Accepted Paper:

Witnessing and the Revelation of Responsibility in Urban Suriname  

Author:

Stuart Strange (Yale-NUS College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper shows the different but analogous ways Hindu and Ndyuka Maroon mediums in urban Suriname transform their patients into passive yet resolutely moral witnesses to the social relations with spirit and human others of which mediums reveal patients to be composed.

Paper long abstract:

What is witnessed in revelation? In this paper I argue that, at least for many Guyanese Hindu and Ndyuka Maroon spirit mediums in contemporary urban Suriname, revelation works by compelling patients to witness their own lack of self-knowledge. In place of assumptions about the transparency of subjective understanding of the self, mediums show that their possessing spirits are the only effective witnesses to the reality of patients' internal states and external relations with others. Following the interactive dynamics that afford patients awareness of their personal incapacity, this paper shows how mediums and patients use competing idioms of witnessing to remake revelations of personal ignorance into powerful experiences of victimization and its exposure. Accepting human ignorance enables mediums' patients to renounce personal responsibility, turning them into passive but resolutely moral witnesses to the social relations of which mediums reveal them to be composed. In this way, witnessing becomes a negotiated revelation of ontological limits that enforce human epistemic dependence on spirit mediation and the forms of authority it supports among Maroon and Hindu migrants.

Panel P091
Anthropologies of witnessing: imaginaries, technologies, practices