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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 40, Issue 1, 2018

Issue cover
Cover Caption:The Most Talented Artist in Fatimid Cairo: Kitten in Lap, Shisha in One Hand, Paintbrush in the Other. Photo by Chase Smithburg. 



For Profs. Bakari Kamian and Keorapetse William Kgositsile a.k.a. Bra Willie, in memoriam.

Essays Part I

“le caractère d’une traite d’esclaves déguisée (the nature of a disguised slave trade)”? Labor recruitment for La Réunion at Portuguese Mozambique, 1887-1889

This paper examines the final moments of the French libres engagés system of labor recruitment from Mozambique to La Réunion in the late 1880s. Rather than simply regarding this system as a form of disguised slave trade, it seeks to understand how these workers were actually recruited and the conditions of their employment on the French colonial island. It draws upon both French and Portuguese archival sources to place this brief chapter in the longer context of post-abolition labor recruitment in the southwest Indian Ocean.

Of Snipe Hunts and Errant Bats, or, Will an Anthropologist EVER Learn?

In recent years, a number of humanities scholars have called for event-driven ethnographies of the particular as a tactic to mitigate the flattening of other people’s everyday lives, thoughts, and purposes, which has been so frequently represented in literature. What “messiness,” what oddities have been omitted from accounts that generalize about entire communities based upon a researcher’s few interactions with a few interlocutors? The following essay is an experimental attempt to tell a story from fieldnotes and recollections dating to the mid-1970s when I undertook 45 months of dissertation research among Tabwa people in what is now southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. At many steps along this quirky narrative path, contingent truths are at play based upon what I understand to have been my Tabwa interlocutors’ ways of understanding such experiences—with the past tense here suggesting that an “ethnographic present” must be dated, especially given the turbulence of Congolese histories these last decades. Endnotes provide glimpses of Tabwa thinking, again based upon my sameday written records and after-the-fact memories of what a few particular people told me. I offer these in quite deliberate defiance of the standard editorial caveat that notes are not meant to be a parallel text: in this case, they are! Furthermore, my essay has no firm conclusion, no wrap-up, no convenient understanding. Instead, readers are invited to consider circumstances that struck me as unusual as they occurred, and to draw their own conclusions about how to understand the events and persons so described, including the anthropologist.

Inventions and Reinventions of Sharia in African History and the Recent Experiences of Nigeria, Somalia and Mali

This essay provides a reflection on how the concept of “sharia” has been re-invented in recent African history. It sketches the history of Islamic legal practice among African Muslims, with a particular focus on women's rights and the question of adultery (zinā), in an effort to place in context contemporary events in Nigeria, Somalia and Mali. Its overarching conclusion is that the recent actions by extreme Muslims groups in Africa, in the name of so-called sharia, are far removed from the spirit of Islamic law.

Essays Part II

The Oduche Complex and the Public Policy Environment in Africa: A Nigerian Case Study

The Oduche complex as an analytical construct depicts the contradictions that characterize the weltanschauung of the African postcolonial elite. It is attributable to Professor Damian Opata. But Opata also derived his germinal classification from “Arrow of God,” one of the influential works of Chinua Achebe, easily regarded as the father of African literature. I use the Oduche complex as an analytical template in this paper to study public policy articulation in Africa and the attendant public policy environment. I use Nigeria (the most populous country in the continent) as case study to interrogate the problem of impotence that characterizes public policy in Africa. The study is centrally, critically concerned with the issue of why public policies fail in Nigeria and Africa.

A Case Study of the Stigmatized Code Sheng: The AUYL Syndrome

African urban youth language (AUYL) syndrome is a sociolinguistic phenomenon. Its most distinguishing symptom is the investment of African youths in a stigmatized variety to the exclusion of more prestigious languages. AUYLs have long stumped educators, policy makers and teachers of standard languages, spawning cursory descriptions, numerous complaints, and pleas for eradication. A case study of the symptoms associated with the stigmatized code Sheng (Nairobi, Kenya), reveals generalities for other AUYLs. Detractors worry that embracing the variety will damn the youth to failure in examinations, to denial of further educational attainment, to the loss of life-long goals, such as social mobility, and perhaps even to criminality. This article examines the concept of the culture-bound syndrome—a collection of social symptoms that reflect cultural fears—and the manner in which it may be applied to Sheng and other AUYLs. An interdisciplinary exploration of colonial history, language ecosystem, language ideology and conventional wisdom provide a rationale for a sociolinguistic defense. The data disclose that the symptoms reveal more about the plaintiff than the defendant. Overcoming what is but a standard language ideological bias requires Africanists in all academic disciplines to legitimize AUYLs through continued research.

Simultaneous Geography, Divided Communities: Paving the Way to Silencing the Ethno-Religious Insurgencies in Nigeria

This article situates the notion of ethnicity as one key defining component upon which communities within Nigeria appear to divide and sustain themselves, particularly in light of the current fear of insurgency. In doing so, reference is made to the concept of the ‘other’: being ethnically, culturally and religiously distinct from the major ethnic groups within the country. Some key implications of this trend in terms of fear and societal exclusion are explained. The discussion is situated within the broader context of community, ethnicity and insurgency within Nigeria. The following is not a discussion of insurgency; rather, it is an exploration of issues that galvanize some communities whilst provoking an attitude of suspicion toward others. It is argued that attempts to deconstruct diversity in favor of enforcing a singular cultural identity inherently links difference to fear and, by doing so, risks further polarizing communities within Nigeria.