- Series F: Indigenous Knowledge and Religion
- GR 276
- Start time:
- 12 September, 2008 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
- Session slots:
Author:Seraphin Kamdem (SOAS, University of London)
Paper long abstract:
Social structures and organised groups interact and control themselves through power relations. These power relations are built around certain hegemonies ranging from cultural, to political and economic hegemonies. The colonial experience has not only demised local cultures in African but redistributed the symbolic capitals of most social values and activities. In this complex picture, linguistic identities and practices are consequentially conditioned by external agents and powers. And the post-colonial African societies have had to adjust their social vision and activities to fit in an international agenda dictated by external instances acting through their local hegemonic constituencies. The school education structures, the public communications and media, the ‘modern’ systems of values are all sustained by these agendas rooted in the power of European languages and heritages.
Yet some grassroots communities are struggling on a daily basis to restore a different picture of themselves and their values. Not with any military weapons but linguistic tools: local languages. Such is the case with the Kom community. Kom is a Grassfields Bantu language spoken in the North-West province of Cameroon. The vibrancy and perseverance of local literacy activities in that language epitomizes these struggles against some hegemonies established since colonial times.
Based on an ethnographic approach and using ethnographic data collection techniques, this paper examines on the one hand the Kom contemporary system of values and cultural determinations, looking briefly at the holes and clash created in their cultural tapestry by the colonial encounter and heritage. On the other hand, the author analyses the vibrancy and perseverance of local literacy activities in Kom, looking at how the local literacy programme is a tool to re-establish slowly but determinedly a new system of values whereby the current exclusive hegemonies of colonial languages and cultural globalisation are challenged.
Author:Eva Sebestyen (University of Porto)
Paper long abstract:
Between 1986 and 1988 the present author, the Hungarian anthropologist Eva Sebestyen, came upon collections of manuscripts in the possession of territorial and village chiefs close to Dembos and Samba Cajú, located in today’s Bengo and Kwanza Norte provinces in Angola.
The village chiefs used a generic term for their collections, calling them ‘cartórios’ (archives). In Dembos district each village has one cartório, but in Samba Cajú a distinction is made between ‘cartório do trono’ (village chief’s archive) and cartório de muiji (lineage archive), the latter referring to the manuscript collection of the first, conquering lineage. These two types of ‘archives’ were once preserved separately, but in the course of 20th century political turmoil, colonial and civil wars, many lineage archives were burnt and the rest absorbed within chiefly archives. Following the submission of original manuscripts, the Portuguese administration returned some, but not all, and mainly copies rather than originals. These returned documents were then not separated into chiefly and lineage archives.
The entire corpus of 234 writings is divided in three parts. Firstly there is the handwritten legacy of the two villages, Caculo Cangola and Quimbamba within Dembos district. Secondly it contains a collection of typed copies of historical documents from the 18th to 20th centuries made by the Portuguese colonial administration. Thirdly are the handwritten copies of their own historical writings from villages of Samba Cajú district. The written recording of land boundaries, legacies, debts and trade transactions emerged at much the same time as the statistical survey of the Portuguese administration during the second half of the 18th century. The vastly more numerous colonial documents written about Angola present the Portuguese point of view. The significance of the corpus presented here lies in the fact that it reflects the Mbundu view of their own world. The chiefs made their declarations in their own, Kimbundu language; these were then translated by local scribes into Portuguese, and written down. Therefore each of these documents represents a village chief’s views, needs and preoccupations at a given moment.
This paper accompanying the systematic thematic presentation of the documents, deals with the phenomenon of cultural interchange manifested within the corpus itself. The interaction that developed between the representatives of Portuguese and Mbundu administrations was characterised by the use of writing by illiterate communities, the double face of land ownership (collective, lineage-based, and, from the 18th century, individual) and the to and fro of cultural influences between the Mbundu power system and the colonial administration. Portuguese cultural influence reached the Mbundu aristocracy directly through these officers, who clearly saw the advantages of keeping records in writing, especially when these could be used to elicit support from the colonial administration. These writings manage to preserve the essential form and contents of oral tradition, while adopting formal structures borrowed from the Portuguese administration. In view of their mnemonic and legitimising character these collections can be considered embryonic archives.
Author:Jonathan Mzathu Ncozana (University of Fort Hare)
Paper long abstract:
The involvement of traditional healers in educational campaigns, which focus on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, have already been recognised by medical ethnomusicology. As Gregory Barz mentioned in his book Singing for Life: HIV/AIDS in Uganda (Published in 2006), traditional healers co-operate in some cases with Western medical staff and even function as intermediaries between Western medicine and the people of rural villages.
In South Africa, the diviners, a specific sort of traditional healer in the region of the Eastern Cape, play the role of mediators between the ancestors and the community, and they are seen as solvers of individual as well as social problems. Nowadays they also have to face issues of modern relevance and, as found out during recent research done by the IMOHP (Indigenous Music and Oral History Project), they address diseases such as HIV/AIDS. But even though there seem to be similarities between them and the healers in East Africa, their perception and attitude towards HIV/AIDS and their educational role in South African communities, which are “traditional” and “modern” at the same time, are distinctive – as will be shown.