Accepted paper:

Place where people get finished


Amiel Bize (Universität Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

Describing a Kenyan village called “place where people get finished” (Shimalabandu)—named by the frequent accidents that take place along the road—this paper considers how place can be made from its ‘opposites’: movement and accident, as well as the role of infrastructure in creating landscape.

Paper long abstract:

In Kenya's Western Province, along the Kakamega-Webuye road, there is a stop called Shimalabandu, meaning "place that finishes people." According to residents, it got this name in the 1950s after a van veered off the road and killed several people. Since the road was paved in the early 1970s, the number of accidents has increased, making death and development a tightly intertwined pair; even as residents celebrate the road which they say has "enlightened" their community, many of the household farms (bomas) at Shimalbandu have lost a family member to the road. Few now remember the previous name, Ichina ("stones").

This paper explores the sense of place as created through what one might consider place's opposites: movement and accident. Shimalabandu is defined by the road that passes through—its place-ness is constructed by the constant through-traffic of those coming from and going to elsewhere—and by the recurrence of the accident. Movement and accidental violence together thus create a sense of place in which the past is constantly drawn into the present, and where outsider and insider collide, quite literally. These are congealed into place through an act of naming and through narratives that draw on different cosmologies to link the originary bloodshed to the recurrence of accidents.

Drawing on Adeline Masquelier's (2002) discussion of the role of roads in historical memory, this paper will consider not only the relationship of place and language (Basso 1996) but also the impact of large-scale "modern" infrastructure on physical and imagined landscape.

panel P121
Spirit of place