Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone. By Rosalind Shaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. 312; 19 illustrations. $52.00 cloth, $21.00 paper.

Unlike North America, where the legacy and memory of enslavement is very much visibly intertwined in the fabric of everyday life, politics, and society, in Africa they are not in the forefront of daily political discourses and social concerns. But does this mean that enslavement is not remembered or is not part of the texture of African life? Is the trauma of violence, captivity, and forced deportation of Africans out of the continent forgotten, or did it have long-term effects on African societies and their social practices? Using mainly the divination systems of the Temne of Sierra Leone, Rosalind Shaw argues convincingly for the most part that memories of the Atlantic slave trade are deeply interwoven into the daily fabric of indigenous ritual practices and popular imagination. Drawing mainly from theoretical constructs of Pierre Bourdieu (habitus), Anthony Giddens (social consciousness), and Michel Foucault (power), Shaw highlights the manifold ways in which the traumatic experiences of the slave trade have become deeply embedded within ideas of witchcraft and the occult and divination practices of the Temne. She underlines the importance of these ideas and practices in the relationships of power as well as the social strategies mobilize by individuals among the Temne and other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone to navigate personal misfortunes, unstable family relationships, and quotidian social challenges.

Shaw's arguments are clearly and succinctly outlined in nine chapters, accompanied by an excellent theoretical introduction and an insightful conclusion on the complicated legacies of Atlantic modernity. The chapters focus on complex and dynamic relationship between history, social relations, knowledge, and power during the colonial and postcolonial periods in Sierra Leone. Among the specific topics they deal with are the history of the Atlantic slave trade, ritual landscapes, divinatory knowledge, gender, public and private forms of divination, witchcraft and cannibalism, and contemporary politics. Shaw's keen sense of observation, sensitivity to her subjects, critical reading of history, and theoretical sophistication are apparent in nearly all the chapters. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.