- Cahier Dakar–Djibouti by Marcel Griaule et al.
This collection offers a rich and interesting look into the beginnings of ‘l’ethnographie française’ through the writings of some of France’s first generation of academically formed ethnographers. It features members of France’s ambitious Mission Dakar–Djibouti, which, led by Marcel Griaule, travelled eastward across sub-Saharan Africa between 1931 and 1933. This endeavour was important to France: a late push into the colonial scientific traditions of the kind England and Germany had engaged in decades prior. It was both a collecting mission to build knowledge and secure artefacts for the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro, and a salvage mission to document linguistic and cultural practices under threat of disappearance from the globalizing effects of colonial contact. The studies conducted on this mission would influence the Africanist leanings of French anthropology. This volume of seventy-seven texts (plus hundreds of photographs and illustrations) truly succeeds in framing the Mission Dakar–Djibouti as a product of the zeitgeist. It was launched amid the excited clamour of the Exposition coloniale internationale of 1931, and the broad coverage of the mission—through scientific articles, journalism, travel reflections, radio essays, and press releases—shares much of that energy. Furthermore, the dynamic contrast of this group of anthropologists and linguists, a [End Page 624] musicologist, a painter, and a dissident surrealist almost perfectly mirrors the eclectic Art & Culture magazines Documents and Minotaure, which would originally publish a number of the items featured here. Alongside examples of Griaule’s Maussian methods—the rigidly systematic collection, identification, and description of objects, facts, and linguistic data with little initial interpretation—there are Gaston-Louis Roux’s colourful tales of murder and intrigue and of the simple joys of sharing in one’s artistic craft with others. There is André Schaeffner’s curious comparison of the ways of naming the fingers of the hand and the folk stories that surround them, Deborah Lifchitz’s studies on Abyssinian Jews, and Michel Leiris’s initial ethnographic writings on Zar possession. Indeed, the Mission Dakar–Djibouti is the very same expedition documented in Leiris’s L’Afrique fantôme (Paris: Gallimard, 1934; numerous re-editions), and this volume serves as a rich companion to that intimate but singular telling of the nearly two-year excursion. The work gathered here confirms, corrects, or fleshes out many of Leiris’s personal accounts. But perhaps more importantly, it counterbalances the former’s very singular point of view that, for more than eighty years, has been the dominant if not the only narrative to relate the Mission Dakar–Djibouti in full. This collection is certainly completist if it is not absolutely exhaustive: the editors have taken care to avoid repetition while maintaining fidelity to all of the scientific and cultural production the mission generated. The commentary and annotations are insightful and erudite, and the editors have worked to restore to their original form any texts that had seen themselves altered or censored when originally published. This is a welcome and valuable resource to readers of Leiris and of Griaule, and certainly for all who are interested in French anthropology between the wars.