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Cannibalism and Colonialism
February 1, 2010 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Resident Fellow (2009-2010)
This paper explores cannibalism as a central trope of colonial engagements in West Equatorial Africa (Gabon) from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. The literature has thought long and hard on the ways in which cannibalism expresses dominant ideas about limits and engagements: how the social body is divided, how power relationships should conform to specific boundaries and restrictions. While countless analyses have described the sexual meanings of cannibal images, few have traced their links to kinship norms (Hulme 1998). Working from archival and field research, Prof. Bernault combines these ideas to reflect on how practical engagements about cannibalism in colonial Gabon delineated important prescriptions about social and symbolic reproduction. More than a lore about power, more than a wisdom about transgression and limits, cannibal stories described the fate of colonial society, the future of the coexistence between races, and the doom of colonial hegemony.
A Resident fellow at the IRH, Florence Bernault is a professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her most recent work looks into the political, intellectual and cultural history of Equatorial Africa, and French colonialism. She has been awarded a J. S. Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her research on witchcraft. She is serving on the editorial board of the American Historical Review, and on the advisory board of the Journal of African History. She is the author of Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale (Paris, Karthala, 1996), the editor of A History of Prisons and Confinement in Africa (Portsmouth, NJ., 2003), and Enfermement, prison et châtiments en Afrique du XIXe siècle à nos jours (Paris: Karthala, 1999), and the co-editor, together with Nicolas Bancel, Ahmed Boubeker, Achille Mbembe and Françoise Vergès, of Ruptures postcoloniales. Les nouveaux visages de la société française (Paris, La Découverte, 2010). Her articles have been published in the Journal of African History, Africa Today, Politique africaine, Cahiers d’études africaines, and Vingtième siècle. She has also guest-edited several issues for scholarly journals in African Studies. The book she is currently completing is entitled Struggles For the Sacred: Colonialism, Witchcraft, and Power in Equatorial Africa.