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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The intimacy of belonging: literacy and the experience of Sunjata in Mali
Author:Jansen, JanISNI
Year:2011
Periodical:History in Africa (ISSN 1558-2744)
Volume:38
Pages:103-122
Language:English
Geographic term:Mali
Subjects:social relations
literacy
history
group identity
epics
rituals
oral traditions
About person:Sunjata (c. 1211-1255)
Link:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/history_in_africa/v038/38.1.jansen.pdf
Abstract:The author argues that the concept of intimacy, with its emphasis on personal and sensorial experiences, helps people to describe why particular images of nation and autochthony convince. These images themselves may stem from literate practices. This is illustrated by showing how people in Mali incorporate linear concepts of time and space in their experience of Sunjata, whom they know as both a local ancestor and as the prime mover of the national political constellation in which they live. In a case study, the author shows how the people who restored an ancestor's grave were deeply moved by a ceremony that, first, had the political role of supporting a land claim in a quickly developing part of Mali; that, second, from a functionalist point of view, can be labeled an 'invention of tradition'; and that, third, gave people an intense experience of the history they had learned at school and been taught at home. An intimate relationship with Sunjata was experienced through the practice of restoring the grave. This intimacy required forms of knowledge that had been inscribed by both individual literacy training and group education as a member of a 'clan'. Experiencing this intimacy in a ceremony performed with both family and people one hardly knows evokes feelings of belonging to both a region and a nation: Sunjata is the image through which one can act as a citizen in multi-ethnic Mali as well as feel grounded as a person in a region and a social network. Bibliogr., notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]
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