Forget Colonialism? Sacrifice and the Art of Memory in Madagascar

Forget Colonialism? Sacrifice and the Art of Memory in Madagascar

Forget Colonialism? Sacrifice and the Art of Memory in Madagascar

Forget Colonialism? Sacrifice and the Art of Memory in Madagascar

Synopsis

"The best book-length study of colonial memory available... Cole provides a way out of the dichotomy in which memory is viewed as either individual or 'collective.'"--Rosalind Shaw, coeditor of "Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis

"A remarkably lucid and self-assured analysis of social memory. . . The book is a pleasure to read."--Michael Lambek, author of "Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte

Excerpt

There are the experiences to which the fixed forms do not speak at all, which indeed they do not recognize. There are important mixed experiences, where the available meaning would convert part to all, or all to part.

—Raymond Williams

This book is a study in the processes of social remembering and forgetting through which the Betsimisaraka inhabitants of a small town in east Madagascar weave together a local world, a world forged in the crucible of colonial conquest and continually remade and transformed in the context of postcolonial Madagascar. the question I ask is, How do Betsimisaraka remember the past, particularly the symbolic and actual violence associated with the French colonial period? in brief, my answer is that Betsimisaraka have developed certain social practices for shaping memory, some of which exist throughout much of Africa but have not previously been analyzed as an art of memory. My goal is to demonstrate how these practices work and the conditions under which they fail.

My argument will draw upon classical and contemporary social science analyses of the many ways in which the mind extends beyond the individual. Many of these analyses emphasize that the process of perceiving and knowing the world is fundamentally shaped by the ways in which people interact with the world by means of artifacts of literacy such as pens, paper, and a multitude of other aspects of the material environment. I differ from previous writers in this tradition by focusing on the less tangible but equally efficacious social practices that enable or disable certain kinds of memories, and on how people use these techniques to shape how they remember—and thus think about and act upon—the world.

Revising our conception of memory in this manner has two advan-

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