The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast

The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast: Iconoclasm Done and Undone

RAMON SARRÓ
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r20nm
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Religious Change on the Upper Guinea Coast
    Book Description:

    This book is an account of the circumstances that led to a Muslim religious movement on the Guinea coast and its legacies in today's Republic of Guinea. This book focuses on the political and religious changes that West Africa experienced and their impact on the continent's disrupted political and religious landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3666-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. LIST OF MAPS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. GLOSSARY
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  7. 1 INTRODUCTION: CASSAVA FIELDS, SACRED WOODS
    (pp. 1-21)

    In 1993 I was walking with my friend Lamin around his native village in Guinea when he pointed towards a cassava field and said: ‘And this is where our sacred wood used to be.’ ‘Used to be?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘it was here that we used to do the initiations into manhood, but Asekou, a Susu man, cleared it in 1957; he put an end to our custom.’ It was this comment that triggered my interest in the iconoclastic movement.

    Lamin was a Baga man, a member of that Guinean group of coastal rice farmers who carved a...

  8. 2 RIVERS AND MOTORWAYS
    (pp. 22-48)

    The coastal region of the Republic of Guinea, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Fouta Djallon massif some 200 km inland, is home to a great diversity of ethno-linguistic groups. Today, the largest of these is the Susu, a Mande-speaking people whose presence on the coast is recorded at least as early as the sixteenth century (Hair 1967a; Bühnen 1994). Linguists have established that the Susu language is very similar to that of the Jallonke, a people who were living on the Fouta Djallon before the massif was populated by the pastoralist Fula, who have inhabited it since the...

  9. 3 BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: COASTAL MANGROVES IN PRE-COLONIAL TIMES
    (pp. 49-72)

    One of the most interesting paradoxes in Baga historical accounts, whether oral history or scientific scholarship, is that between ‘continentality’ and ‘coastalness’. Baga farmers live and work in coastal mangroves, and specialise in swamp rice; they speak Atlantic languages and make ‘contracts’ with local spirits; they are good fishermen and excellent navigators in the tidal creeks, and in the past they believed that newborn babies came from the sea in canoes (Bangoura, M., no date: 34). Yet they also claim to come from elsewhere, especially from the Fouta Djallon highlands; the rice they call ‘Baga rice’ is the floating rice,...

  10. 4 CHIEFS, CUSTOMS AND TERRITORY: THE LEGACY OF FRENCH RULE
    (pp. 73-98)

    Many of my interviewees, when I asked them why they joined Asekou Sayon in his 1956 jihad, replied with statements such as ‘because we were tired of our custom’ or ‘because our custom was too heavy a burden’. By ‘custom’ I am either translating what French speakers call coutume or what Baga Sitem speakers call mes mabaka (literally ‘the deeds or things of Baga’). Baga Sitem also use on occasion the hybrid expression kutum kabaka, testifying to the role of the French in formulating the concept (kutum being of course an adaptation of the French coutume).

    Since the passage of...

  11. 5 RUNNING AND HIDING: THE END OF COLONIALISM AND THE ARRIVAL OF THE ICONOCLASTS
    (pp. 99-121)

    The 1950s witnessed a rise in young people’s awareness of their rights. Although this awareness was linked first and foremost to the RDA and especially to its youth and female wings, some youths were also ‘empowered’ by the Catholic youth movements. In 1956, at the invitation of the Catholic Church, Maurice Humbert came to Guinea to organise a local branch of the international youth organisation Jeunesse Agricole Catholique (JAC, one of the wings of Catholic Action) – an intervention which contributed to the rise of a whole new popular culture.¹ In some narratives I obtained in Katako, Mare and Bukor, the...

  12. 6 MANDE TRICKSTERS AND TRANSFORMATIONS: FROM ICONOCLASTIC PREACHERS TO ICONOCLASTIC POLITICIANS
    (pp. 122-147)

    Asekou Sayon Kerra,¹ the man who introduced the big upheavals among Baga we have analysed in the previous chapter, was a Malinké from Passaya, in today’s prefecture of Faranah. The name Asekou was an idiosyncratic transformation of Sékou, the Mande equivalent of sheikh. As for ‘Sayon’, in many Guinean languages it is a name given to a child born after twins. Among many West African groups, it is generally assumed that someone born after twins has supernatural powers and, most especially, the power to mediate between twin brothers, between people in conflict and between different realities.² It was almost an...

  13. 7 SURVIVING ICONOCLASM
    (pp. 148-168)

    In 1957 the iconoclasts cut down the sacred woods (the ‘black box’ of elder power) expecting the spirit amanco ngopong literally to ‘be’ there. It was not. They demolished round, windowless, hermetic houses hoping, once again, to find ‘the ghost in the machine’ in them. Again they found nothing. The secret remained intact, and the only thing iconoclasts found was the beginning of their own ‘melancholy and gloom’, just as Baudelaire’s child opened up the toy only to find that its soul had fled (Baudelaire 1953; cited in Schaffer 2002: 498). Today, Baga live in what, following Eric Gable (1995),...

  14. 8 HARLEM CITY AND THE ANCESTRAL VILLAGE: YOUTH AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURE TODAY
    (pp. 169-191)

    As we have seen in previous chapters, the first Republic of Guinea (1958–84) was hostile to notions of ethnic difference as well as to certain notions of political culture that lay at the basis of the community incorporation process in coastal regions. Upon the death of Sékou Touré in 1984, Colonel Lansana Conté took over as President. After 26 years of socialist policies and closure to most of the Western world (apart from Soviet-oriented countries), a period of openness and liberalism started. As far as Baga were concerned, this change of power had several consequences.

    First, Lansana Conté was...

  15. 9 CONCLUSION: ICONOCLASM UNDONE
    (pp. 192-203)

    I opened this study with Lamin showing me a cassava field in 1993 and saying: ‘This is where our sacred wood used to be.’ I shall close it by recalling something else he said, several years later. In 2001, when discussing the relationship between Baga and Susu, Lamin told me that the problem was that they, the Baga landlords, had been too generous: they had given land and shelter to too many strangers and now the strangers thought they could ‘stand up’ instead of ‘remaining seated’. He concluded, rather assertively, that Baga and Susu would end up settling the matter...

  16. APPENDIX: ARCHIVES CONSULTED
    (pp. 204-204)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 205-218)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 219-233)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 234-239)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-242)