springs and remained relatively green all year round. These traditional settings thus situated forests as the ultimate source of livelihoods for these people.

Nthongoni is in Makueni, one of the poorest counties in Kenya with over 75% of the population living in abject poverty (Muriuki et al. 2011). Only about 20% own permanent houses (CHWG 2011). The area has a population of about 100,000 people, majority (58.8%) of whom are young people (Bird 2014: 21). Dependence ratio is thus high. The majority (75%) of the residents subsist on farming (Mwangi et al. 2016).

I use Karl Marx's concept of 'alienation' as an analytical tool to highlight the many forms of alienation of Nthongoni people, through the colonial and postcolonial expropriation of nature and imposition of conservation areas. Marx coined the term alienation to denote the social-economic, personal, and ideological estrangement that people experience from processes of production (Marx 1992). He understood alienation in two aspects that are highly pertinent to this article: 1) the loss of control over modes of production and the externalization of the worker's activity; and 2) product that then confronts the worker as a hostile and alien force (Marx 1992: 68). Unlike other related concepts such as dispossession and exclusion, alienation is helpful in illuminating the estrangement of people from not just property but also essential aspects of life such as a traditional lifestyle like hunting and gathering (Behera 2014) that subsequently translates to estrangement of people from their sense of essence as human beings.

The alienation, that I accentuate, transpires in a double sense. First, in the view of the colonial and postcolonial authorities, the people living with wildlife are not part of the 'nature' the authorities intend to protect, but alien and hostile to it, and therefore must be expelled. Second, the authorities transform what was once a part of social existence for the inhabitants, into an alien and hostile territory. Other scholarly works, for example, Mintz' (1985) exotic crops, and Tsing's (2012) alien farming systems, have similarly alluded to double alienation.

Marx (1867: 131) theorised that capitalist systems denied workers control over the conditions in which they worked and lived; their fellow human beings, particularly those who owned or were in-charge of production; and their own capacity to consciously shape their world. Moreover, the products of labour belonged to owners of the means of production and workers could not freely access it, to stay alive or develop themselves (Lunn 1982; Cox 1998). Marx saw alienation not just as a thing or product, an external existence, but as an 'autonomous power' that then begins to confront the worker. The life, which the worker has bestowed on the object, turns alien and hostile to the worker (Marx 1992: 324).

Although an autonomous self-realised human being, the worker's economic entity is directed to goals and activities dictated by the owner of the means of production, to extract maximum value (Marx 1867: 516, 546). The worker invariably loses the ability to determine their own life and destiny. Further, by denying the worker the ability to engage in conscious-self-directed activities, and thus, from exercising their capability, the worker's capacity to develop other abilities that would allow them to flourish as humans is jeopardised (Raekstad 2018: 316). This estranges the worker from their humanity (Kovel 2011).

In most rural settings in Africa, people use natural resources from their environment to secure food and produce material objects which they consume, exchange or sell (Cox 1998). It follows, therefore, that curtailing people's access to natural resources is tantamount to alienating them from their indigenous modes of production. It denies people control over their lives and work, and their ability to consciously shape their world. As Marx further observes, alienation leads people to feel that they are acting freely only in their animal functions—eating, drinking and procreating, or at most in their dwelling and adornment—while in their human functions, they are nothing more than animals (Marx 1992: 327).

In this article, the role of the 'animal', in the guise of 'wildlife', is quite different. Conservation-induced evictions can be thought about as a more-than-human achievement, with wildlife shaping people's lives and sense of essence as human beings. The evictions were not, of course, induced by wildlife but by humans saying they care about the wildlife. In attempting to do so, this article contributes to recent anthropological debates on how colonial and postcolonial conservation legacies continue to determine human-wildlife encounters (e.g., Parreñas 2018); and the ways in which certain forms of expropriation and alienation are produced in more-than-human environments (Mintz 1985; Tsing 2012).

Marx observes that humans are a part of nature and must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if they are not to die (Mészáros 1970; Foster and Clark 2018). Humans can create nothing without nature, the sensuous external world. It is the material on which labour is realised, in which it is active, from which, and by means of which it produces. Nature provides humans with the means of life or physical subsistence. However, when people are estranged from and don't hold any power in and over the productive process, the more they appropriate from the external world, the greater their deprivation from the means of life. Consequently, they mortify their flesh and ruin their mind (Marx 1992: 325-326).

The form of alienation and hence mortification and ruin that I address here is fundamentally configured by conservation policies that are rooted in western ideologies of pristine [undisturbed] and fortress [heavily protected] nature (Adams and Hutton 2007). It closely follows the 'clearing of estates', the processes of primary accumulation described by Marx (1867: 514-515), and the abolishment of customary land rights in Britain, that allowed the bourgeois to forcibly evict people and deny them access to means of subsistence (Marx 1867: 516; Foster and Clark 2018). Indeed, Marx (1867: 521) also referred to dispossession of small farmers and conversion of their land into 'sheep-walks', and finally into deer preserves. This guaranteed 'an income without expenditure'.

My article demonstrates how conservation initiatives might expropriate people from resources and means and processes of production. The initiatives follow a model set at the creation of Yellowstone National Park, USA in 1872 (Spence 1999). Although started on the notion of preservation of 'pristine' nature, an 'uninhabited wilderness had to be created before it existed' Spence (1999: 4). This involved eviction of the original occupants, a scenario that set a precedent for a global conservation movement, for many years to come (Litke 1998; West and Brockington 2006; De Pourcq et al. 2017). The parks were controlled by the state and funded through direct state appropriations and private donations (Brockington 2002). Under the guise to reconcile conservation with economic development, most conservation areas espoused neoliberal and putative economic approaches to pursue profit and accumulate capital for government or conservation corporations. Büscher and Fletcher (2014) term the turning of non-material use of nature into capital as accumulation by conservation. Unfortunately, these economic initiatives rarely benefit the local people who were dispossessed by conservation areas (West et al. 2006; Duffy 2014; Dunlap and Fairhead 2014; Duffy et al. 2016).

The article is based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork in Nthongoni. In the sections that follow, I first describe how I conducted the study and then based on my findings, proceed to demonstrate the expropriation and subsequent forms of alienation that Nthongoni residents experience: from indigenous land, natural resources, tourism and other socioeconomic avenues, and cultural heritage. Further, I extend the focus beyond humans and highlight a multispecies alienation: a more-than-human process that includes wildlife as victims of colonial and post-colonial conservation.

   Methodology Top

This study followed a qualitative inductive approach (Morse 2005). I used ethnographic methods such as participant observation, formal and informal in-depth interviews with farmers and pastoralists, and conservation officials in Kenya Wildlife Service and NGOs. I stayed with Nthongoni residents and immersed myself in their everyday lives, taking part in activities such as pasturing, guarding crops from wildlife, fetching water and fuelwood, and helping with other household chores. By doing this, I was able to build rapport and gain the trust of the community, necessary to gather authentic information, particularly about complex and sensitive matters such as hunting (Higginbotham et al. 2001). Staying with the residents enabled a first-hand experience of their life, and a deep understanding of their meanings for conservation, and for their everyday actions (Creswell 2007). It allowed me to witness and experience the many forms of interactions with wildlife and to observe what the people were actually doing, not just what they said they do. These would have been all difficult to discern from a survey or an interview.

For a study seeking to illuminate societal experiences and their subtleties (Creswell 2007), the ethnographic approach was crucial in identifying the complex interaction of factors in the lives of the residents, and in generating a rich understanding of the current, historical, and multi-scalar—local, national and global political, economic and social—influences that shaped people's way of life and relations with wildlife. Data5 was in the form of government records, participant observation and other field notes, interview transcripts, and voice-recorded conversations and photographs.

I conducted interviews in Kiswahili [Kenya's national language] but occasionally used the native Kamba language whenever a respondent could not express themself fully in Kiswahili. For official interviews, I used English, but allowed conversations to shift between English and Swahili depending on the proficiency and comfort of the respondents. Besides interviews, I attended meetings such as barazas (=Chief's meetings) and made audio recordings and contemporary field notes. At the earliest convenience, I transcribed and translated all the information into English, transferred the data into a predesigned master sheet and coded it for theme and content.

Following Glaser and Strauss's (1967) concept of saturation, I gathered data until such a time that there were no new ideas, themes or surprises. Data analysis was iterative, taking place throughout the fieldwork and the writing up period (Tracy 2013). I used an inductive emic approach (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and transcribed a few conversations/interviews from individual cases allowing these to develop progressively into more abstract categories and finally themes. I added new themes as and when they arose. However, while Glaser and Strauss propose grounding of meaning in the emergent data, I continuously reflected on the data and triangulated it with literature, evolving insights, and existing theories (Tracy 2013). This allowed progressive revisiting and refining of both data and focus. In the section that follows, I use direct quotes and interview extracts to illustrate the opinions and voices of my research participants. The names I use for research participants are all pseudo.

   Argument Top

Alienation from land and related economic potentials

“... When you put a man in a vacuum, you rob him of the air. You do the same, when you take away the soil from him...for you are putting him in a space void of wealth…” (Marx 1867: 549)

Current anthropological arguments show conservation as an intervention that endeavours to save the lives of wildlife, but in the process disrupts the lives of the less fortunate in society (Brockington and Igoe 2006; Adams and Hutton 2007; Goldman 2011; Büscher and Fletcher 2014; Bocarejo and Ojeda 2016). In creating Tsavo and Chyulu Hills National Park (hereafter, Chyulu), forest-dependent livelihoods were hit hard. Mr Mangau, an evictee, explains that since Nthongoni was not adequate for cultivation and pasture, people kept on taking their livestock into the parks. This prompted the government to blame them for overstocking. “They told us that tourists were not coming to see livestock but wildlife,” said Mr Mangau. Perversely, the same government that had displaced people then blamed them for overstocking and overgrazing the land, and in what Marx considered “primitive accumulation” (Marx 1867: 508), embarked on a plan to decrease people's stock. Noteworthy, forced migration and resettlement can be a major driver of deforestation and other forms of destructive land use changes in the new areas of settlement (Geist and Lambin 2001). So, the inhabitants of Nthongoni might not have overstocked their livestock, but their livestock was nonetheless overgrazing, since the pasture left to them after dispossession was limited.

Livelihood for the Kamba revolves, to a large extent, around livestock. Besides nourishment, livestock is used as a form of exchange for other products and services. For instance, a family might exchange a chicken for a small bag of grains or sell a goat or a cow in order to pay school fees or construct a house. Forced destocking therefore increased the overall economic vulnerability of the residents.

Land is a critical factor of subsistence production for most rural economies. Dispossession thus serves to deepen the cycle of alienation from material wealth in areas such as Nthongoni. As West et al. (2006) argued, the costs and benefits associated with conservation are distributed unequally. People at the lowest steps of the investment ladder are most affected. Further, Igoe and Brockinton (2007) observe that the poor are often deprived of their property both unlawfully and lawfully. In Nthongoni, some residents have resulted to selling the land they occupy to newcomers who have resources to invest in it. As Mr Ngau, a resident remarked, only people who have 'something' can succeed in Nthongoni; “you must have money to invest in ploughing the land and drilling a borehole for irrigation.…you also need to build an electric fence to protect your crops from wildlife, otherwise you will not harvest anything.”

While people may appear to sell the land on a willing-seller willing-buyer basis, their precarious situation renders them alienable. The choices available to them are all mutually conflicting: to remain in abject poverty or to sell the land and relocate or become labour on others' land. Still, residents do not have title deeds for their land. They hold allotment letters which most buyers are hesitant to accept as legal evidence of ownership. Thus, land with an allotment letter sells much cheaper than that with a title deed. Desperate and powerless, the residents sell their land at a fraction of the actual value. This constitutes an instance of forced migration and expropriation (Marx 1867: 510–516). For Marx, property laws help the bourgeois to acquire land and incorporate soil into capital, a revolutionary transformation that progressively remove the poor from their means of subsistence. As a result, the poor become right-less proletarians and have to sell their labour-power for wages.

Another form of alienation relates to practices of conservation that limit access to resources such as water, pasture, bushmeat, and firewood. As Büscher and Dressler (2012) observe, neoliberal conservation ignites commodification of nature that necessitates suppression of local resource use in frontier areas. This is true to Nthongoni. For example, although the parks are important water catchments for Mzima springs and Tsavo and Galana Rivers, the water is no longer accessible to Nthongoni people. Water from Mzima springs is tapped and piped to the coastal city of Mombasa, a tourism hotspot. Paradoxically, the indigenous users of Mzima springs now rely on seasonal rivers, wells, or the sparsely distributed boreholes sunk by well-wishers. Moreover, Nthongoni does not benefit from the proceeds generated from the water supplied to Mombasa which also resonates with expropriation of local people and commodification of natural resources to secure profit and accumulate capital for state and state agencies, which Marx vehemently criticised.

As a coping strategy for dispossession and displacement, people in Nthongoni have increasingly adopted sedentary agriculture. During this research, a senior warden at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) attributed increased human-baboon conflict to cultivation of crops such as maize and pawpaw that attracted baboons into the farms. Similar observations have been made elsewhere (Hill 2000; Strum et al. 2008; Warren 2009), drawing our attention to how conservation might push humans and wildlife alike into unfamiliar territories, with dire consequences for both. In Nthongoni, the boundaries of the parks do not deter wildlife from entering human habitats, so the unfamiliar order where people are prohibited from accessing forest resources, but wildlife can access croplands serves to exacerbate notions of alienation. “We are not allowed into the park yet baboons and elephants are always crossing over to eat our crops. …is that fair?” asks Mr Maweu, a farmer.

The new economic order in Nthongoni demands that farmers invest extra energy and time in guarding crops. Notwithstanding, animals such as baboons still outwit guards and sneak onto the farm although the destruction is lesser than when nobody is guarding. Notions of alienation are aggravated by lack of compensation for damages caused by wildlife. People perceive wildlife as more destructive when state and conservators appear to protect or prioritise wildlife over them (Igoe 2006; Kopnina 2017).

Guarding crops is not without social implications. Mr Jomo, for example, is a farmer who is rarely home when he has crops on his farm. He must guard the crops against baboons during the day, and porcupines and elephants, among others, during the night. He has constructed a watchtower, where he watches over his crops [Photo 1]. His separation from family, and his everyday life in the watchtower, is an example of a more-than-human alienation with wildlife shaping how families live and spend time.

Residents of Nthongoni traditionally subsisted on bushmeat and the majority still see bushmeat as their rightful resource. Some argue that since their crops provision wildlife, it is only fair that they also eat bushmeat. Most residents felt that bushmeat tasted better than livestock meat. This echoes van Uhm's (2018) observation about bushmeat's authenticity to people bordering wildlife areas. A hunter in Nthongoni narrated how some residents had a particular liking for monkey meat. He hunted Sykes' monkeys for them and got chicken or beer in exchange. This supports Siniscalchi (2013) argument that personal food tastes, religious inclinations, and a host of social obligations are all as crucial to people as having food itself. Marx also believed that people ate certain foods only to satisfy their hunger not necessarily because they enjoy the foods' intrinsic taste or authenticity (Marx 1992; Raekstad 2018).

Nevertheless, most farmers in Nthongoni claimed that bushmeat was nowadays a result of retaliatory killings, not intended hunting. “We eat them because they eat our crops” or “we kill those that kill our livestock” were common remarks. Prohibited access to bushmeat accompanied by wildlife damage on property, robs the residents an “absolute prerequisite of human existence” (Foster and Clark 2018: 16), and has negative implications for their lives and health. Indeed, some studies champion the idea of controlled bushmeat, arguing it offers the best option in terms of compatibility with biodiversity conservation, food security and self-sufficiency, and local livelihoods (ENS 2011; Nasi et al. 2011; Nielsen 2006). Allowing hunting of abundant and resilient species might serve to meet the protein needs of local inhabitants as well as alleviate alienation.

Criminalisation of activities: a form of alienating second-order mediations

Residents of Nthongoni often face instances that clearly amount to what Marx considered as alienating second-order mediations characterised by money and/or exchange (Mészáros 1970). These include residents paying to access their former land, criminalisation of indigenous activities such as hunting, and harsh penalties for 'illegal' entry into the parks. As with Marx, a formerly inorganic extension of the bodies of Nthongoni people has been severed from them, and now they must follow the formal circuits of capital to access it, or to redeem their freedom after arrests for illegal access (Marx 1992). Mrs Mutie narrated how she was arrested for following a baboon that had 'stolen' her chicken past the fence that separates her farm from Tsavo. She soon realised the chase was futile and as she went back, she collected some dry firewood. Just before she crossed back into her farm, she bumped into two rangers. She complained about the baboon and the rangers told her to make a statement at their station. After the statement, she was locked up and produced in court the next day, charged with trespass and fined KES 12,000 (approximately USD 120). In addition to the chicken lost to baboon, Mr Mutie had to sell two goats to secure Mrs Mutie's release.

Residents also decried the heavy punishment they receive if found inside the park even when, “they are not doing anything wrong.” It is illegal to be in the park without paying the fee applicable to KWS. However, residents loathe this restriction, particularly when circumstances force them to enter the park. “You could be grazing your goats and one of them strays into the park, so you enter the park to bring your goat back,” said Mr Jomo. Despite wildlife officials preaching good neighbourliness, residents viewed this as one-sided. “If by mistake your cow enters the park, they tell you that that is food for lions, yet they prohibit us from 'touching' the wildlife that come to our farms,” said Mrs Mutie. These notions of double standards exacerbate residents' sense of alienation.

Kamba people are renowned for making sisal baskets, decorated woodcarvings, wooden beehives, snuff-bottles, and knife handles among other handcrafts synonymous with gift shops and art galleries in major towns of Kenya. As an economic activity, handcrafts fit into what Igoe and Brockinton (2007) see as new businesses that evolve from neoliberal conservation. In Nthongoni, however, the business is heavily constrained by restricted access to forests where the artists obtain the best raw materials. Rangers often harass the craftisans when they encounter them with the wood or with finished products. Even when the wood is sourced from legitimate sources, craftisans are hard-pressed to produce evidence of the source. The situation illuminates the everyday violence legitimised by narratives of conservation (Dunlap and Fairhead 2014; Bocarejo and Ojeda 2016). As West et al. (2006) observes, conservation fixes local people in kinds of space that makes them seem destructive and primitive because of their traditional practices, and thus criminalised.

Commodification of nature and alienation through tourism and related sectors

The global conservation movement through state and state agencies such as KWS has often engaged in turning wildlife areas once owned by local peasants into a source of revenue (West et al. 2006; Igoe and Croucher 2007; Büscher and Fletcher 2014; Stevens 2014; Larsen 2016). Moreover, the specific use-values, which in a Marxist sense includes non-consumptive values, such as recreation, are subordinated by their exchange-values. Igoe and Brockinton (2007: 537) sees this as reregulation, with the state transforming previously untradeable things into tradeable commodities and making state-controlled territories available to investors through rents and concessions. Marx (1867: 471, 546) similarly decries attaching of exchange values on things not produced by labour such as nature and soil. The reregulation is distinct because it is formally undertaken by the state.

Tsavo and Chyulu parks are key income streams for KWS (2008). They generate revenue through park entry fees, and rental and property-lease agreements. They also get funding from development partners and NGOs. The revenue is a significant proportion of what KWS uses to finance other less visited parks, as well as underwrite other institutional activities (KWS 2008). This compounds expropriation of the people of Nthongoni. Additionally, despite being dispossessed for wildlife, the money generated through wildlife is channelled elsewhere. In this regard, I argue that local people, as producers of tourism, are alienated from both the processes of production and from own produce. Their indigenous land is now a tourist attraction and their crops and livestock inadvertently provision the wildlife through crop foraging and livestock depredation, yet the product, (revenue) is taken away. Albeit through coercion, the residents have foregone resource use to sustain tourism, yet they are alienated from what the tourism generates. In Marx's perspective, they are alienated from access to the produce of their labour and the ability to stay alive and engage in further productive activity is compromised (Marx 1867: 135).

The presumption of park management is that local people's use of the park, for example, for pasture, is unacceptable while activities such as tourism and research, albeit alien to the local people, are acceptable (Vedeld et al. 2012). This drives the residents to see the park and wildlife as a refuge from modern life for elites. Moreover, while people in research, conservation, and tourism have access to the parks, the poor socioeconomic situation of local residents does not afford them this luxury. Besides the entrance fee, the residents require transport to traverse the park. Nobody is allowed to walk inside the park, although people did so before the parks were established. As a result, most residents claimed they only see wildlife across the fence, or when the animals cross over to Nthongoni. This perpetrates another form of double alienation. Apart from physical separation from a resource that was originally theirs, the consequent poor socioeconomic status deprives local people the privilege of entering the park legally. Other people from across the world can access the park but the original occupiers of the land cannot. This also illuminates a form of social stratification underpinned by neoliberal conservation.

Igoe and Brockinton (2007) observe that removal of people from landscapes is often based on the assumption that the people would be absorbed into the tourism industry once the parks are established. In the current study, only two of the over 35 families that participated in the research had a family member working for KWS. One is a mechanic while the other guards the fence separating Nthongoni from the Park. The latter is without doubt a low-status, low-wage role for someone living by the fence and affected by it. Ironically, he is employed to enforce his community and his family's estrangement from the park. This resonates with Marx's theorisation of worker's estrangement from their own labour such that their labour becomes a hostile and alien object that has power over them (Marx 1992).

Although KWS claimed that most of the hotels inside the park have employed staff from Nthongoni, this was also contested. “I don't know anybody from Nthongoni who has been employed by those hotels. They always bring new people. If you go to seek for employment, they ask you for papers [certificates]. How many people here have attended Utalii6?” observed Miss Syombua, a pub attendant. Further in our conversation, Miss Syombua disclosed that she actually knew of one casual cleaner in one of the hotels but quipped that this was “not a job.” Most residents were brought up in abject poverty and this affected their education. Children often dropped out of school, or were withdrawn, to herd livestock or guard crops from wildlife. As a result, most people did not attain the necessary education demanded by employers for the highly competitive jobs in the tourism industry in and around the parks. This compounds the residents' poverty and compromises their ability to flourish as humans (Raekstad 2018). As Behera (2014) observes, lack of skills and opportunities for alternative avenues of subsistence results in bitterness, resentment and despair, a situation that also identifies with Marx's conception of estranged humanity. Conversely though, the jobs that the tourist sector offers are, in Marx's understanding, an expression of “commoditised” and thus “alienated labour” that capitalism offers (Marx 1992: 334).

People's sense of humanity was also jeopardised when residents perceive double standards in the way they and their counterparts, the Maasai from across Chyulu were treated. Although entry into Chyulu was prohibited, the Maasai pastoralists from the western side of Chyulu grazed their livestock inside the park, crossed over the hills to Nthongoni side and sometimes watered their livestock at water points in Nthongoni (personal observation). The Maasai side adjoining Chyulu is not fenced and a big part is occupied by group ranches, hence herders are able to access the forest. Nthongoni residents are heavily punished if found inside the park and this makes them wonder why restrictions are applied selectively.

People also complained of diseases that the Maasai livestock apparently brought to Nthongoni livestock from Chyulu. “They grazed in the park and then came to water at our boreholes. …before long, our cattle had started suffering from foot and mouth disease,” said Mr Jomo. He further claimed that the pastoralists also stole their goats, “you know they have very big herds and once one of our goat mixes with theirs, they just drive them away together.” This increases the residents' sense of alienation since the residents cannot follow the herders beyond the park's border to retrieve the stolen livestock.

Alienation from heritage

Prior to the establishment of Tsavo and Chyulu, Mr Mithili's family practised nomadic pastoralism. Mithili himself was raised in a distant land to the west of Chyulu. However, one evening when he was about 19 years, his grandfather called him aside, and told him it was time he went to take care of their ancestral land on the eastern slopes of Chyulu hills:

He told me his father, my great-grandfather, had some land in a place called Manyanyani. Sketching a map on the ground, he gave me directions to an abandoned cowshed: “…the cowshed will be surrounded by muaa (Acacia tortilis). …to the right of the cowshed, is your great grandparents' graveyard... The land stretching from the hills down to the railway line is yours. You should never leave it. …the land past the railway line is very dry. Stick to the hills”. My grandfather then told me about three prophets, namely Methili, Mbalo and Kalimani: “Kalimani is the one who prophesied about this land. He said that population was going to increase in the future, and people will fight over land. …only the people who 'run' to the hills will survive.” When I later learnt how to read, I read the same from the bible: “...let those in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mathew 24:16). It dawned on me that even before Jesus came to the world, there were true prophets. This land is our gift from God. …if you climb these hills (Chyulu) you will see some carved stones where our forefathers played mbao7. Mithili, an elderly farmer/herbalist

The excerpt above illustrates land inheritance in Nthongoni and the ways in which it is entangled with profound claims to ancestral authority. The indigenous people of Tsavo and Chyulu acquired their land through inheritance and thus treated it as a precious endowment that must not be bequeathed to undeserving individuals. Although Mr Mithili was not completely evicted, part of his land touching Chyulu hills was taken by the park. This was tantamount to disinheriting and estranging him from what he described as “prophesied land,” and it infringed on his spiritual wellbeing and with it his sense of essence as a human being.

Restricted access to forests alienated people from their cultural heritage and practices in myriad other ways that troubled their spirituality. Hunters and gatherers such as the Ngulia were estranged from their source of food and from some cultural practices revolving around food. For example, hunters engaged traditional healers to protect them from dangerous animals or any other misfortune that may befall their activities. “A hunter can be conferred magical powers that makes them disappear like lightening if they encounter a dangerous animal, or transform into say, an antelope, such that they mingle with other antelopes as they choose the one to kill,” Mr Kyeva, a middle-aged resident of Nthongoni.

Use of magical powers was echoed in different parts of Nthongoni and although the terms and/or conditions under which the powers were employed differed, the powers were sought after for a specific practical purpose: guide the hunter to the prey, be invisible to dangerous animals and park rangers, or transform into a prey's image to make hunting easy. Writing about Yukaghir hunters of Siberia, Willerslev (2007) explained that hunters expressed perspectivist representations that were intimately bound up with their hunting. Similarly, in Nthongoni, the appeal to magical powers enabled the hunters to make sense of their otherwise precarious world while maintaining close social ties with their ancestors. These ties are troubled when hunting is prohibited, predisposing people to a sense of alienation from social and spiritual wellbeing, and thus from their humanity.

Traditionally, magical protection was conferred as an avenue through which the departed fulfilled their moral obligations as guardians of their descendants. Musyoka, a former hunter, talked about a ceremony called Kithangona performed when a new-born baby carried characteristics of a deceased person—either looking like, having same unique ability or disability, or having a birthmark that was similar to their predecessor's. When this happened, a birthday ceremony was held as if for the child, but essentially for the predecessor. A goat was slaughtered, and a piece of skin from the foreleg was tied on the wrist of the baby. After that, the child's father addressed the predecessor: “Tunajua ni wewe na tunakukaribisha nyumbani” (=we know it's you and we welcome you home). The predecessor was then implored to protect the young child, henceforth living in the body of the successor. Musyoka was born in such circumstances, and thus inherited his predecessors' hunting career. The predecessor in turn, guided and protected Musyoka over the years that he hunted. His account illustrates a sacred tradition that deeply entwined both the dead and the living, but one that conservation initiatives have troubled:

“Sometimes in my sleep, I would hear his voice asking me to go to the forest. He would direct me on the route to take to avoid any danger. When I followed these instructions, I definitely killed a buffalo or an antelope. …At one time, he warned me of danger and told me to climb a nearby tree. Just then, two armed rangers came and it was like they sensed my presence. …they stopped, looked up but didn't see me which was weird as the tree had barely any twigs to hide me. …with such a guardian, danger can come very close to you, but not harm you.” Musyoka, a former hunter

As a central practice for Kamba people, livestock keeping necessitates involvement of livestock in many ceremonial practices in Nthongoni. For example, bride price to a girl's family is made in the form of cattle and goats. As has been shown earlier, evictions from Tsavo and Chyulu were accompanied by destocking, apparently to reduce overgrazing. This served to expropriate people from a property that was crucial for cultural ceremonies. Additionally, destocking upset ceremonies such as mathembu8 that were marked with slaughtering of a bull or a goat. This served to compound people's alienation from their cultural heritage. Mrs Mumo, a middle-aged woman, confirmed this saying that there hasn't been a ithembo in her village for several years. She asserted that people have very small herds and no one volunteers to donate a bull or goat for the ceremony.

Ithembo and most cultural-religious ceremonies in Nthongoni are carried out in sacred places in the forest or under a tree. In fact, the term Ithembo denotes both the ceremony and the shrine where it is conducted. Umani in Kibwezi forest is one such shrine. The shrine is uniquely placed since apart from being sacred, it is also the source of one of the only two permanent springs in Nthongoni. People used to bring their livestock to water from the spring. They also fetched water for domestic use. However, the forest was fenced off in 1992. And since, people can no longer access the shrine for cultural-religious practices, let alone other forest services. Interestingly, the shrine was converted into an exclusive tourist destination as advertised on a conservation NGO's website: “Umani Springs is an exclusive home-from-home boasting three tranquil bedroom areas, a divine pool and sunbathing oasis and a relaxing living room twinned with a stylish 'bar-come-dining' area offering the ultimate escape in indoor and outdoor living. The property sleeps ten people, offering two sleek queen-size rooms and three spacious twin rooms. …the enticing spring-fed swimming pool is surrounded by beautiful gardens offering plenty of spots to sit-back, relax and enjoy the ambience of the forest.”

In converting Umani into an exclusive tourist home, the local people were locked out from their traditional shrine. Their poor socioeconomic status cannot afford them the luxury that is now tied to the shrine. At the same time, the land is now a concession area for ecological service payments that directly benefit other entities but not the local people (see Büscher and Dressler 2012; Kopnina 2012). The local people thus suffered from a double alienation or what Alcorn (2008) terms as a double loss—that of a spiritual facility and of a material resource. Igoe and Brockinton (2007) point out the influence globalisation has on neo-protectionism. They observe that biodiversity areas are territorialised, privatised, marketed, and made available for elites, but often at the expense of local people. This strikingly portrays the ways in which the reregulation—discussed in section 'commodification of nature and alienation through tourism and related sectors'—alienates people from not only land and nature, but also cultural-religious amenities, in this case a traditional shrine. As Büscher and Dressler (2012) observe, subjugating local ways of life to market-based economies often reinforce marginalisation.

Troubled coexistence: a more-than-human alienation

My ethnography reveals a deeply entwined human-animal life in Nthongoni and hence the alienation that should be considered a more-than-human process. For example, Mr Jomo described how, despite the efforts people made to keep baboons off, but the baboons always came back to sleep in the village. He observed that this happened even when there was no food to forage in the village. He attributed this to the attachment baboons had to people. He also claimed that the village kept the baboons safe from leopards and other predators. The determination of baboons to implore humans across the fence even when humans were rebuffing them, illustrates the capacity of wildlife's entanglement with humans to exceed the violent alienation forced on them. Moreover, it demonstrates wildlife as victims of colonial and post-colonial conservation and illuminates a multispecies alienation effected through expropriation of nature.

While many studies show close human relations with and popular interest and value for wildlife; a few hint at wildlife's close ties with humans (e.g., Baynes-Rock 2013; Ingold 2015; Kopnina 2017). Baboons' ties to humans in Nthongoni suggest that their coexistence with humans was crucial to their survival. This troubles ideas of human exceptionalism and sociality, and instead shows how lives of entangled species might unfold within contexts of fortress conservation. Further, it demonstrates how conservation strategies, such as fencing, might position wildlife in unfamiliar and often hostile territories, much like humans.

Nthongoni residents often claimed that wildlife was not a serious problem, when foraging and pastoralism were the major subsistence strategies. In fact, some species were considered close relatives, to the extent that some people and clans were named after wildlife: Ngũli, Mbaa, and Mũlela are clans named after baboons, while Mbiti (hyena), Munyambu (lion), Nzoka (snake), Mbuku (hare), or Mbiwa (fox) are people named after animals. Notwithstanding, human-wildlife relations have continued to deteriorate owing to states' enforcement of fortress conservation and escalating human-wildlife conflict. In fact, the majority of residents now refer to wildlife as 'nyamu sya game/KWS' (KWS animals), suggesting that residents no longer consider themselves as stakeholders of wildlife, a situation that may have serious ramifications for conservation. Residents see animals such as elephants as pests, and personified animals such as baboons as aivi (=thieves). The crops that people grow attract wildlife to forage and often culminate in killing of the 'problem animals'. This is then blamed on the people if described by wildlife managers, or on animals if described by farmers. It is never blamed on the underlying processes of alienation that have transformed lifeway and livelihood activities, and placed both humans and wildlife in unfamiliar territories.

   Conclusion Top

This article demonstrates how protected areas dispossess and alienate people from their indigenous land, constrain resource access, change people's ways of life and their economies and estrange them from their own humanity. Managers of protected areas see local residents as invaders and often criminalise them. Because of practices such as hunting and gathering, the residents are labelled primitive, lawless and aberrant. In addition, the wildlife in the otherwise protected areas negatively affect local economies by destroying crops, and maiming, killing or passing on diseases to people and livestock. Moreover, the state espouses neoliberal approaches where new economies evolve, but local people are unable to compete effectively, having been deprived of resources, and inherent abilities and capabilities. Lawful businesses such as sale of handcrafts are subject to strict controls and undue harassment of traders. Although conservation is often based on the assumption that local people will benefit from opportunities created by tourism once national parks are established (Western et al. 2019), this again requires specialised skills and experience that are alien to the local people. With no place for them in the emerging economy, local people simply become dispensable.

During the fifth World Parks Congress in 2003, an action plan was inaugurated which emphasised the social and subsistence losses that people living in and around protected areas suffered due to dispossession, and subsequent poverty and culture change (West et al. 2006). The congress recommended for a win-win scenario for both conservation and local people (Igoe and Brockinton 2007; Ferguson 2012). However, this article reveals a situation that is much messier than the ideals that the congress suggested. Some contemporary national parks continue to alienate the people displaced by them and now living adjacent to them. Nthongoni residents, for example, experience alienation from their land and inheritance, their cultural heritage, natural resources, and the economic opportunities produced by the parks, and subsequently from their sense of essence as humans.

One of the arguments frequently invoked in defence of national parks is that they foster an ethic of concern for wildlife. However, the evidence I have provided suggests that in Nthongoni, attitudes towards wildlife have shifted and the parks have instead turned people and wildlife into enemies. This is critical for conservation. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who argue for fortress conservation on the grounds that humans are unable to get along with wildlife.

The article engages Marx's alienation as a concept to shed light on the ways in which conservation might estrange people from their lifeworld, and from their subsistence ways of acting on, mediating, regulating and controlling land and resources, and from their own humanity. Marx's materialist focus gives us unique insights into the depths to which exploitative character of capitalism can infiltrate conservation and give exchange-values to things not produced by labour. In a Marxist sense, the specific use-values of land and nature including cultural heritage, aesthetic and recreation are subordinated by their exchange-values. Land and nature are converted into a source of revenue subsuming the concrete nature of the park into the social abstraction of value. Alienation is helpful in explaining how declaring land and nature as state property reinforces rather than departs from the system of private property, and in reimagining a reregulation that is formally undertaken by the state, not the bourgeoisie. I also extend Marx's original ideas to illuminate a form of alienation that includes non-human beings, and should thus be considered a more-than-human process.

   Acknowledgements Top

This research was sponsored by Durham Doctoral Studentship and supervised by Professors: Hannah Brown, Joanna Setchell and Russell Hill of the Department of Anthropology, Durham University (UK). Writing of the manuscript was supported by Postgraduate Publication Bursary, Durham University.

   Notes Top

  1. Taita is an ethnic group to the south of Tsavo while Maasai occupy the areas to the west of Chyulu and Tsavo national parks.
  2. Official records indicate Tsavo was established in 1948 but Mr Mwalua says the first evictions were enforced in 1936.
  3. The colonial resettlement entailed an attack on two indigenous groups: the displacement of one group, and its resettlement in an already occupied territory.
  4. Throughout the article, the term 'indigenous people' refers to the original inhabitants of Tsavo and Chyulu and the group occupying Nthongoni during the initial colonial resettlement. The term 'local people' refers generally to the current residents of Nthongoni who include the indigenous people and the people that both colonial and post-colonial governments resettled in the area.
  5. Data gathering followed the ethical guidelines issued by the Ethics and Data Protection Subcommittee of Anthropology Department, Durham University, UK, that approved the study. Other Research guidelines and authorisation were granted by Kenya's National Commission for Science Technology and Innovations (NACOSTI), Kenya Wildlife Service, Makueni County Government, and the Chief of Nthongoni.
  6. Utalii is a renowned college for hospitality related courses in Kenya.
  7. Mbao is a traditional board game usually/commonly played by elderly men.
  8. Mathembo (singular Ithembo) is a ceremony carried out by elders to offer sacrifices to gods, and to pray for rains, a good harvest and compassion when serious calamities hit.

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1 Institutional one health and animal-human health connections in Nthongoni, Eastern Kenya
Danson Kareri Mwangi
Health & Place. 2022; : 102818
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