Recipes for Disaster: Cookery Books and the Management of Intimacy in Colonial Kenyan Settler Homes 1919–1944

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This article examines two household guides produced by and for settler housewives in colonial Kenya. The article argues that these texts were part of a larger discursive project which emphasised the necessity of maintaining social and affective distance between white women and the African men who worked as domestic servants in colonial homes. Importantly, this distance was viewed as necessary to maintaining the sexual wellbeing of the colony, since both officials and settlers suggested that white women were to blame for cases of interracial rape in the colony. This discourse held that white women inculcated sexual desires in their servants by behaving towards them with excessive intimacy. This article focuses especially on ‘KiSetla’, the dialect of KiSwahili used in Kenyan settler homes. As a language native neither to mistress nor servant, KiSetla was predestined to produce daily confusion between white women and their African male employees. Yet, this was precisely the point – the production of quotidian hostilities helped diffuse anxieties about cross-racial and gendered contact. This article positions household guides as disciplinary texts which sought to manage the intimacies of the colonial home through scripting affective distance between white mistresses and African servants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-527
Number of pages17
JournalGender and History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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