Accepted Paper:

Inter-confessional sociability in a West African village: the Example of Gêba, Guinea-Bissau (West Africa)  


Christoph Kohl (Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI), Braunschweig, Germany)

Paper short abstract:

Popular and widespread macro-approaches in social sciences have often suggested that a “clash of civilisations” prevents conviviality among followers of different religions. A micro-level look at inter-confessional relations in eve-ryday life, however, often reveals a different picture.

Paper long abstract:

I focus on neighbourhood interaction in Gêba, a village in Guinea-Bissau whose population is marked by a high degree of religious and ethnic diversity which, however, does not divide people socially. Common local origin and historical narratives serve as uniting forces across religious and ethnic boundaries.

In the 17th century, Europeans, Cape Verdeans and Africans established Gêba as a trading post. Subsequently, a creole community emerged, today known Christians of Gêba. They differentiated themselves mainly from their predominantly pagan and (later) Muslim surroundings by emphasising their Catholic faith. Religion became this ethnic groups' distinctive marker, in opposition to Muslim ethnic groups. Since the 19th century, Gêba has been on the decline, causing the gradual emigration of Christians from Gêba and Muslims becoming the majority.

Inter-confessional relations in Gêba are characterised by conviviality, mutual respect, and the rejection of religiously motivated violence, and they are supported by a national ideology which fosters unity among citizens by means of conceptualising and portraying the nation as a uniting umbrella.

Although Muslims and Christians practise distinct religious ceremonies and have different places of worship there is also a common sacred site in Gêba which is frequented by both Muslims and Christians.

Shared identification among Muslims and Christians is also maintained through historical narratives referring to Gêba's presumed former prominence, expressing the villagers' pride in their town. Thus, it is locality which serves as the main source of identification among the inhabitants of Gêba, thereby creating common identity transcending ethnic and religious boundaries.

Panel W018
Mutuality and difference in multireligious local communities: the politics of neighbourliness