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History > African History > West Africa

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The Métis of Senegal Cover

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The Métis of Senegal

Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa

Hilary Jones

The Métis of Senegal is a history of politics and society among an influential group of mixed-race people who settled in coastal Africa under French colonialism. Hilary Jones describes how the métis carved out a niche as middleman traders for European merchants. As the colonial presence spread, the métis entered into politics and began to assert their position as local elites and power brokers against French rule. Many of the descendants of these traders continue to wield influence in contemporary Senegal. Jones's nuanced portrait of métis ascendency examines the influence of family connections, marriage negotiations, and inheritance laws from both male and female perspectives.

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Naming Colonialism

History and Collective Memory in the Congo, 1870–1960

Osumaka Likaka

What’s in a name? As Osumaka Likaka argues in this illuminating study, the names that Congolese villagers gave to European colonizers reveal much about how Africans experienced and reacted to colonialism. The arrival of explorers, missionaries, administrators, and company agents allowed Africans to observe Westerners’ physical appearances, behavior, and cultural practices at close range—often resulting in subtle yet trenchant critiques. By naming Europeans, Africans turned a universal practice into a local mnemonic system, recording and preserving the village’s understanding of colonialism in the form of pithy verbal expressions that were easy to remember and transmit across localities, regions, and generations.
    Methodologically innovative, Naming Colonialism advances a new approach that shows how a cultural process—the naming of Europeans—can provide a point of entry into economic and social histories. Drawing on archival documents and oral interviews, Likaka encounters and analyzes a welter of coded fragments. The vivid epithets Congolese gave to rubber company agents—“the home burner,” “Leopard,” “Beat, beat,” “The hippopotamus-hide whip”—clearly conveyed the violence that underpinned colonial extractive economies. Other names were subtler, hinting at derogatory meaning by way of riddles, metaphors, or symbols to which the Europeans were oblivious. Africans thus emerge from this study as autonomous actors whose capacity to observe, categorize, and evaluate reverses our usual optic, providing a critical window on Central African colonialism in its local and regional dimensions.

Our New Husbands Are Here Cover

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Our New Husbands Are Here

In Our New Husbands Are Here, Emily Lynn Osborn investigates a central puzzle of power and politics in West African history: Why do women figure frequently in the political narratives of the precolonial period, and then vanish altogether with colonization? Osborn addresses this question by exploring the relationship of the household to the state. By analyzing the history of statecraft in the interior savannas of West Africa (in present-day Guinea-Conakry), Osborn shows that the household, and women within it, played a critical role in the pacifist Islamic state of Kankan-Baté, enabling it to endure the predations of the transatlantic slave trade and become a major trading center in the nineteenth century. But French colonization introduced a radical new method of statecraft to the region, one that separated the household from the state and depoliticized women’s domestic roles. This book will be of interest to scholars of politics, gender, the household, slavery, and Islam in African history.

 

The Quills of the Porcupine Cover

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The Quills of the Porcupine

Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana

Jean Marie Allman

Bearing the historic symbol of the Asante nation, the porcupine, the National Liberation Movement (NLM) stormed onto the Gold Coast’s political stage in 1954, mounting one of the first and most significant campaigns to decentralize political power in decolonizing Africa. 
    Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) was the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to secure political independence from Britain.  The struggle for full self-government was led by Kwame Nkrumah, the leading advocate of African nationalism and Pan-African unity in the post-World War II era.  The NLM threatened the stability of Nkrumah’s preindependence government and destroyed prospects for a smooth transition to full self-rule.  Though NLM demands for Asante autonomy mobilized thousands of members, marchers, and voters, the NLM was unable to forestall plans for a unitary government in a new nation.  Under Nkrumah, Ghana became independent in 1957.
    Marginalized politically by 1958, the NLM has at times been marginalized by scholars as well.  Cast into the shadows of academic inquiry where history’s losers often dwell, the NLM came to be characterized as a tribalist ghost of the past whose foreordained defeat was worthy of some attention, but whose spectacular rise was not.
    Today, when it is far harder to dismiss decentralizing movements and alternative nationalisms as things of the past, Jean Marie Allman’s brilliant The Quills of the Porcupine recovers the history of the NLM as a popular movement whose achievements and defeats were rooted in Asante’s history and in the social conflicts of the period.  Allman draws skillfully on her extensive interviews with NLM activists, on a variety of published and archival sources in Ghana, and on British colonial records—many of them recently declassified—to provide rich narrative detail.
    Sophisticated in its analysis of the NLM’s ideology and of the appeals of the movement to various strata within Asante society, The Quills of the Porcupine is a pioneering case study in the social history of African politics.  An exciting story firmly situated within the context of the large theoretical and historical literature on class, ethnicity, and nationalism, its significance reaches far past the borders of Asante, and of Ghana.

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Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World

Rituals and Remembrances

Edited by Mamadou Diouf and Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo

Along with linked modes of religiosity, music and dance have long occupied a central position in the ways in which Atlantic peoples have enacted, made sense of, and responded to their encounters with each other. This unique collection of essays connects nations from across the Atlantic---Senegal, Kenya, Trinidad, Cuba, Brazil, and the United States, among others---highlighting contemporary popular, folkloric, and religious music and dance. By tracking the continuous reframing, revision, and erasure of aural, oral, and corporeal traces, the contributors to Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World collectively argue that music and dance are the living evidence of a constant (re)composition and (re)mixing of local sounds and gestures. Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World distinguishes itself as a collection focusing on the circulation of cultural forms across the Atlantic world, tracing the paths trod by a range of music and dance forms within, across, or beyond the variety of locales that constitute the Atlantic world. The editors and contributors do so, however, without assuming that these paths have been either always in line with national, regional, or continental boundaries or always transnational, transgressive, and perfectly hybrid/syncretic. This collection seeks to reorient the discourse on cultural forms moving in the Atlantic world by being attentive to the specifics of the forms---their specific geneses, the specific uses to which they are put by their creators and consumers, and the specific ways in which they travel or churn in place. Mamadou Diouf is Leitner Family Professor of African Studies, Director of the Institute of African Studies, and Professor of History at Columbia University. Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.

Slavery & Reform In West Africa Cover

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Slavery & Reform In West Africa

Toward Emancipation In Nineteenth-Century

Trevor R. Getz

In Slavery and Reform in West Africa, Trevor Getz demonstrates that it was largely on the anvil of this issue that French and British policy in West Africa was forged. With distant metropoles unable to intervene in daily affairs, local European administrators, striving to balance abolitionist pressures against the resistance of politically and economically powerful local slave owners, sought ways to satisfy the latter while placating or duping the former.

The result was an alliance between colonial officials, company agents, and slave-owning elites that effectively slowed, sidetracked, or undermined serious attempts to reform slave holding. Although slavery was outlawed in both regions, in only a few isolated instances did large-scale emancipations occur. Under the surface, however, slaves used the threat of self-liberation to reach accommodations that transformed the master-slave relationship.

By comparing the strategies of colonial administrators, slave-owners, and slaves across these two regions and throughout the nineteenth century, Slavery and Reform in West Africa reveals not only the causes of the astounding success of slave owners, but also the factors that could, and in some cases did, lead to slave liberations. These findings have serious implications for the wider study of slavery and emancipation and for the history of Africa generally.

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Slavery and the Birth of an African City

Lagos, 1760--1900

Kristin Mann

As the slave trade entered its last, illegal phase in the 19th century, the town of Lagos on West Africa's Bight of Benin became one of the most important port cities north of the equator. Slavery and the Birth of an African City explores the reasons for Lagos's sudden rise to power. By linking the histories of international slave markets to those of the regional suppliers and slave traders, Kristin Mann shows how the African slave trade forever altered the destiny of the tiny kingdom of Lagos. This magisterial work uncovers the relationship between African slavery and the growth of one of Africa's most vibrant cities.

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Tired of Weeping

Mother Love, Child Death, and Poverty in Guinea-Bissau

Jonina Einarsdottir

In this comprehensive and provocative study of maternal reactions to child death in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, anthropologist Jónína Einarsdóttir challenges the assumption that mothers in high-poverty societies will neglect their children and fail to mourn their deaths as a survival strategy. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 1993 to 1998 among the matrilineal Papel, who reside in the Biombo region, this work includes theoretical discussion of reproductive practices, conceptions of children, childcare customs, interpretations of diseases and death, and infanticide. Einarsdóttir also brings compelling narratives of life experiences and reflections of Papel women.

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Tongnaab

The History of a West African God

Jean Allman and John Parker

For many Africanist historians, traditional religion is simply a starting point for measuring the historic impact of Christianity and Islam. In Tongnaab, Jean Allman and John Parker challenge the distinction between tradition and modernity by tracing the movement and mutation of the powerful Talensi god and ancestor shrine, Tongnaab, from the savanna of northern Ghana through the forests and coastal plains of the south. Using a wide range of written, oral, and iconographic sources, Allman and Parker uncover the historical dynamics of cross-cultural religious belief and practice. They reveal how Tongnaab has been intertwined with many themes and events in West African history -- the slave trade, colonial conquest and rule, capitalist agriculture and mining, labor migration, shifting ethnicities, the production of ethnographic knowledge, and the political projects that brought about the modern nation state. This rich and original book shows that indigenous religion has been at the center of dramatic social and economic changes stretching from the slave trade to the tourist trade.

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West African Narratives of Slavery

Texts from Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Ghana

Sandra E. Greene

Slavery in Africa existed for hundreds of years before it was abolished in the late 19th century. Yet, we know little about how enslaved individuals, especially those who never left Africa, talked about their experiences. Collecting never before published or translated narratives of Africans from southeastern Ghana, Sandra E. Greene explores how these writings reveal the thoughts, emotions, and memories of those who experienced slavery and the slave trade. Greene considers how local norms and the circumstances behind the recording of the narratives influenced their content and impact. This unprecedented study affords unique insights into how ordinary West Africans understood and talked about their lives during a time of change and upheaval.

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