MARKET TOURS, PEDDLER RECEIPTS AND THE SHOPKEEPER GRAPE VINE: AN IMPORT WHOLESALER’S ATTEMPTS TO GAUGE RURAL, AFRICAN CONSUMER DEMAND IN EARLY COLONIAL NORTHWESTERN TANZANIA

  • Laird Jones

Abstract

This paper examines how early colonial, town-based wholesalers discerned rural African consumer tastes and measured demand for imported goods by focusing on the experience of the O’Swald Mwanza branch from 1906 through 1916. Like many metropolitan firms, O’Swald had extensive experience in the earlier caravan trade. Thus, several decades later, its representatives arrived in Mwanza expecting that import sales would still conform to the tastes of elite caravan era consumers. With the extension of steam transport into the interior and the onset of an early colonial “Cash Crop Revolution,” however, many more rural cultivators and herdspeople than ever before had the means to acquire imports, and these new consumers proved far more fickle with regard to brand, style and novelty than firms like O’Swald had anticipated. They no longer accepted some caravan era favorites, and desired others in increasing variety. Thus, in order to stay on top of what the firm only slowly came to understand as an emerging mass market, the O’Swald men spied on their competition, engaged in brand name advertising, interrogated shopkeepers and peddlers, and increasingly market-tested new products.