Chapter 2

Wild gods, containing wombs and moving pots

Emplacement and transience in Watchi belonging*

Nadia Lovell

This chapter examines the way in which the Watchi of southeast Togo 1 conceptualise their relationship to the locality which they inhabit, and how such relationships are mediated through the use of nature. Related theoretical questions concerning the concept of nature itself, the transformation of landscapes into habitat and the dynamics involved in shaping notions of belonging are also explored. While the chapter explores mythologies and symbolic typifications of landscape and nature, this goes beyond the scope of sheer representation as the sociality of these concepts is firmly contextualised within the framework of social, cultural and historical localisation of collective identities.

The creation of belonging, which is inherently tied to notions of identity, to a differentiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’, is itself multi-faceted and stratified: who ‘we’ are depends on context, on historical shifts and (re-)constructions, and on contextual definitions. For this reason, the argument extends further to incorporate notions of gendered space, and the differentiations which arise as a result of such dynamics and shifts in meaning. This far from implies that the Watchi fail to identify who they are as a group, but that the group itself constitutes, and re-presents, its identity at several levels, which operate both simultaneously and in a desynchronised fashion, thus creating coordinated yet at times also competing discourses around identity. In so doing, movement across territories and the creation of new settlements become possible, while maintaining the mythical and cosmological fundaments which underpin a common Watchi understanding of belonging and locality. Yet, if notions of identity and community are rarely hegemonic, the same must be said of the understanding of nature itself. The concept of nature, therefore, has to be seen in the context of the various discourses of which it becomes a constitutive part, and which it also helps arouse. Complementary or competing images of nature have to be

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