EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W001)

Anthropology, history and memory in Sub-Saharan Africa (Africanist network) - Michel Izard Memorial Workshop (EN)

Location V407
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies) email
Petr Skalník (University of Hradec Králové) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The workshop explores the relations between histor(ies), memor(ies) and anthropological research, contexts in which individual and collective memories inform(ed) local and national politics and changing modalities of historical consciousness in globally connected African knowledge societies.

Long Abstract

The workshop proposes to shed new light on a classical theme in the anthropology of Africa: the manifold relations between histor(ies), memor(ies) and anthropological research both from 'historicist' and 'presentist' perspectives.

We propose to look on the one hand at the ways in which ethnographic sources may contribute to a better understanding of social and political processes of the past (influences of historical memory on processes of nation-building, with regard to memories of the colonial and early post-colonial periods; relations between pre-colonial polities on contemporary states' territories) and discuss related methodological problems, e.g. in the study of oral tradition, narratives, rituals, art and their potentials and limits to enlighten the reconstruction of historical events and structural changes. We also have to take into account the multiple presentations of history and memory in contemporary literary cultures both by professional and amateur writers and historians, productions of the growing field of mass - and new media, and the expanding local film industries.

On the other hand papers may deal with problems of interest-related historiography, i.e. contexts in which individual and collective memories inform(ed) local and national politics; e.g. the (ab)use of historical memories by both protagonists of colonialism and national-liberation movements; means of state propaganda by postcolonial regimes; movements of ethnic revival; disputes about "correct" interpretations of "historical traditions" between opposing power groups (e.g. in national election campaigns, or local succession rituals); popular culture etc. Finally, papers may address changing modalities of historical consciousness in globally connected African knowledge societies.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

From hostility to hospitality and other national and identity creations in post-colonial Mauritania

Author: Joana Lucas (CRIA / FCSH-UNL)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Starting from a ongoing research to complete a PhD in Anthropology, this paper proposes to analyze the way in which colonial documents (historical and literary) have contributed to the national and identity construction of post-colonial Mauritania, with special emphasis in the touristic arena where a marketable image is to be constructed.

Long Abstract

In this paper we will try to explore the way through which travel narratives and reports on colonial reconnaissance and mapping have contributed in an unequivocal way to the identity and national construction in post independence Mauritania context. More specifically, our research will focus on the way those national and identity representations, present in pre colonial and colonial literature, are being used by the recent touristic industry in the country to promote Mauritania among potential European tourists.

For that purpose we will use an analytic corpus composed by travel narratives produced between 1789 and 1888, and reports of colonial reconnaissance/mapping missions written between 1890 and 1934 (official date for the "complete" pacification of Mauritania). These texts are rich in descriptions on autochthonous population and also about the country, where considerations related with the temperament and nature of the "Moors", as well as with the geographical adversities combined with the fascination provoked by the exoticism of the local landscapes, will shape the self-representations that this populations will produce about themselves and about their own country in a post independence scenario.

In what the tourism is concerned, we are interested in understanding in which ways the pre colonial and colonial historiography was used to reify images and stereotypes about "Moorish" populations, transforming their initial hostility into a "proverbial" hospitality. At the same time, we are interested also in understanding how was the positive transformation of Mauritanian geography operated through the social construction of the desert as an authentic, pacifying and quasi religious landscape.

Mining and social memories in Sierra Leone

Author: Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In Sierra Leone mining landscapes are places of great political contest. By comparing two ethnographic cases this paper argues that these landscapes can be analyzed as forms of social memory that point to a specific history of violence, terror and uncertainties.

Long Abstract

In Sierra Leone, the environmental and economic impacts of mining is a source of great concern for local communities. Through the usual weapons of the weak (e.g. sabotages, thefts, rumors) and the idiom of the occult, the population expresses dissatisfaction with a modernity which has always been promised by national rulers but never achieved.

By comparing two ethnographic cases this paper argues that mining landscapes are places of great political contest at local and national level. In the first case I will show how the complex interplay of negotiations between diamond miners and inhabitants of mining areas can be mediated by the presence of spiritual beings locally named debul. In the second case I will explore the ways in which the inhabitants of a mining region interpreted in terms of occult some unexpected and mysterious events occurred to a large-scale rutile mining company.

For both cases, I suggest that mining landscapes are never neutral sites. They embody past experiences which simultaneously connect and dis-connect places and people. From an anthropological perspective, occult mining narratives can be analyzed as forms of social memory that point to a history of violence, terror and uncertainties that are inscribed in the landscape and dwelling practices. The basic idea of this paper is that the local discourses on the occult are not just ways to make sense of the uncertainties and anxieties of a globalized modernity, but, above all, highly politicized practices.

Political anthropology of history: the case of Nanun, Northern Ghana

Author: Petr Skalník (University of Hradec Králové)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

History in Africa is largely anthropological, i.e. based on ethnography and oral traditions. But increasingly the written/published texts compete with first hand testimonies. In effect, interest groups and individual people re-interpret, re-construct or directly falsify the past by using references to the published material irrespective of its merit. Thus the Nanumba of the chiefdom of Nanuŋ construct their pre-colonial independence even though the tiny Nanuŋ was hardly fully independent, while the Konkomba who are 20th century settlers in Nanuŋ argue that they were autochthons there.

Long Abstract

History in Africa is largely anthropological, i.e. based on ethnography and oral traditions. But increasingly the written/published texts compete with first hand testimonies. In effect, interest groups and individual people re-interpret, re-construct or directly falsify the past by using references to the published material irrespective of its merit. Thus the Nanumba of the chiefdom of Nanuŋ construct their pre-colonial independence even though the tiny Nanuŋ was hardly fully independent, while the Konkomba who are 20th century settlers in Nanuŋ argue that they were autochthons there. The contests between different versions of history take place among the educated ethnic elites. The ordinary subjects/citizens do not necessarily share the competing opinions of the elites. They may continue to adhere to the non-ideologized oral traditions or, in dependence on proximity to the elites, repeat uncritically the politically correct version of their (ethno-)history. The paper will address these problems in greater detail and draw some parallels from recent variety of interpretations of early political centralization processes in Central Europe.

The time warp: the formation of Eritrean identities

Author: Anna Arnone (SOAS)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on Eritrean narratives and practices of identity among the diaspora in Milan during the liberation movement and after independence. It looks at how memories may inform both about the past and about the present balances and power dynamics.

Long Abstract

The Eritrean national identity is a very interesting case to understand changing collective memories and diasporic consciousness. Among the Eritrean diaspora living in Milan, the former supporters of the EPLF have pictured a very neat image of the subjects of history. Written and oral narratives of the golden past of the exile Eritrean community and present political situation in Eritrea are so strongly that built to allow an analysis of the process of nation building during the liberation struggle and after. The intellectual and political discourses drastically changed in the last decade but seek a thread of continuation from the past to the present. The material used sprung from the data collected during the 2003 festival in Milan and gathered around the topic of the former festival of Bologna. The difference between the participatory sphere of the festival during the liberation war and the commemoration event of the post-war editions of the festival cast special interest on the recent production of great-subjects of history and of a specific power over memory by the present political elite in the diaspora and in Eritrea. This presentation analyses a case-study where history is seen from today. It shows the developments and shifts in self-definitions which include redefinitions of who the enemies and allies may become depending on the temporal and spatial point of view. The use of memories by the diaspora needs to be looked at to understand the global dimension of African identities.

Processing the past through religious representations: the prophecy of the genocide as an alternative to Rwandan official memory

Author: Emilie Brebant (ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

From a transnational point of view, this paper aims to discuss the relationships between a vernacular understanding of the Rwandan recent past that implies the fulfilment of a prophecy and the official memory of the genocide, expressed in time and space by commemorating ceremonies and memorials.

Long Abstract

It is today widely accepted amongst Rwandan Catholics that the Virgin Mary appeared in the country from the beginning of the eighties to warn her people about the civil war and the genocide to come. According to that specific set of religious representations, Rwandan recent past is understood as the course of a unique fate resulting from the lack of regard for the divine message. Therefore, each Rwandan, regardless of the ethnic group he belonged to before 1994, is guilty for not going through a genuine conversion after the warning of 1982. Nevertheless, he is also a victim, since "even the killers are traumatized by their own actions". That generalizing vernacular notion of the national past faces the official memory of the genocide, expressed in time and space by annual commemorating ceremonies and numerous memorials throughout the country, and resting on a specific view of the pre-colonial, colonial and early post-colonial time. Scholars such as Vidal and Segelin have shown how that official memory is politically oriented and perpetuates violence by mobilizing private grieves for national purposes and instituting a hierarchy amongst victims. By focalizing on notions such as nation building and post-conflictual reconstruction, this paper aims to discuss the polymorphic relationships between these two modalities of historical consciousness, and the methodological problems related to that issue. It will do so from a transnational point of view, building on the result of several years of fieldwork in Rwanda and in the Rwandan Diaspora in Belgium.

The use and abuse of historical memory in nation-building: Tanzanian and Zambian university students' attitude to the colonialism-born minorities

Author: Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Zambian students are more tolerant first of all because of the existence since precolonial time of the Swahili culture in Tanzania and lack of such a background for national unity in Zambia. Besides, the memory of this is consciously used and abused by governments for the sake of nation-building.

Long Abstract

The evidence shows that Tanzanian and Zambian university students representing the African by origin overwhelming majority of the countries' population are largely tolerant towards their compatriots of the European and South Asian origins whose presence in these states is a legacy of the colonial past. However, the evidence also gives reason to argue that, on the one hand, in both countries the perception of Europeans is better than of Indians and, on the other hand, the level of tolerance among Zambian students is higher than among Tanzanian. The aim of the paper is to find out why it is so; most attention is paid to the second, previously undiscovered (as to the papergiver's knowledge) phenomenon. The papergiver examines a number of factors that supposedly could lead to the Zambian educated youth's higher level of tolerance and arrive at the conclusion that the most significant among them is the existence since pre-colonial time of the Swahili culture and language at minimal number of expansionist centralized polities on the contemporary state's territory as the background for autochthonous peoples' unity in Tanzania and lack of such a background till colonial period in Zambia. The ways the memory of these facts, as well as its use, abuse, exploitation, and dissection in the two states governments' ideologies and practices shapes the difference in estimation of the colonial past by the students and, through it, their vision of the present-day nations and the inclusion in, or exclusion from, them of the colonialism-born non-African minorities, are discussed.

The election of a chief in the mid-Zambezi Valley and the challenges of oral histories

Author: Olga Sicilia (University of Vienna)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper aims to analyze a contemporary chief election in Northern Zimbabwe showing how the different layers of history and "traditional" histories informing about this political practice interrelate but were also contested throughout the succession dispute and final election

Long Abstract

The present paper will discuss the ritual election of a chief (the first post-Independence election in this chieftaincy) in the mid-Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe, that took place in 2006. During the succession dispute different social actors (mainly lineage ancestors through their mediums, the descendants of the two eligible houses and local authorities at the district level) made use of the history and "traditional" histories in different ways.

Based on the author´s fieldwork, the purpose of this paper is twofold. First, to look at this case beyond a presentist gaze by showing how histories related to a precolonial past (such as those referred in myths about ancient chiefs and warlords who conquered the area, as well as genealogies of the "owners of the land" in this chieftaincy) were actualized and reframed in ritual context throughout the succession dispute and final election of the chief. During the same period some factions of the chiefly lineage "appropriated" oral histories about this lineage collected by colonial administrators in the 1950s (available at the National Archives of Zimbabwe) to legitimize by these means their position as eligible throughout the process of the election. The second aim, linked to the first one, is to attempt to historicise these practices by relating different layers of history and "traditional" histories as narrated by local actors.

This case study wil also reflect on methodologies and on the limits and potentials of oral histories to understand present-day chief successions (and elections) where lineage ancestral politics articulate with local government policies.

Remembering and performing the war: conflicting memories of the liberation struggle (1964-1974) in Mozambique

Author: Ana Margarida Sousa Santos (Durham University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores memories and counter-memories of the liberation struggle (1964-1974) in northern Mozambique, and the ways in which these become locally relevant at times of political and social tension.

Long Abstract

The Mozambican liberation struggle (1964-1974) fought mostly in the province of Cabo Delgado, in Northern Mozambique, left strong memories and became a part of the imagination and the construction of the country. Part of the population of Cabo Delgado joined Frelimo and fought the Portuguese, while others stayed in Portuguese controlled areas, or escaped to Tanzania. The different experiences of the war are alluded to at present and suggest explanations for past and present group dynamics and diverse experiences of/responses to colonialism. It has been more than 35 years since independence with large numbers of the population being too young to remember the liberation struggle. Consequently, recreating the struggle has become an important part of remembering, re-telling and passing on of national and local history to the younger generation. The representation of the past is often appropriated by the state, and has excluded/silenced alternative perspectives and experiences of those who, while living in the province, did not take part in the struggle.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Northern Mozambique, drawing on participant observation of public celebrations and extensive interviews with Makonde veterans (male and female) of the liberation struggle, and with Mwani who lived in Portuguese controlled towns, I will discuss the importance of memory and story telling in the understanding of past. I will also address tensions surrounding questions of belonging linked with claiming or refusing ownership of local histories.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.