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Hamzić, Vanja (2017) 'Interruption'. In: Weekly Seminar, May 2017, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. (Unpublished)

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This project offers a critical historical analysis of the all but forgotten eighteenth-century lifeworlds of the enslaved West Africans, who were brought largely from the ports of Senegambia as well as, to a lesser extent, Ouidah (in present-day Benin) and Cabinda (in today’s Angola) to colonial Louisiana. I argue that paying attention to one particular aspect of being in, transitioning and surviving these worlds can interrupt not only the stubborn formations of silence in the colonial archive but also the ways that ostensibly tongue-tied archive is continuously used to legitimise and loudly proclaim as ‘historical’ only certain kinds of subjectivity and life of the enslaved Africans. That aspect is gender, or more specifically, gender variance of the enslaved. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that, across the societies and historical periods that are of broader relevance here, a gender-variant person would be in many ways a living interruption to the imperial orders of human personhood, an interruption whose presence revealed certain less-obvious inconsistencies in those orders. I begin by (I) sketching out certain social, legal and political positionalities of gender-variant subjectivities in various Muslim empires of the day. I move, then (II), to an examination of numerous accounts of gender variance and transitioning in the spiritual, political and social configurations of the self in West Africa. First, I assess the gendered narratives of the Wolof, Serer and Fulɓe slave warriors in eighteenth-century Senegambia as well as Muslim slave armies that arose against them, many of which included individuals who were castrated in their youth. Second, I explore Bamana and Mandinka cosmologies, linguistic and social practices—replete with androgyny and non-gender-binary ways of being in the world. Third, I revisit colonial accounts of gender variance in and around Ouidah and Cabinda, including those relating to the Dahomey court as well as a more wide-ranging Angolan subjectivity known as chibado/chibanda/quimbanda. Next (III), I interrogate the colonial sources on the Middle Passage. These documents attempted to produce a clear gender-binary structure of the enslaved—a prerequisite for the colonial slave economy that was to be built upon the labour of their bodies. And yet, such attempts weren’t always successful. I examine some such telling failures. Finally (IV), I engage in a detailed re-examination of eighteenth-century Louisianan society, including the accounts of gender variance amongst its indigenous peoples. Against the backdrop of the colonial state’s racing, classing and gendering of its Louisianan subjects, I pay special attention to the ways the enslaved West Africans formed alliances across the imagined and real imperial fault- lines but, also, the ways they managed to retain certain aspects of their linguistic and religious autonomy. With respect to their gender diversity, however, the colonial archives are still largely silent. Instead, what little remains are fragments—modest insurrectionary details—that challenge the logics of pure binarism in cultural, religious and linguistic formations of gender. I examine, in particular, some telling remnants in Louisiana Creole and Louisiana Voodoo.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Lecture)
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Law
Regional Centres and Institutes > Centre of African Studies
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2017 18:19
Related URLs: (Organisation URL)

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