Accepted Paper:

Metaphorical kinship and religious identity: changing politics of neighbourliness in the Hinterland of Guinea and Liberia  

Author:

Christian Højbjerg (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the changing character of prevailing forms of representations that inform the relationships between two neighbouring peoples in a West African border zone. It focuses on the consequences of religious identity construction and the breakdown of reciprocity and mutual trust in the context of post-conflict, multi-confessional communities.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the changing character of prevailing forms of representations that inform the relationships between two neighbouring peoples in a West African border zone. In the hinterland of Liberian and Guinea two clusters of peoples have coexisted for several centuries in both a peaceful and at times a belligerent manner. These peoples include the politically dominant and economically successful Mandingo and the self-proclaimed autochthonous 'forest peoples' of various ethnic origins. The Mandingo are Muslim and a majority of the forest peoples remain committed to secret society religious practice. Matrilateral alliance between mother's brothers and sister's sons has long served as a binding metaphor characterising inter-communal relationship. Forest people 'uncles' have been ascribed the status as first arrivals in relation to the latecoming Mandingo 'nephews'. In the wake of prolonged civil wars and ethnic conflict, the recognition of rights and obligations associated with metaphorical kinship has been giving way to a new politics of identity that emphasises religious and cultural differences. Contrary to the reciprocal relationship implied by matrilateral kinship, the current expression of religious identity nurtures feelings of difference and exclusiveness that sustain the risk of further violence. The paper seeks to know whether an irreversible change of politics of neighbourliness is taking place in the studied area; or, if local strategies of co-existence suffice to cope with the problem of difference. It furthermore asks to what extent the prevailing, exclusivist identity and rights discourse pertaining to religion may be seen also as an effect of global connections.

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