Gwembe Tonga Research Project (GTRP)

 A Gwembe Tonga Basket from Chief Sinazongwe's area.

Project Background

The Gwembe Tonga Research Project (GTRP) was initiated in 1956 by anthropologists Elizabeth Colson and Thayer Scudder, as a "before and after" study of the impacts of large scale development, in this case the building of Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, and subsequent flooding of the Middle Zambezi Valley and the relocation of approximately 57,000 Gwembe Tonga People (Colson 1960, 1971; Scudder 1962). In addition to being one of very few longitudinal studies in the social sciences in general, the GTRP is the longest continuing and most systematic long-term study in Africa, and is particularly remarkable in that it has followed a population as it has dispersed beyond the original study sites to urban and frontier destinations (Scudder et al. 1977; Van Kemper et. al.,2002). The study addresses issues endemic throughout Africa and elsewhere in its examination of community and individual continuity and change.

Over the past sixty years, members of the GTRP have examined topics as far ranging as social and cultural repercussions of large-scale development (Colson 1960, 1967, 1971, 1987; Scudder 1966, 1981, 1993) local entrepreneurship and economic development (Colson 1985; Scudder 1960, 1972a, 1972b), indigenous religion (Colson 1966, 1969, 1970, 1977, 2000), political change (Colson 1976, 1995, 1996) gender and development (Colson 1999), ecology and environmental change (Scudder 1962, 1972a, 1972b; Petit et al. 2001), agriculture and natural resource use (Unruh et al 2005; Cliggett 2001a, 2001b, 2002b; Colson 1963, 1979; Scudder 1969, 1971, 1983, 1984), the role of education in social change (Scudder et al. 1980), growth and development (Crooks et al 2007; Gillett et al. 2001) and demographic change (Clark et al. 1995, 2001). Colson and Scudder's field notes and data from the past sixty years, held in their private collections, continue to offer a profound resource for current research in the region.

For an active list of publications related to the Gwembe Tonga people, see:

As one of "the next generation" of researchers managing the GTRP, I  increasingly shape the direction of the multidisciplinary project (Cliggett 2002, Scudder et al. 2002). With the recent trend in migration from the Gwembe Valley to the neighboring plateau frontier tied directly to the legacy of forced relocation and subsequent ecological degradation and economic decline (Cliggett et al 2007; Cliggett 2003, 2001; Petit et al. 2001; Scudder 1983, 1984), the GTRP has given increasing attention to the migration process (Cliggett et all 2007; Cliggett & Crooks 2007; Cliggett 2005, 2003, 2000; Scudder et al. 1991).

The wealth of GTRP data provides a foundation for a vast array of potential research projects, and informs the overall study of cultural continuity and change in Southern Zambia and Southern Africa more generally. The research project offers findings relevant to theoretical and academic discussions in the social sciences, but also influences policy not just for Zambia, but for Africa and other regions in the developing world.


With NSF Funding (BCS # 2257418) I am working on building an integrated ethnographic archive, through which interested scholars and community members may access GTRP data (with relevant restrictions to ensure protection of research populations). Information about the archive and the data itself will be made available via the following link:


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