Translocal chronotopes - material culture and the configuring of time and space in the Niger Delta
Julia Binter (Ethnologisches Museum Berlin)
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks at the ways in which people and things configure time and space within shifting political and economic contexts. It takes the heritage practices of people in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, and their long history of transatlantic relations as a case study.
Paper long abstract:
How do people and things configure time and space within continuously shifting political and economic contexts? This paper seeks to answer this question by looking at a case study from the Niger Delta, Nigeria, where people have been engaging in transatlantic trade relations for centuries, first in the trade in enslaved people, later, in the nineteenth century, in palm oil and today in crude oil. Before and during colonisation, material culture played a key role in shaping these relations and forging the lifestyles of the coastal trading elites. Particularly gifts by European trading partners, such as personalised hats and staffs, testified to the international reach and long-term commercial ties of the African merchants. Such gifts, thus, materialised a particular translocal chronotope of Atlantic Africa's globalising commerce. Today, these gifts are considered highly valued heirlooms and are used in performative and ritual contexts to relate to the past, stake claims in the present and imagine possible futures. This paper looks at three different modes of connecting and reconfiguring time-spaces: the wearing and displaying of heirlooms and, thus, family history and wealth, during public festivities; the use of heirlooms in the context of traditional marriages, in which they foster a co-presence between the living and the dead; and the transformation of heirlooms into theatre props during historical re-enactments on stage. Even though the resulting chronotopes differ considerably from each other, they all speak back and shape the politicisation of heritage in the current political economy of oil.