“On Saturday We Don’t Beat the Drum”: Refuge, Ritual, and Remembering Amongst the Sehwi Jews of Ghana
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“On Saturday We Don’t Beat the Drum”: Refuge, Ritual, and Remembering Amongst the Sehwi Jews of Ghana

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The dissertation argues that there is a historical precedent for the existence of Jewish communities emerging in Western Ghana rather than a phenomenon derivative of colonial logic, historico-racial schema, suspicious financial motives, or modern technologies as scholars outside of African Studies have claimed. It examines the longue dur�e of Jewish presence (both physical and dialectical) in West Africa that has contributed to the manifestations of a Jewish present in western Ghana. In widening the temporal and geographic scope that has created scholarly blind spots, the dissertation acknowledges an interconnected history for a millennium (11th-21st centuries), forging a path between African and Jewish Studies. Through the lens of survival, incorporating acculturation and disguise, it paints Northwestern Africa as a place giving aid and refuge (not seeking it) and a space where history was preserved and transmitted before and beyond Western conceptualizations. The dissertation argues that intercontinental and international aspects of Northwest Africa (inclusive of the Sahara), and long-established networks that existed before and persisted after imperial lines were drawn, made survival possible for the Sehwi, and specifically the House of Israel.The Sehwi, a migrant group that settled in western Ghana to escape war and persecution, maintained their history through orality and ritual. Through examining the oral history of the Sehwi, the dissertation argues that key to their survival was maintaining secrecy and negotiating with imperial and global forces the boundaries of belonging: geographic, imperial, and ethnic. The House of Israel, a Sehwi community in western Ghana that has identified as Jews since the 1970s, also utilizes these strategies of survival to preserve their ancestral beliefs. By interrogating silence and whispers as well as embodied archives — the unspoken mechanisms of communication (largely via ritual) — the dissertation argues that instability of belonging and assurances of safety impacts how the past is transmitted.

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This item is under embargo until December 14, 2024.