Gallows Tale II: The Hanging File of Tanganyika 1920-1928 and the Risk of Escape!

  • The risk of escape of a condemned prisoner who is required to undergo a long journey on foot [of 230 miles] to the place of execution must be considerable

Britain had took control of German East Africa and renamed it Tanganyika Territory in 1920. This meant that the German justice system, which had been found throughout the territory would be replaced with a British system. Among other things, this meant that death by firing squad would be replaced by hanging. But to do this required the installation of proper gallows (with sheds) to be erected at the gaols where death sentences would be carried out. Or alternatively, mobile gallows could be installed.

As specified in Gallows Tale I, for Morogoro in central Tanganyika, this meant that a proper pit needed to be constructed. And as specified in Gallows Tale I, one of the big problems there was the problem of a socket, which would catch the bar underneath the trap door. It seems that the bar was ricocheting off the concrete wall of the pit, hitting the condemned during or shortly after the drop where the neck was broken—clearly an inhumane situation not befitting of British justice.

Songea which is in the southwest corner of the country had another problem. It seems that the nearest place for the court to hang someone was 230 miles away in Tukuyu to the east. Tanganyika Territory at that time had few roads, and even fewer vehicles—which meant that the condemned man would need to walk for five weeks through a tsetse infested bush before he could be executed. Such a walk would presumably have involved several local police officers, and of course one European officer. It is not clear how they would have been fed, whether they would have carried their own food, or whether there were stations where they would be fed.

Irrespective of the organizational difficulties for such a trip, there was also the chance that somewhere along the way the condemned man just might try to escape—and have plenty of opportunities to do so. Thus Songeia’s request for that special execution apparatus, “the mobile gallows.”

 

OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND PRISONS,

DAR-ES-SALAAM, 26th February, 1921

Registered Number: H.Q. 40/36

The Hon’ble

The Chief Secretary of the Government

Dar-es-Salaam

 

With reference to your file No. 3093 and further to my H.Q.40/18 of the 2nd of November last, I have the hour to recommend on the following grounds that a portable gallows be issued to Songea to serve the requirements of that district:-

  • The distance from Songea to Tukuyu is 230 miles
  • The risk of escape of a condemned prisoner who is required to undergo a long journey on foot to the place of execution must be considerable
  • The journey from Songea to Tukuyu occupies at least 5 weeks.
  • The District Political Officer is of the opinion that in many cases it will be desirable for executions to take place locally as an example to the population, in order to convince the native mind that the murderer has been duly punished for his crime.

The District Political Officer concurs with my recommendation.

(Signature illegible)

Commissioner,

Tanganyika Police & Prisons

Gallows File II Songea Gallows

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Gallows Tale I: The Hanging File of Tanganyika Territory 1920-1928 and the Extra “Whack”

Another point requiring your attention in the cross bar which holds the trap door in position. When this is released and falls into its groove in the wall, it should be caught by a socket of some kind, to prevent its rebounding on contact with the stone. At present it is quite possible that, in the rebound, it hits the hanging man as he drops from above. True, if the hanging is properly done, the man is probably dead before he receives the blow from the iron bar: but you will agree every possible precaution should be taken against any suggestion of inhumanity.

Some years ago I was working on a project in the Tanzanian National Archives in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. While there, I saw a file listed in the catalog called “The Hanging File.” I was not quite sure what to expect, so asked to see it. It turned out to be the bureaucratic correspondence, mainly from the Tanganyika Police and Prisons, about the implementation of the new British government’s policies on hanging prisoners. Tanganyika had only in 1920 been transferred from German to British colonial rule, and this meant proper British methods of execution needed to be established.  And that meant wherever possible, the condemned were to face the hangman’s noose rather than a firing squad.

Much of the file was correspondence back and forth about the nuts and bolts of establishing procedures for executions in a fashion consistent with British colonial law. I had the whole file photocopied in 2004, with the vague idea that there is a great story in the file—though I was never quite sure what it was, so never wrote it up. Now is perhaps the time.  So I will be writing blogs about in coming months in the hope that someone somewhere can tell me what the point of this file is.

This first memo I am posting is dated October 6, 1922, and it is from the prison in Morogoro, central Tanganyika, and addressed to the Director of Public Works, who has been charged by the Governor with establishing facilities to hang prisoners. As you can tell from this memo, such a program is not that easy—proper well-designed facilities must be established so that “every precaution can be taken against any suggestion of inhumanity.” Which in the case of the Morogoro gallows means a socket of some kind to catch the bar that is underneath the trap door. It seems there was some evidence that the bar was bouncing off the concrete wall of the pit as the prisoner dropped, and there was some chance he was getting whacked on the head before their neck was broken. Clearly a condition that suggested a degree of inhumanity incompatible with British colonial justice!

 

Office of the Commissioner of Police and Prisons

Dar Es Salaam, 6th. October, 1922

Registered Number H. Q. . 55/Gen/30

The Director of Public Works

DARESSALAAM

RE: GALLOWS – MOROGORO

I desire to bring to your notice the following unsatisfactory points in connection with the gallows at Morogoro, which were brought to notice during my recent Inspection of the Gaol at that station.

 

  1. In the first place it is absolutely essential that proper steps should be made leading to the pit, so that the body of the hanged man can be properly carried up for burial. At the present time, the entrance to the it is by an ordinary ladder and any one decending [sic] the pit, for instance the doctor, has to duck his head to clear the platform. It is quite impossible to remove a body with any decency by this exit.
  1. The present system is revolting to any decent ideas. The body is hauled up by the neck, through the trap doors, through which it has dropped, without undoing the noose. Last Monday a very heavy and big man was hanged, and his body had to be treated in this way, with unpleasent [sic] results to all who were present.
  1. At the time the gallows was made, the Superintendent of Police expostulated at the proposed plan, but for some reason or other, possible expense, it was decided to go on with the original design. At Lindi, Tanga and Mwanza Gaols, proper cement steps have been made, and are satisfactory. I desire to ask that the necessary improvements to remedy the existing state of affairs at Morogoro may be taken in hand at once.
  1. Another point requiring your attention in the cross bar which holds the trap door in position. When this is released and falls into its groove in the wall, it should be caught by a socket of some kind, to prevent its rebounding on contact with the stone. At present it is quite possible that, in the rebound, it hits the hanging man as he drops from above. True, if the hanging is properly done, the man is probably dead before he receives the blow from the iron bar: but you will agree every possible precaution should be taken against any suggestion of inhumanity.
  1. Finally the present chain supplied from your workshops is far from satisfactory. The other day it was necessary to take off some links to shorten the drop. At the first tap of a hammer, the link snapped. Surely this is not right. I have instructed the Assistant Superintendent of Prisons to send this chain to Daressalaam as soon as it can be spared for your inspection.
  1. I trust that you will be able to treat these matter as urgent, as they are of vital importance, if the executions are to be carried out without any regrettable incident.

Signature illegible

Source Tanzania National Archives, TNA AB 518

Hanging File 1 Morogoro

So how would you as a anthropologist or sociologist analyze a memo like this?  Would it be about colonialism, bureaucracy, or criminology?  Or the human condition?  I have been wondering about this during the ten years I’ve been sitting on the file, and hope to hear what Ethnography.com readers think in coming months.

The story continues here

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Why we Make Stuff Up at Ethnography.com, and by the way, the American Anthropological Association Decided to Dissolve Itself  

Two weeks ago, we posted a really great essay by David Van Huff “A Tale Within a Tale: The Dual Nature of Ebenezer Scrooge.” David wrote this story for my class, and it helped me see Durkheim concept of the “Dual Nature” of humanity in a new way, which is why I wanted to post it.  Anyway, in coming days we will post more such stories. What they will have all in common is that they are all fiction. So spoiler alert: Good social science can be made up. David’s story is in fact just an extreme version of this genre of social “science,” since not only did David make up the story, he also wrote the story about Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge who is also completely fictional—Dickens made him up too!

For that matter the all-time downloaded article from the American Anthropologist, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,” is also fictional. It was made up by the sociologist Horace Miner who at one-time was a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army. Despite all this blasphemous conduct (sociologist, militarist, fiction writer), the article continues to be a staple of anthropology textbooks because it highlights so well how arbitrary cultural practices are always relative, and always taken-for granted.  People learn from it–the article enjoys its high status for good reason.

Oh yeah, and a couple of weeks ago, we republished Franz Kafka’s brief piece of doggerel Gemeinschaft/Fellowship.  That too, come to think about it was complete fiction, written by someone who was known for the oddity of his imagination.  And of course the “five friends” Kafka wrote about, as well as the sixth, are really quite made up!

Then there is sociologist Michael Young who in 1958 wrote a book The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1880-2033. The book invented the word “meritocracy” to describe the dysphemistic world where everyone is evaluated for merit by testing, and those who are successful create an isolated world in places like Cambridge (Massachusetts and England), where alone they rule over the masses who do not do so well on standardized tests. As a result of this relatively unknown novel (i.e. fiction), the word “meritocracy” entered the English language as being something very desirable—in fact it has become a political staple when politicians whine about favoritism and nepotism. Oddly, this was not Young’s point—he though the meritocracy was actually a bad thing because it leads to oligarchy, and the book explains why in ways that are chillingly real over 60 years after it was published.

And just recently I read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, which is a fantastic novel about modern England, World War II in Ukraine, migration, gender, and aging. Read it—it is great sociology (the main protagonist even teaches sociology at a British University).

And by the way, the classical sociologist W. E. B. DuBois wrote a great short story “Of the Coming of John” about two boys, one black, and one white, who grew up on a Georgia plantation at the turn of the century. The story is a tragic one which illustrates well DuBois’ main point about “Double Consciousness” and “The Color Line” in race. DuBois made it up.

But isn’t this blog then really about literature, and not sociology or anthropology? Shouldn’t such works be sent over to the Literature Department—why should serious social scientists even consider such work?  Bottom line, if you want the truth, and nothing but the truth check out your home town newspaper (mine is the Nevada County Scooper which you can read here).  Otherwise do not be afraid of too much fiction.

And by the way, did you hear that the American Anthropological Association finally decided to dissolve itself?

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Are Police “God’s Representatives on Earth?”

Max Weber writing in the early twentieth century marveled about the advantages that modern societies have over the earlier societies. One of the things Weber remarked about was the “stable peacefulness” that are found in large areas of the country protected by the police. No longer when you, your brother, or your sister were assaulted did you need, or want, to take matters into your own hands and seek your own revenge on behalf of your clan and its gods to whom you were tied to by blood oaths of loyalty.

In modern society, few of us take such oaths. Instead we go through our day not worrying about assault, trusting in the power of the police to pacify society, and maintain the “absolute and stable peacefulness.” This is why I can walk and ride my bike all over town, and not really worry about being robbed, assaulted, or murdered. But behind this order is the fact that some people, the police, do take oaths, and are willing to intervene even violently in order to preserve the peace. In Weber’s words, the police have the monopoly over the use of legitimated force in a given jurisdiction. Or as Weber wrote using some complicated words:

 But of all the purely political factors [that are important], particularly enduring is the growing need for order and protection (“police”) in societies that increasingly become accustomed to absolute and stable peacefulness. The growing need for order and protection was a continuous process, moving from the solely sacral or conciliatory influences, to the blood feud where rights and security for the individual members of the clan were tied to oaths and responsibility for seeking revenge, to today’s situation when police officials become “God’s representatives on earth.” (p,95 in Weber’s Rationalism, 2015, tr. by Dagmar Waters and Tony Waters)

It’s that last line “God’s representatives on earth” that cause me to pause. Weber is saying that in the modern world, the authority of the police becomes sacred, and is assumed to be the guarantor of an absolute and stable peacefulness; and that in fact many invest it with a religious-like authority. And to a large extent, this is what we have. But to have this happen, the police are given every benefit of the doubt in confrontations with civilians, such as the recent cases in the United States in places like Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and elsewhere in recent months. In such a context, grand juries, police, prosecutors, and others search for reason why “God’s representatives on earth” are acting correctly, because to do otherwise, is to sub-consciously perceived as a threat to God, and therefore the peaceful order many of us take for granted.

Now, what would the police you know think of such a view?   The police I’ve known are a jaded lot, who have no pretensions to be anything close to God. But indeed, they are well-aware of the oath they have sworn on behalf of society, and desire very much that their presence and authority be respected.  Are such pseudo-religious rituals still important to the maintenance of modern society?  What would a society look like, in which the police were not asked to take such oaths, and assumed to be like the rest of us?

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Are Indexes Obsolete?

I’ve spent the last two days indexing our new book on Max Weber’s sociology. I am doing it the old-fashioned way, just as it has been done since, well, the 1990s or so. Which means I have a Word document open on my desktop and go through the document on a hard copy page by page, alphabetizing as I go. The only concession I have to the 2000s is that I will occasionally do a search of the electronic copy of the manuscript to find a key word in the PDF. But mostly it is yet another read-over of the manuscript itself, and alphabetizing into Word. It seems to take about 5 minutes per page. But, I just shudder at thinking what it must have been like to write an index before the invention of word processing!

I can imagine it is some kind of software that would do this for me in about two seconds. But as my author’s instructions point out, it is still better to have a real person, especially an author, do this because you also need to index themes, etc., that computers can’t “see.” So, ok, fine. But I really wonder, will indexes become obsolete with the availability of software that searches whole texts? In fact, I usually use such software, rather than actual indexes. You may have heard of the software I use to replace indexes, they are called “Google Books” and “Kindle!” But now as plow one last time through my book, I wonder about how many times I actually use an index anymore? What is your impression? Do you use books in the same way you did five or ten years ago? If you had our book on an electronic reader (as I suspect most readers will), would you use the index I am now writing?

Reference

Waters, Tony and Dagmar Waters editors and translators (2015). Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy and Social Stratification. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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“I’m Sorry, Next Semester We Do Not Have Any Classes For You!”

Scarlet Letter

The Three Gifts of Tenure

I will say it up front. Tenure is cool, and the opposite, “contingent” employment, really sucks. I was an adjunct for about two years in the 1990s, and I know from first hand experience that it sucked. Why?

Well there were a couple of reasons. First, was that I was constantly on the job market, since I did not know where my income was coming from the following semester. This is a condition that college teachers share with many workers in the modern economy, on the funny assumption that the more scared you are of catastrophe, the harder you will work.

Scared teachers do not develop their repertoire, either in teaching or research. Delivering a 15 week class takes 3-4 semesters to “get right,” meaning to get the rhythm of what you need to say, how it fits together, what assignments fit in best. And of course the jokes need to be right—and that takes practice, too. Three to four times, and it starts becoming easy—and 10-12 times it becomes boring, as your “lecture” notes yellow and turn stale.

A second gift of tenure is the capacity to develop a research program—you can only do this if you have a reasonable confidence. Research programs, whether they are your own, or your graduate students, take several years to manage and develop. Books? About five years. Articles, a little less.

And the third gift of tenure is that it puts you on an equal footing with your “boss.” This is important because, well, not all bosses, are that great at supervising teachers, whether they are tenured or not—just ask the adjuncts who are indeed supervised by Department Chairs elected by the tenured faculty.

This part of the gift of tenure has two different causes. . First is the fact that teaching is inherently difficult to supervise—a supervisor cannot watch any particular doing more than a fraction of their work, nor can they use a clock, or other mechanism to monitor anything of significance in the classroom. This is something that those who supervise teaching should know, but often do not acknowledge.

The second part of the problem is that the chairs and deans who hire adjunct faculty are not necessarily very good managers of adjuncts—they are hired by tenured faculty to serve (not manage) tenured faculty. Supervising adjuncts is for them just a side gig—the real action is with those who elected them, i.e. the tenure track faculty. As a result many are not necessarily very good at managing “contingent employees.” What does it mean to be lousy at supervising adjuncts?

–Not let the adjunct know what they will be teaching or take away an assigned class and give it to a tenured person at last minute

–Change up preps unexpectedly–Change class sizes erratically

–Use anecdotal student gossip to write reviews, whether it comes in hushed tones in the office, through written reviews, informal discussion with tenured faculty or ratemyprofessor.com.

—Otherwise keep the adjunct off-balance regarding their professional status.

And then of course there is the problem of pay, which like it or not is central what we do. The stories of adjuncts on welfare are of course legion. Not every campus does it, but paying $2,000-$3000 per class for a full-time adjunct (with ten courses being a full-load) is a recipe for penury, short-term employment, and high employee turnover. And what can I say? Quick turnover of teachers is harmful to teaching quality—and in the university world, “quick” means every 5-6 years. After all, how can you prepare a “full quiver” of classes a shorter time? Student success suffers from teachers who are not treated as highly skilled professionals, and have a tougher time developing as a professional as a result.

And this says nothing of a research program which oddly enough, some adjuncts still put together on the side.

My Appreciation for Tenure

I’ve had tenure since 2003, and it has been a blessing, particularly when I compare my working conditions to my adjunct colleagues who are constantly under threat of lay-off. What has it permitted me to do?

Accept new course preps, and explore new fields without fear of short-term failure, which in the adjunct world means a few students complaining to a dean or chair about you. Sometimes this happened, mostly it didn’t—but even when it does, I can be confident that the comments will not be taken out of context.

Re-establish the Asian Studies major, for which I was a “voluntary advisor” for three years. This is something I am enormously proud of—and would not have done without the freedom of tenure protections.

Publish three books, and finish a fourth. Write a number of articles, one of which received a comeuppance letter from the United States Ambassador to Tanzania. Because I was tenure track, I got an “attaboy” from my Chair at the time. Imagine if I had been contingent—I would have been afraid that such a high government official could get me fired, or at least put in the pathway of “I’m sorry it looks like there are no classes for you next semester.”

In short, my employment guarantee gives me the freedom to experiment without fear to my livelihood. Do some of my colleagues take advantage of this? Probably—but the fact of the matter is that the freedom my tenure gives me exists only in such a context. If I didn’t have an employment guarantee I would be back to sending out my c.v. every semester and keeping my head low, in hopes that I could put together a living, rather than developing a scholarly career.

I’m Sorry, Next Semester We Do Not Have Any Classes For You!

The opposite of tenure, lack of employment security, though actually drags the institution of higher education down further. To understand this, I need only listen to the whispered fears of my adjunct colleagues. They fear trying new things, requesting professional courtesies I take for granted, requesting justified raises, attending conferences, taking on new preps, or pushing back when more students are pushed at them (this is why typically adjunct faculty teach larger sections than their tenured colleagues). They are hesitant about expressing themselves frankly in meetings. Many fear becoming involved in the union not because of what they union does, but because they fear administrators will deliver the dreaded and vague message, “next semester we do not have any classes for you.”

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Look Mom, No Paywall! My Mirror Neuron Article Available for Free!

For the time being, my most current academic article “Of Looking Glasses, Mirror Neurons, and Meaning” is available from Perspectives on Science for free, free, free! Meaning no paywall, so you don’t need access to a university library account to get a copy, nor do I have to send out individual PDFs to whoever may request a copy. Please, download away!

The article has a heavy dose of “social science vs. natural sciences,” and asks why do neural scientists need an expensive MRI machine to judge whether and how someone is thinking. The general idea of their “mirror neuron hypothesis” is that when you watch someone doing something, you can imagine what they are thinking—and that this can be observed on an expensive MRI machine. My argument is that sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have been doing this for a hundred years by simply watching people, and talking to them. Indeed, in my view this is in fact “grandmother knowledge,” meaning that it is something that your common-sensical grandmother knows.   But because grandmother does not have the patina of “science,” so for some reason the expensive MRI is more valid.

The irony I point out though does not have to do with your grandmother. Rather it is that in proposing the “mirror neuron” hypothesis based on MRI data first generated in the 1980s and 1990s, the hot-shot scientists bypassed the exact same metaphor from 1902. In 1902, Charles Cooley an economist/sociologist/social psychologist described his 2 year-old daughter’s “looking glass self,” and the fact that she imitates those she observes. He and his successors have spun off a substantial literature as a result, which continues to go unacknowledged in the scientific literature. Anyway, that is my argument—please download a comment if you agree or disagree. Dowload here (if you did not click above).

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