Goodly beasts, beastly goods: cattle and commodities in a South African context



Among the 19th-century Tswana, we argue, cattle were like commodities; they linked processes of production and exchange, embodied an order of meanings and relations, and had the capacity to reproduce a total social world. They were, in sum, prime media for the creation and representation of value in a material economy of persons and a social economy of things. But they also had particular historical salience. As the Tswana were colonized, the encounter between periphery and center, local and global economies, was played out—materially and ideologically—in the contest between beasts and money, a contest which has given rise, also, to such token currencies as “cattle without legs.” The double character of cattle—as icons of a “traditional” order and as weapons in the struggle to assert control over modern life—has significant implications for our understanding of commodities in noncapitalist, non-European contexts, [cattle, commodities, money, colonialism, South Africa]