Accepted paper:

What makes a creole society? Creolization on the Comorian island of Ngazidja


Iain Walker (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

Paper short abstract:

Is creolisation simply a process of social change that incorporates the diversity of influences in a globalising world or is it something more specific? This paper suggests that the utility of creolisation as an analytical category must be historically specific if it is to be useful.

Paper long abstract:

What is "creolisation", and at what point (either theoretically or temporally) do processes that might be called "creolisation" no longer warrant the name? Can creole societies cease to be "creole" and if so, how? Creolisation, in the Hannerzian sense of the word, conjures up images of hybridity, globalisation, cosmopolitanism; while not a uniquely contemporary phenomenon it is nevertheless widely associated with the political and economic expansion of the European world, and the cultural implications thereof, in the modern and, particularly, post-modern eras. On the Comorian island of Ngazidja in the western Indian Ocean processes of social change have been the product of interactions with the outside world since first settlement of the islands some two millennia ago and might well be considered creole. There is evidence that the language may have been a creole and the island is well known for its apparently syncretic culture and "contradictory" social structures. Descent and inheritance are matrilineal but the Wangazidja are Muslim: not unknown but an uncommon juxtaposition nevertheless; there are age systems, rarely found in conjunction with either matrilineality or Islam; like Muslims elsewhere, Wangazidja are polygynous, but residence after marriage is—again unusually—uxorilocal; and contemporary legal systems in Ngazidja draw on three, sometimes incompatible sources: shari'a, custom and French law. This paper considers the socio-cultural history of Ngazidja and asks whether creolisation is a useful analytical concept for dealing with such long term processes of change.

panel P061
Africa in the Indian Ocean