Forests have been at the fault lines of contact between African peasant communities in the Tanzanian coastal hinterland and outsiders for almost two centuries. In recent decades, a global call for biodiversity preservation has been the main challenge to Tanzanians and their forests. Thaddeus Sunseri uses the lens of forest history to explore some of the most profound transformations in Tanzania from the nineteenth century to the present.
He explores anticolonial rebellions, the world wars, the depression, the Cold War, oil shocks, and nationalism through their intersections with and impacts on Tanzania's coastal forests and woodlands.
In Wielding the Ax, forest history becomes a microcosm of the origins, nature, and demise of colonial rule in East Africa and of the first fitful decades of independence. Wielding the Ax is a story of changing constellations of power over forests, beginning with African chiefs and forest spirits, both known as "ax-wielders," and ending with international conservation experts who wield scientific knowledge as a means to controlling forest access.
The modern international concern over tropical deforestation cannot be understood without an awareness of the long-term history of these forest struggles.