EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P046)
Knowledge(s) of the past, present and future in a changing Africa [Africanists Network]
Location U6-25
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • David O'Kane (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
  • Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Africa may be 'rising', but its diverse trajectories remain highly debatable. This panel presents empirical and theoretical papers dealing with the ways in which Africa's peoples produce knowledge of the past, present and future, in order to ensure their present and future security.

Long Abstract

Contemporary African communities remain faced with the problem of securing their human futures in the context of legacies of the past and challenges of the present. In spite of hyperbolic conceptions of an 'Africa Rising' towards a new condition of economic growth and social betterment, the wider reality in the continent remains one in which persistent problems of poverty, structural underdevelopment, environmental problems and political instability combine to create a state of uncertainty and unpredictability where the future (short-term or long-term) is concerned. In facing the challenges of a volatile present and unpredictable future, Africa's peoples employ a number of cultural and social tools. Older social and cultural forms, such as kinship systems, or newer forms such as the (allegedly) emerging new African middle classes, are both oriented towards the problem of ensuring personal and collective security in the future. This is true in cases of directly economic and political phenomena, and also in those that might seem to be only indirectly concerned with such phenomena. We welcome papers in the areas of kinship, power, economy, environment, work, and other areas which deal with the problems associated with securing human futures in Africa, and which deal with those problems by grasping cases of the production and organization of knowledge about the past, present and future in diverse African contexts. In addition to more empirically-oriented papers, the panel will also include those which deal with these questions from a broader theoretical perspective.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Knowledge of the past as social capital: securing African migrants' present and future in the USA

Author: Dmitri Bondarenko (Institute for African Studies)  email

Short Abstract

In struggling for enhanced social status, African immigrants to the US strive to distinguish themselves from African-Americans, who, as a community, struggle with low social status. In doing so, the immigrants use cultural capital derived from historically distinct identities. RFH grant 14-01-00070.

Long Abstract

African immigrants in the USA strive for enhanced social status. This is complicated by their frequent identification with the African-American community, which suffers from low social status and racialized stigma. In the immigrants' attempts to distinguish themselves from the African-American community, cultural differences are emphasized. These differences serve African immigrants as proof of their membership in a different community, and a positive estimation of their own culture, distinct from African-American, supports their claims for elevated social status. The Africans see the history of black people in and outside Africa as a source of their cultural distinction from, and superiority over, African-Americans. Basing on field evidence, we discuss how Africans in America capitalize on the history of Africa - how their knowledge of the past helps them secure their future. Africans stress that, as they are not descendants of slaves, they do not have a "slave mentality". They take pride in being natives of independent states, their relationship with them are strong, while African-Americans' origins are unknown. Africans frequently argue that the history of African-Americans began with the slave trade, and that they did not inherit the greatness of African civilizations. Most interviewed Africans believe that if there is any "black history" at all, it is nothing more than the global history of common sufferings of black people at the hands of whites. African migrants employ their knowledge of history not only to claim decent social status, but also to support their sense of dignity and self-identity. RFH grant 14-01-00070.

Sixty years after: local engagements and appropriations of the Cokwe 'folk music collections' made by Dundu museum in Angola, 1950 decade

Author: Cristina Sá Valentim (Centre for Social Studies, Faculty of Economics, Coimbra University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper concerns the contemporary production of knowledge and meaning upon the Cokwe songs recorded by Dundo Museum in the northeast of Angola during the 1950s.

Long Abstract

During the 1950 and 1960 decades, the Dundo Museum developed the 'Mission of Folk Music Collecting of Angola', and recorded more than fifteen hundred songs. This museum was created and held by Diamang, the former Diamonds Company of Angola, established in Lunda from 1917 until Angolan independence in 1975. During 2014 I did fieldwork in the Angolan northeast, and I took with me some of those songs and photographs from the Diamang digital archive (www.diamangdigital.net). My aim was to reactivate colonial memories to think about the colonial relations between sound collections, music and power. Although some of those songs continuing to be performed in ritual situations, they are today no longer performed in a spontaneous way. But Angolan people easily remember colonial past experiences and the political meanings of colonial times precisely through these songs. Thus, the local processes of re-appropriating of those colonial collections of 78 rpm recordings occur through different kind of meanings and memories from the colonial times, in diverse places, and by different agents: by local radio programs, by traditional music bands/groups from Lunda, by Angolan cultural elites together with the Regional Dundo Museum. I problematize those different uses of colonial music collections as contemporary tools of participation in a exercise of value attribution, one that reveals colonial knowledge and memories as diverse and heterogeneous, and which are a form of cultural and political empowerment in order to secure postcolonial futures.

amaXhosa Maradona: negotiating past, present and future through soccer in a South African township

Author: Tarminder Kaur (University of the Free State)  email

Short Abstract

In telling the life story of a young African soccer player, this paper reflects on the interactions between: the contemporary and the historical; the social and the political; the personal and the structural; and all the diverse meanings and processes soccer takes on in a South African township.

Long Abstract

Sixteen year old Abongile Elton Qobisa, better known as 'Maradona', played as a striker for the Rawsonville Gunners Football Club, in a small rural township of Rawsonville, in the Western Cape. His becoming the 'Maradona' of Rawsonville, his aspirations and talent, and the circumstances within which he negotiates soccer - all illuminates a section of social text as it unfolds for a "black" youth in post-apartheid South Africa. Despite the centrality of soccer in the social life of rapidly urbanising African population in the early years of colonial South Africa, the contemporary discourses portray soccer as an innovative tool for "development" and socialization of youth living in structurally constrained conditions. In these discourses and practices, and the particular ways in which they conceptualise the past, present and future of township youth, Maradona's life is largely unintelligible. In presenting a biographical account of amaXhosa Maradona's life, I draw attention to the confused, contradictory and complicated within the processes of social and structural meaning-making, within embedded histories, and in the politics of everyday in which soccer affects and is affected by all those who pursue it.

Knowledge, power and land transformations in Northeast Madagascar

Author: Jenni Mölkänen (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

The paper looks at the ways in which different people, environmental conservationists, state agents and rice and vanilla cultivators use, acquire and maintain knowledge in Northeast Madagascar. The paper explores different systems of knowledge in the production of sustainable futures in Madagascar.

Long Abstract

Madagascar is a "hot spot" for environmental conservation with 90 % of flora and 80 % of fauna being endemic. It is also world's biggest vanilla producer, producing 50-80 % of the world's consumed vanilla. In 2013 following the guidelines of the UN and IUCN to protect 10% of every country's major biomes (see the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity targets), Madagascar met this target. At the same time, World Bank and IMF argued that more than half of Madagascar's land could be potentially used for expansion of cultivated area to secure food production for country's population, 70% of which gain their subsistence from the land. These land transforming processes are informed by scientific and expert knowledge based on certain power relations, institutions and practices and on the concern for sustainable life.

However, among the rice and vanilla cultivators living in the vicinity of the Marojejy National Park in Northeast Madagascar, the relationship to land and environment is intimate and continuity of life depends on the blessings of the ancestors and elders and relationships, especially to kin. Maintaining these relationships requires knowledge that is acquired through observations, experience, experimentation and continuous speculations. This is how cultivators approach new technologies, such as intensive irrigated rice cultivation, tha thas been introduced bythe state, trans-national NGOs and multilateral institutions, but has not replaced swidden hillrice cultivation system and . The aim of the paper is to explore different systems of knowledge within processes aiming to produce sustainable futures.

Property relations in peri-urban Ghana: the local face of global processes

Author: Raluca Pernes (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at property relations in a peri-urban Ghanaian context that provides a window into the links between local mechanisms such as legal pluralism and the valorization of tradition on the one hand, and global processes of land commoditization and accumulation on the other hand.

Long Abstract

Most discussions about property relations in West Africa focus on the complexity of making claims over lands within competing normative orders, as is the case in countries that have maintained legally plural regimes since independence. From this standpoint, it looks as if the context is really specific: land struggles, constantly on the agenda over the last few decades, are fuelled by customary law and statutory law functioning in parallel. This paper aims to show that the aforementioned approach risks losing sight of the fact that the recent intensification of land struggles takes place in a context mainly moulded by processes that are equally relevant at a global scale: the continuing concentration of populations in urban areas, international migration and the impact of remittances, the massive commodification of lands, and the firm absorption of the global south in global production and consumption networks. The idea of autochthony and the fetishization of tradition - which, in the aftermath of the failure of structural adjustment programmes, has re-entered the good graces of most, including the international financial institutions - are central for the discussion about land rights in the West African space. However, in actual practice they become modes of repacking and legitimizing power relations and structures of inequality that are far from being context-specific.

I illustrate these mechanisms by looking at the case of the periurban location in the South of Ghana.

Bridewealth past and present

Author: Diana Diaz Delgado Raitala (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)  email

Short Abstract

'The one who pays the cows owns the women' - Jane, a Luo woman in Oyugis, Kenya.

The practice of bridewealth has many dimensions, which are traditionally rooted in Kenyan ethnic communities vividly reflecting the past but also a future difficult to change.

Long Abstract

Bridewealth is still practised among ethnic groups in Kenya such as the Luo, Maasai, Kikuyu and Kalenjin. I conducted ethnographic research between 2012 and 2015 among those ethnic groups using a methodology was based on open-ended questionnaires and narrative analysis; the total number of participants was 29. Some of my findings are: this practice has been the symbol of marriage since ancient times as it was practised before the colonial period, i.e. before 1864; it depicts asymmetric power relations between husband and wives, placing wives at a great disadvantage; it is one of the main basis of kinship relations since the practice connects, through its payment, the ethnic groups of husband and wives; one of the functions of this practice is biological reproduction, as children are responsible for the well-being of parents in a social context of poverty where basic needs are not met by the state. Additionally, any failure to produce offspring is often believed to be the fault of the wife, for this reason, her husband is entitled to obtain another wife who is able to conceive children for him and his ethnic group, and the wife who is believed to be infertile may be returned to her natal family; in a context of economic deficiency, as Kenya is a poor country, a wife is compelled to be submissive to physical violence as she should not leave her husband because he has the right to ask her father for the refund of bridewealth.

'Native magic' and 'wicked' problems: spirituality, traditional Yoruba weaving, and reality

Author: Eni Bankole-Race  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the 'native magic' (cultural beliefs) which govern traditional Aso-oke weaving also contribute to its stagnation and attenuated demise by impeding the addressing of any wicked problems.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how the 'native magic' (cultural beliefs) which govern traditional Aso-oke weaving also contribute to its stagnation and attenuated demise, by impeding the solution of 'wicked' problems (defined here as social or cultural problems that are difficult or impossible to solve). As Nigeria moves on from traditional development to a technological one, her inhabitants are beset by multidimensional problems. Sociocultural attainments in education from the western world have both improved and also imperilled the country's know-how. A new introverted attitude coupled with an analytical extroverted synthesis might benefit the country at this particular point in time (Edwards, in 1950, foresaw a transition to mechanized weaving in Nigeria, one which could build on the legacy of skills built up by traditional weavers). However, the conflicting demands between the imperatives of tradition and the exigencies of the 'wicked' problems peculiar to their particular situation renders impotent any attempts to address such problems.

This paper, finally, also examines why this potential for translation beyond rustic cottage craft has not manifested, and the role that cultural requirements and beliefs play in the interface between modernity and 'wicked' problems.

Pre-Islamic and pre-Christian beliefs in Sub-Saharan Africa: impact on social and political institutions

Author: Oleg Kavykin (Institute for African Studies)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, we discuss the ways in which autochthonous beliefs and social, political institutions interact in post-colonial Africa, from the standpoint of the possible role of knowledge in shaping social life in the African countries now and in the future.

Long Abstract

In this paper, we discuss the ways in which autochthonous beliefs and social, political institutions interact in post-colonial Africa. We look at Africa's pre-colonial and colonial past as a substantial background for it's current socio-political situation. In particular, we discuss the situation in Liberia, Tanzania, and Zambia. We focus on the impact of autochthonous beliefs on, and their functions in the systems of modern social institutions, their adaptation to post-colonial society and state, as well as on the emergence of new phenomena related to these beliefs. We discuss them from the standpoint of the possible role of knowledge in shaping social life in the African countries now and in the future. In particular, an important problem is the relationship between knowledge and beliefs in comprehension of the power of traditional rulers. Another instance is a big number of cases of witchcraft accusations in many African countries, which also raises the question of the place of knowledge in Africans' social life today.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.