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.