Why did Africans bring their most intimate domestic disputes to the newly created native courts in the period after 1905? And what do these disputes tell us about everyday life and social change? To answer these questions, Roberts uses all 2,062 civil disputes heard at the provincial level native courts for four districts between 1905 and 1912. He concludes that changes in social relations occurring at a time of accelerated change associated with colonial conquest and the end of slavery interacted with institutional changes, namely the creation of the new native courts, to produce discernible patterns of litigation. Moreover, these patterns of litigation point to "trouble spots" in African society, thus providing a lens into the most ordinary aspects of daily life.
This book is divided into two parts: following an important theoretical and methodological introduction to the use of the court records as social history, the first three chapters examine the context in which the colonial legal came into being in 1903. The second part examines the evidence generated by court records into the struggles between former slaves and former masters in the immediate aftermath of the end of slavery, the "trouble spots" of marriage and divorce, bridewealth disputes, disputes over new forms of property in a post-slave holding era, and disputes over inheritance. These chapters concentrate on cases brought by women or dealing with women.