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Hamzić, Vanja (2019) Re-Gendering the Ɲamakalaw: Empire, Personhood and Violence in Eighteenth-Century Greater Senegambia. In: GenderX: Transnational and Decolonial Perspectives on and beyond the Gender Binary, May 2019, Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS University of London. (Unpublished)

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The fashioning of specifically ‘male’ and ‘female’ subjects—whether free, indentured or enslaved—was a sine qua non preoccupation of the early capitalist economy, of which the trans-Atlantic slave trade was one of the key derivatives. When this trade reached its zenith in seventeenth-century West Africa, it set in motion a series of political, religious and social events that would transform this region in the century to come into a battlefield of competing ideas and regimes of personhood—whether they be the nascent colonial racial and gender ordering, religious and social strictures brought fore by many a Fulɓe-led jihād, or an increasingly ostracised spiritual and bodily diversity within the centuries-old Greater Senegambian status groups.  This paper is based on a critical historical ethnography of one such status unit—the endogamous specialist group that was typically made of several ranked artisan sub-groups—that is thought to have originated in amongst the Mande, Wolof and Soninke, only to be gradually adopted by a variety of Fulɓe, Tukulor, Arabo-Berber and other populations of Greater Senegambia. As their collective name in Mande languages (ɲamakalaw) suggests, members of artisanal groups were thought to possess extraordinary access to the foundational life force, ɲama, and be the beings with their own special temporality, access to history (understood mainly as the past to be experienced and relived through the spoken word) and bodily and gender-variant properties. As with ‘shamanic’ groups elsewhere, the ɲamakalaw (Wolof: ñeeño, Fulfulde: nyeenyɓe) occupied a deeply ambiguous position in society and were contradictorily described as feared, loathed, desired, necessary and respected—all at the same time. This paper interrogates, in particular, ‘gender’-related dimensions of such positionality in the turbulent eighteenth century and asks what kinds of insurrectionary remnants they have left behind, in spite of the temporal and material violence of the colonial archive and the ‘social sciences’ based thereon.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Paper)
SOAS Departments & Centres: School Research Centres > Centre for the Study of Colonialism, Empire and International Law
Departments and Subunits > School of Law
Departments and Subunits > Interdisciplinary Studies > Centre for Gender Studies
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2020 12:47

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