Accepted Paper:

has pdf download Chapters in the life of the ancestors: a reflection on heritage and religion from Africa  


Peter Pels (Leiden University)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper reflects on South Africa's Freedom Park to see both how postcolonial musealization and heritagization departed from the secularism of colonial exemplars, and to criticize what surreptitiously remains of it.

Paper long abstract:

The European models of museums and heritage that seem to have dominated the global scene since the nineteenth century have usually relegated religion to the past: to a sphere of tradition that was no longer relevant for a modern secular future. However, the North Atlantic dichotomy between the religious and the secular never applied to African countries in exactly the same way that it did in Europe or North America. I use a detailed critical reflection on aspects of South Africa's Freedom Park and its curation to discuss both the novelty and the potential pitfalls of recognizing such friction between the globalization of a nation-state model based on secularism, and the actual results of the "Rainbow Nation" attempt to reinvent nits own past after the abolition of Apartheid. The transition from the anthropological category of "ancestor worship" to the spirituality now labeled as "indigenous knowledge" plays a central role in these reflections: on the one hand, it generates a different, less secularized engagement with the past as compared to previous nation-states' cultural politics - something that, indeed, invites serious consideration in what has been called an "Age of Restitution". On the other, it thereby potentially contaminates the "indigenous" - and therefore also things "given back"- with global influences that raise the question whose futures are being installed here as models to emulate.

Panel B09
Decolonizing African heritage inside and outside the African continent [initiated by the University of Mainz, with Leiden University/Anthropology, University of Rwanda]