Accepted Paper:

The power of the water and the enticement of the money economy: competing knowledge practices between Fulani fishermen and other castes in the Senegal river basin  


Sarah O'Neill (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper short abstract:

to follow

Paper long abstract:

The Subalbe are the masters of the river. They are known to be the proprietors of the knowledge of the water and in close contact with its spirits. Some Jaltaabe (experienced fisherman) are locally known to be so powerful that they can make a Fulbe herder and his cattle return back through the river through their magical ‘knowledge’ of the water if the herder has not asked for permission to cross. Every caste is said to own the knowledge of their domain that other groups do not have access to and this helps them exercise power over elements that all local groups depend on. Although Fulbe herders, Ceddo warriors and Toroobe clerics are higher status castes, the Sublalbe’s ability to ‘control’ the river has somewhat equalised power relations between these groups.

The growing prevalence of state school education, however, has impacted upon how traditional knowledge practices are valued and how they grant authority and power. Whereas in the past, a person adept in spiritual knowledge practices was highly regarded and respected, youngsters following Western education consider this knowledge superfluous. Political influence, power and social mobility are now achieved through one’s ability to engage with the statutory structures and the demands of a globalising society. This paper explores changing power relations between castes and how the Subalbe re-evaluate their ‘knowledge of the water’ through education and their transforming perceptions of how wealth, success and recognition should be achieved.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance