liminal people in the West African past

My book on liminal people is almost out. A preview is available on Google Books, where you can read part of chapter 1 (and, somewhat oddly, the last page of the index, which runs from ‘trade diasporas’ to ‘Zuwa Alayman, ‘Yemenite’  immigrant ruler and killer of a monster fish-god in the Niger River. With a ring in its nose).


Basically the book is about people who don’t fit in. Archaeologists are increasingly trying to identify individuals in the material record of the past – a tough job but one which I argue might be easier if we try to look not at what people are, but what they aren’t. When a person is of, but not in, society – with thanks to John M for that phrase.

The fact is that outsiders and immigrants can be found everywhere in the West African past: rulers show off their foreign descent, traders migrate  new areas, potters and blacksmiths claim to be apart from society.

I talk a bit about this too in my Afriques paper which is largely about migrants. I started thinking about these sorts of things maybe about 17 years ago and then it all came together one day in March 2009 when I was on a bus from Comacchio then Schiphol Airport. I have posted several things in the past two years about outsiders and about how writing was going. So, it’s nice to see the process come full circle. Only very short-sighted political thinking would fail to realise the importance of immigrants’ skills and know-how.

But anyway, now I want to think a bit more about cin rani – dry season migration in the Hausa world – and worlds of experience, in the hope that this is the angle which will help us archaeologists ‘see’ the individual’s experience in the material record. Ali, Olivier and I have been talking about writing something about this together and our first challenge is definitely to see how we can make the ethnography significant to the archaeology; and vice-versa. Work in progress.


1 Response to “liminal people in the West African past”

  1. 1 Héloïse
    July 13, 2013 at 19:19

    Great! (and I love the picture!)

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About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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