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Jackson, Michael, 1940Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 78, Number 2, Spring 2005, pp. 355-375 (Article)
Published by George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research DOI: 10.1353/anq.2005.0020
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Storytelling Events, Violence, and the Appearance of the Past
Michael Jackson University of Copenhagen
Alluding to Sierra Leone’s recent violent history, this paper argues that storytelling events offer insights into the ways that people evaluate, discuss, and negotiate social and ethical strategies for making communal life viable in war as well as in peace. At the same time, it explores some of the theoretical implications of Michael Oakeshott’s assertion that “there are not two worlds—the world of past happenings and the world of our present knowledge of those past events—there is only one world, and it is the world of present experience” (Oakeshott 1933:108). [ethics, events, history, Sierra Leone, storytelling, violence]
n summoning the past to reach an understanding of the present, it is all too tempting to see history as a series of defining moments and critical events—the Atlantic slave trade, the Holocaust, the colonization of the New World, the crucifixion of Christ, the killing of Imam Hussein, or, for that matter, 9/11—whose force continues to be felt in the here and now, shaping the way we live and our worldview. The same is true of war, which so utterly transforms maps, polities, and worldviews that we often declare in its after355
replete with its own preoccupations. struggles. and in doing so. Violence. Moreover. effects may precede causes and. i. reducing what is now possible to what happened long ago. and it is characterized less by necessity than potentiality. we might say. from a phenomenological standpoint. Although. shepherding. and interests appropriates the past. but many. reaping. academic arguments. to all intents and purposes. for by 356 . he or she comes dangerously close to bad faith. The “potential space” is the place of play and of art. The historian who overlooks this perennial interplay between what has been and what is in the making tends to commit the same epistemological error as many of those whose “past” he or she is studying. or a sixteen year old schoolgirl expresses the opinion that “anyone who does not try to be educated will be just like a slave. when a resentful younger brother in Sierra Leone complains about being “a slave” to his elder brother’s will. but as an emergent property of the interplay between the two—something occurring “in the potential space between the individual and the environment” (1974:118). privileging antecedent events over present-day praxis. but how these contemporary allusions to slavery effectively bring the phenomenon into being. “bring about the past” (Dummett 1978:319-350). is thus never one thing.2 This may be compared with the way we in the urban-industrial West still deploy metaphors from our agrarian past—of herding. The past. the past has a causal effect on the present simply because it is prior. from an objectivist standpoint. But this view of history and war often downplays the ways in which past events are continually being transmuted into myth and the ways in which the present. Thus.W. his or her own particular compromise between what is given and what he or she effectively brings into being. or an unhappy wife refers to herself as “a slave” in her husband’s house. by explaining the present solely in terms of the past. such an historian not only risks attributing to the ancestors greater power than the living possess. This point of view echoes D.Storytelling Events. and the Appearance of the Past math that nothing will ever be the same again. sowing. and corporate takeovers (Lakhoff and Johnson 1980:4-5). in which every individual negotiates. sports competitions. and attributing to the spectral appearance of the past in the present an abiding ontological presence and identity.” we glimpse not only how “the” historical past (in this case “domestic slavery”) is strategically and rhetorically deployed to explain quite different social and biographical circumstances.e. Winnicott’s understanding of cultural experience as neither inner nor outer. revises the way the past appears to us. albeit unwittingly. and cultivating—to express experiences that have nothing to do with farming or deploy the imagery of war to describe domestic altercations.
so to speak. though not always equally. not as referring primarily to some external reality.e. but offers itself up. and folktale. To put it more theoretically. outside the field of our immediate comprehension and control—people all too readily declare that they can neither govern nor change them. My working hypothesis is that the “past” has a similarly symbolic status as “ancestors. culturally. but at the expense of absolving people of responsibility for their present situation. to the living as a basis for 357 .” “God. such as the implicitly Lamarkian notion that “traumatic” experiences in previous generations.MICHAEL JACKSON invoking the determinative power of an allegedly pristine past. for human beings everywhere participate actively. is to share in this bad faith. he or she runs the risk of absolving people from their responsibility for ensuring that the worst of the past never happens again and that the best of it is salvaged and retained. But in what form? This question is especially imperative in preliterate societies. the second which admit and celebrate it—is spurious.” “tradition. myth. i.” At the same time. Perhaps we should explore more carefully and empirically the questions of what it is that we call “the past” and what uses this “past” is put to by the living.” or “the war.” Such terms tend to be reified and treated as transcendent. It is for this reason that Lévi-Strauss’s well-known distinction between cold and hot societies—the first which deny or countermand the future. we need to explore how the dead weight of past generations—Sartre’s “practico-inert”—is transformed by the human faculty for initiating something new —the faculty that Hannah Arendt calls “natality. or during wartime. leave permanent psychic scars whose repercussions continue to be felt. Since the historical past is not transmitted genetically. in the creation of the future whether that future appears to repeat the past or not. without showing how they actively work on these circumstances. it must be transmitted exogenetically. we should construe these statements. but rather to our experience of reality. To treat people as victims of circumstance. There are also methodological pitfalls in our appeal to the past. a phenomenological critique of objectivism is suggested here—for when Marx speaks of the “tradition of all the dead generations [weighing] like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (Marx 1934:10) or Arendt writes that the new is that “which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before” (1958:178). as stories. Causative forces and transcendent entities thus acquire the power to explain and legitimate social practices and worldviews. One obvious answer is in anecdote. And in so far as they are seen as “objective”—which is to say. unto the seventh generation. the past is not imposed upon the present. like original sin. But I hope to show that.
That present events are always characterized by a degree of hermeneutic openness is immediately evident in any Kuranko storytelling session. astonishment. or murmuring approval. A Storytelling Session When we speak of oral traditions. northeast Sierra Leone. we must not assume that the “tradition” comprises a finite repertoire of stories. In what follows. eh. I recall it now only to re-emphasize the significance of the theatrical or performative dimension of Kuranko storytelling. Keti Ferenke and Kenya Fina actually shared the narration and played the male and female roles. each gave enthusiastic support to the stories that the others told. 358 . Indeed. Bakhtin’s argument that any narrative participates in the “open event-ness of Being” (1993:1) and simultaneously refers back to “the objective unity of a domain of culture” and forward “at the never-repeatable uniqueness of actually lived and experienced life” (1993:2). Let me therefore review briefly a night session in Kondembaia in February 1970 at which three gifted narrators were present—Keti Ferenke Koroma. or fiu. any story is like Heraclitus’ river. Violence. For though the past contains the germ of antipathy. interjecting stock exclamations. in 1970. Using a Kuranko narrative. heh. openness. and children. oho. and emphasis. defensiveness.3 and Sulimani Koroma—together with a sizeable audience of men. differently realized each time it is told and differently signified in the minds of individual listeners—hence. circulated ad infinitum and affirming entrenched moral values. collected in the course of fieldwork in Koinadugu district. I will show that both options are presented by the past and that it is for those in the present to decide which option will be preferred and how the past will be interpreted. such as ha. it also contains the possibilities of trust. in two stories about beguiling women. and the Appearance of the Past creatively comprehending their present situation and making informed choices about how it is to be addressed and lived. and reconciliation. Since I have described this session in detail elsewhere (1982:64-66). I will be mainly concerned with choices between retaliation and reconciliation. but each elected to tell stories that ironically counterpointed the story that had preceded their own. women.Storytelling Events. And when stories included songs. particularly the dialogical interplay of different storytellers. for as an experienced and performed event. and violence. Not only did the three storytellers take turns to tell their stories. Kenya Fina encouraged and enhanced the singing with her mellifluous voice and taught the audience the words of the songs before each story began. Kenya Fina Mara. At the same time.
and open up the possibility of dialogue and reflection on decisive questions of judgment and action. 359 . a storytelling event epitomizes the ideal of social intelligence (hankili) and conforms to a model of civility and conversability that is recognized in all cultures. Moreover. Keti Ferenke Koroma once spelled this out to me by saying that dogmatic declarations about what is right and wrong will have less effect on a young listener than the telling of a story which enables her to see for herself the implications of certain actions and thus come to her own conclusions as to what behaviors are most conducive to the viability of a community. it is to emphasize the ways in which storytelling. take action to realign and reaffirm the social order. as I say. moreover. both in the telling and singing of the story and in the elucidation of its ethical implications. and estate. that implies that anyone may. But. A pluralistic spirit prevails. such as Keti Ferenke’s “The Two Momoris. conventional attitudes based on gender.” which I have analyzed elsewhere (2002:142-152). age.MICHAEL JACKSON This subtle alternation of voices and of various points of view means that Kuranko storytelling events play with. such bias will seldom go unchallenged. therefore. Kuranko tileinu not only critique the rigid worldviews associated with established centers of chiefly power and male authority. estate. social dogmas. either by other storytellers or by the audience. not so much the substance of what is said or suggested in a story that affirms the ethic of openness and “whiteness” that Kuranko encapsulate in the notion of morgoye (personhood). This is not to say that storytelling works toward unanimity or consensus. and ethnicity. but the very act of participating in a shared event and referring separate experiences to a common source. It is. stories place in abeyance predetermined. stories are no more the same than people are. encompassing both stories and persons. still less that it denies intrinsic and inherited differences in rank. this play maximizes audience participation. Thus. singing. rather. rather than slavishly assert. and voicing various viewpoints. simply by virtue of its being a shared action of speaking. For in counterpointing different standpoints. while individual stories. in the event of an unjust use of privilege or power. makes possible the momentary semblance of a fusion of disparate and often undisclosed private experiences. sitting together. may take a dim view of women. It is the adjustment and reconciliation of differences that storytelling attempts. In this sense. rather than the strict imposition of unitary identifications. gender. they play and comment ironically upon each other. Crucial to this ideal is the notion of a complementary relationship between different voices and different points of view—a complementarity. for as Kuranko see it.
Having boasted to me more than once that he could tell more stories than I would ever have patience to record. “If you are the senior wife (baramusu). one against the other. Then Kenya Fina signalled that she wanted to tell a story. Though all touched on familiar themes—the vaunting of self. failing to keep promises. As we shall see. I want to quickly comment on the six stories that followed and brought the evening to a close. and the Appearance of the Past On the night in question.” Now it was Keti Ferenke’s turn again. Though it picked up on Keti Ferenke’s themes of not lording it over others and not using one’s superior position to take advantage of those under one’s care and protection. Taking his cue from Kenya Fina. he also told a story about co-wives. Babies slept. I think. sat in the shadows of hurricane lamps. Children clambered over one another. the room into which we were crowded was shuttered against the tropical night. you should not look down on the ones under you. unmoved by the commotion. partly to impress me. one of the most compelling stories I ever heard in Sierra Leone. but as a strategic series that plays off points of view. 360 . he began apace. putting oneself before others. but turned it into an indictment of the fickleness of women. But before relating it. not separately. Young men’s faces lost their brashness. as a disconnected set of entertainments. for this will help make clear the extent to which stories must be understood. and rattled off ten stories that immediately had everyone in stitches. Tricked and cuckolded by his wife. Old men. not heeding the advice of elders—they exploited ludicrous situations and played for laughs. blaming them for whatever goes wrong in the house. trying to get nearer the storyteller. just as the hardy leaf of the kuron tree endures high winds and driving rain. Even when he broached his own obsessions—the wiles and wickedness of women—he used burlesque and grotesque to avoid too much gravity. And women smiled without inhibition. taking unfair advantage of others. looking down on others. Kenya Fina’s story of Na Nyale is a plea for compassion and reconciliation. on their mothers’ backs. anticipating another of Keti Ferenke’s irreverent and hilarious performances. oblivious. Violence. for me. chewing kola. creating a polyphony of voices and enlarging one’s understanding of how the recurring dilemmas of everyday life are experienced by different individuals.Storytelling Events. the chief in the story ends up ruefully observing that men should try to endure the wanton ways of women. Kenya Fina’s story focussed on the relationship between junior and senior cowives and the unjust ways in which older women sometimes use their privileged position to abuse and exploit younger co-wives. It was at this point that Kenya Fina told what would become. I was barely able to find a niche for my microphone.
” When the chief said that he was going to look inside the basket. each hid her lover in one of the baskets. I am going to open it this very day 361 . “Eh. “Eh. as a consequence. loses the bounty he had earlier gained. The session ended with Keti Ferenke telling three more stories. What none of the wives knew was that the chief was going to visit them that day. By reiterating the point of “The Two Momoris. The women also prepared food and put it in the baskets. Then the chief took his machete and cut the rope. Kenya Fina told a comic story about a seductress. No sooner had the women left the farmhouse than the chief arrived. he saw that big basket hanging there. The basket said.” The basket hummed. showing that men can be as readily swayed by their emotions as women. shaking. It was immediately followed by a story in a similar vein by Tina Kuyate. Then they would set off to the farm to do the weeding and in the evening return to the town. the basket fell from the wall—din. A male ancestor. given great gifts by a magical bird. They wove several large raffia baskets that could be hung from the walls of the house. So the wives decided on a ruse.MICHAEL JACKSON rather than harsh judgement. it seemed to sum up all that he and Kenya Fina shared. The chief said. Then one day. concerning the origins of ingratitude. the basket is shaking! I must look into this.” The basket shook twice. carrying their lovers in the baskets on their backs. Keti Ferenke then told a story that pressed his point that women cannot be trusted. Na Nyale left her lover in the farmhouse. decided to leave her lover in the farmhouse when she went out weeding. fails to give anything back to the bird when it is in need and. He allowed no man to see his wives. But while all the other wives took their lovers with them to the place where they were weeding that day. not only in art but in life. “Mm hmm. In a lighter vein now. because he was too heavy to carry. and left it for her lover. the last of which affirmed the value of friendship. it started shaking. shaking. “Ah! So the basket can speak. As he entered the house. these women are amazing. prepared it well. whose name was Na Nyale.” though this time without any reference to women. a poignant demonstration that friendship may transcend lines of age and gender. What have they got in this big basket? I am going to have a look inside. He touched it and said. With the rope cut. The chief said. The Story of Na Nyale There was once a very jealous chief. Whenever the women made ready to go from the town to the farm. This went on for some time. one of the wives. Na Nyale had killed a chicken.
” The woman said.” The chief said. “Are you the owner of this?” She said. I am gone. The cassava leaf then changed into a little Senegalese fire finch. He put one foot on Fara Mara’s legs. The bird found that the women had partitioned the area. And what did he see? Fara Mara. Allah has indeed destined that something should happen between us today. “Chief. “All right. I am not going to finish weeding my piece of ground. the other foot on Fara Mara’s hands. and the Appearance of the Past and see what is inside.” The others said.” The man begged.” She hurried quickly down the hill and arrived at the farmhouse. “Who is in this basket?” The man said. oh Na Nyale. Then the chief said. The bird is saying something to us. then the chief has seen a man today. I have not left any man in my farmhouse. Then she saw the chief. But what did she see? She saw the basket on the floor. “After I killed him.5 and I killed him. When his throat was slit. Standing a little way in front of Na Nyale.” The chief said. what happened here?” The chief said. oh Na Nyale…If you have left the basket. “Well. “The Seli. ni i wara sole to mansa Wara kemine ye m’bi yo. what did you do with him?” The chief said. oh Na Nyale) Na Nyale said to her companions. “What did you come here for?” The man said. “I am. “Nnn. to tell them what had happened. Then the chief said. all the ropes cut from its mouth. “Allah has destined that this should happen. Na Nyale.” The woman said. Now get out so that I may kill you. I will pay it. Violence. and the chief seized him. “No. I am gone. then he took out his knife and cut Fara Mara’s throat. it sang: Na Nyale. why don’t you simply fine me? Whatever the amount is. go. What did you do with it?” The chief said.” He took a knife and cut the rope that held the mouth of the basket closed. If I found a man in the basket with the bones of a chicken and a pan with traces of palm oil on it. She said. then it means that the food he eats is sweeter than the food I eat. “Yes.” Fara Mara got out of the basket. oh Na Nyale (Na Nyale. “Into what river?” The chief said. “Who are you?” “I am Fara Mara. the bird is crying.” said the man.”6 362 .” The chief said. Fara Mara’s blood splashed onto a cassava plant. “Well. whose lover had been killed. We will see you later.Storytelling Events.4 The fire finch flew to the part of the farm where the women were weeding. oh Na Nyale Ni i wara sole to mansa. “After you killed him. “Oh chief. I burnt his body and threw the ashes in the river. oh. I must kill you. The blood splashed over the leaves. But there is no need to be afraid.
MICHAEL JACKSON The woman went to the town and got some money. They told him to put the life back in the body. searching for her lover. There is someone searching for him. someone desperate to find him. that love was in the air and on the ground and under the water. All those who were able to reassemble the skeleton did so. Na Nyale arrived at that spot. Those who ate the eyes should give them up. It was a place so fear-inspiring that no one ever ventured there. for the man who was killed on account of me. this is my gift to you. I must find him. Fara Mara. she sang the same song.” He went for the life. Then they asked who had taken the life. “That man who was killed and burnt. Then they told the man that someone was looking for him. She would continue on her way. All those who ate the flesh should regurgitate it. She scattered some coins in the forest and said. He did so. I will not rest. She would say. “If I do not see this man today. then no matter what happens. Don (Do you hear me. Fara Mara.” They said. She would tell the birds to be quiet.” The woman then set off. For two years. I cannot live without 363 . “I took the life. She said she had to find her lover.” So everyone brought forth the different parts. she followed the river. Wherever she stopped by the riverside. “I am searching for my lover. go and get it. All those who were able to put flesh on the bones did so.” I ya l moina. and whose ashes were thrown in the river…. following the river downstream. All those who ate the bones should spit them out. At that moment. They put all the parts together again. There was dense forest all around. “All you djinn who live here. We should put all these parts back together again and make the man as he was. I am looking for someone. For two years she followed the river. Quiet) She heard nothing but the sound of her own voice.whoever ate some should bring it forth now. She stood there. If I do not find him I prefer to die by this river. so desperate she cannot rest. She said. “Well. But so desperate was this woman that she cared nothing for her own safety. She heard the palmbirds chattering. do you hear me? All is quiet Do you hear quietness? You died because of me All is quiettttt. The one who had taken it said. Then all the living things of the river met together and said. Wherever she stopped she would find palmbirds in their nests. i ya l moina? Dondo I ya l moi dondo? I ya saya soron n’de le fe Dondooooo.
” The woman went and greeted Na Nyale. “I am not Na Nyale. “Well.” But silence surrounded her. he raised me. But Na Nyale said. Then the man sang in reply: Ah. the man who was hidden in a raffia basket on the farm. The creatures who dwell under the water took care of them for two years. we will kill you. Then the man took £15 and gave it to the chief. the one whose lover was killed by the chief. but you did. and the Appearance of the Past him.” They said. he is here. “But the man looks like Fara Mara.” People said.” and set off. “All right. n’de Fara Mara. they asked: ”Is that chief still there?” People said. take your sword and cut off his head. “What chief?” “That chief who killed a man that year. “He is there. No one knows my song. ask for him and spend a night lodged in his house. listen to me. In every town they came to. the couple reached the town where that chief lived. so I have come to thank him.Storytelling Events. “All living things in the water and on the land.” Then the man said. But they did not recognise the luiye. “Well. you will satisfy us. thus paying him back in his own kind. Violence.” Then she scattered some coins along the riverbank and said. But then she said. “Well.” Then people said. but the strangers said nothing. n’ya saya keni i le l le fe dondo (Ah. “What chief?” “The chief that killed a man on his farm on account of his wife. She stood and sang (as before). Invite him to dance with you. and the woman was given two boxes of dresses. He must be here. as you dance. Then one of the chief’s wives said. She said.” (The chief had no idea that a plot was being 364 . we have to tell you that when you return you should immediately find the man who killed you and take your revenge. Everyone was looking at the two strangers.” The man and the woman said. “You raised me. Sit on your horse. Next morning.” The other woman said. “He is here. I am Fara Mara. tell him you want to dance. “He is here.” Then she saw him.” The man said.” Finally. can you show me the way to his luiye?” They led him right into the chief’s house. If you don’t do this. You have forgotten. They asked. In the third year they were given a xylophonist. Here is what to do: when you return. and let him sit on his. “Well. “Is that chief still here?” People said. She looks like her. Then they were carried to the surface. The water creatures said. except Fara Mara.” The talk went on.7 A horse was given to the lover. Then.8 By cutting off his head. They were well fed and provided for. I preferred death because of you…all is quiet) The woman leapt into the river—gbogbon. “Eh! This man’s wife resembles Na Nyale. He said. “Yes. people really can look alike!” She went away.
He put his hand under his gown and grasped the sword. such as a house. be you a chief or a nobody. But he did not go to her place. it is necessary to stress that the principle of reciprocity operates both at the level of being and of having. “Oh God.) refer both to material possessions—particularly those that contain and protect.)9 Then everyone fell silent.10 if you should find your wife with another man. heh. This man killed me. in both senses of the term—material possession and 365 . for Being is in all societies cathected onto and distributed among the things which people call their own and with which they identify. and the jelebas played their xylophones. But miran. a stop was put to killing. The Kuranko notion of miran helps make this clear. to make him do what the strangers wanted.” (A killer’s word is always feared. and substantiality of being—such as forceful speech. he drew his sword and with one blow. water vessels. Therefore. and social adroitness. His head fell there. In the morning the man told the chief that he was going to offer a sacrifice. Mirannu (pl. My body was burnt and my ashes strewn in the river. physical skill. Even Fara Mara’s mother did not recognize him. The Social Logic of Violence To understand violence intersubjectively. Fara Mara said. All the chief’s wives became his wives. His body fell there. because it was a long time since he had done so. But Fara Mara had a sword hidden under his gown. Everyone can tell me soon why he or she is crying. cut off the chief’s head. clothing. To kill is not our custom. What one has objectifies who one is. He said.MICHAEL JACKSON hatched against him. He became chief in that town. “I did not know that I would find my big man here.” Since these events occured.” As the chief passed him. one for himself and the other for the dead chief. everybody be quiet.) The woman then gave two lapas and two head ties to each of the chief’s wives. People scrambled to get them. “Heh. I did not start this.” Then the chief mounted his horse. oh God. That is not what we have met. help me take my revenge. The man scattered coins on the ground. The jelebas were playing. He said. Everyone was happy. clapping. If this all happened. The man mounted his. presence. The old women crowded around them. There was a great commotion among the people. singing the praises of the chief. heh. Next day he sacrificed two cows. heh. fine him but do not kill him. Everyone was crying. Then they retired for the night. No one does it now. and cooking pots—as well as to personal attributes that give one a sense of self-possession.
when the party that feels that its being has been violated takes identical counteraction against the violator. who severed the hands of several people in Kondembaia in April 1998. diminishing. diminishing the miran of those in their presence. and the Appearance of the Past personal disposition—is never a fixed property or attribute. Moreover. a pot broken. In practice. A kind of intersubjective logic then comes into play. rewarded by Fara Mara inheriting all that the chief had once possessed. and a house fall into disrepair. a person’s miran can be “taken away” by more powerful others (such as autocratic parents. and powerful bush spirits) whose voice and power “press down” with great weight. But self-possession may be undermined. what the RUF rebels believed. it is a necessary and honorable one. contain. This is why. substantiality. can we call such action violent? According to Kuranko reasoning. and standing. or erasing one’s own being. a violent act. house. Violating the being of someone who is believed to be responsible for violating one’s own is not violence but retributive justice. Not only is this not. or indirectly doing so by taking away properties that one regards as essential to and as extensions of one’s being. or lost. and gender. a balance is struck in which everyone’s voice. a man whose jealousy overrules his better judgement. Violence. he now has every right to do to the chief what had been done to him.Storytelling Events. Which is. on the evidence. so a person can lose self-possession and confidence. belittling. chiefdom—in exactly the same way that in a consumer society. sapped. or a woman whose emotions are not held in check. a senior co-wife who abuses her junior partners. presence. But some people assert themselves beyond their due station—as in the case of a chief who exploits his position to take advantage of people. Ideally. village. based on the principle of reciprocity. Just as a person’s property can be stolen. before avenging himself. according to which one has the right to counter in kind any action that has the effect of directly nullifying. no. in the Kuranko view. and property is accorded due recognition in relation to his or her role. But in the case of lex talionis. for were they not part and parcel of the being of ferensola—of the party and people that had robbed them of their power? 366 . one has every right to avenge oneself against anyone who seeks to do one harm. age. a person’s miran may be bolstered by fetishes that symbolically enclose. If one is innocent. Fara Mara declares before God that since he had done nothing to justify the violence of the chief. and protect (ka kandan) the vital spaces that define his or her being—body. The phrase ke manni a nyorgo manni reveals the kinship between the social logic of partnership and the abstract calculus of retaliation. forceful public speakers. material possessions bolster and define a person’s sense of well-being.
In this same vein. But at the same time. These two ethics are also co-present in the previous story where Gbeyekan Momori’s goodwill and generosity of spirit breaks the cycle of vendetta and payback by focusing not on the immediate situation that has caused such grief and pain. For. stories may all too easily deceive us into thinking that the world is quintessentially and categorically divided into good and evil. I suspect. in the Kuranko view. vengefulness and forgiveness inherent in all relationships. In dramatizing extreme possibilities.MICHAEL JACKSON However. love and hate. traces of two quite different strategies of coping with violence—vengeance and forgiveness—and so leave open. Folktales and historical memory both preserve. stories also cross and blur such boundary lines. and that we—exemplars of the good and the just—will win out in the end. at all times. writing of the paradigmatically most black and white situation of our times. but without the taking of a life. he was born with it). I have argued that Kuranko stories open up discussion of varying points of view and help restore faith in common sense and conciliation in a world plagued by division. the possibility of choosing how one will react to evil. Kenya Fina makes a case for indemnification without death—a form of redemption in which something of comparable value is given to replace what was taken. the enemy 367 . revealing—as in the story of Na Nyale—the potentiality of amity and enmity. koni ma kinikini a ma”—he has spoiled the law. the human and the nonhuman. the deserving and the undeserving. a soron ta la bolo” (he is blameless. but let us take pity on him. they reveal the irreconciliable differences and contradictory potentialities that inhere in every being and in every human situation—as when the spirits of the wild demonstrate morgoye (‘humanity’) in empathizing with Na Nyale and assisting her on her quest. “Fine him but do not kill him. only to later demand the death of the chief as the price of their goodwill. But in exchanging one standpoint for another and testifying to the way life is actually lived rather than merely thought. selfishness and generosity. calls “the gray zone”—“indecipherable because it did not conform to any model. an ambiguity that Primo Levi. but invoking a more abstract point of view.” And it is in a similar vein that an elder at a court hearing will sometimes show empathy (hinantei). certain people are innately incorrigible and therefore unable to stop themselves breaking the law. based on the notion of personhood as magnanimity. or a danye le wo la (that is how he is made). Kenya Fina’s story juxtaposes this retaliative attitude (associated with the djinn. hence the comments one sometimes hears in a court hearing: “a ka tala. the beings of the wild) with another. and plead on behalf of a remorseful wrong-doer: “A sa seria tinyan.
tearing it free from the oppressor’s grasp and releasing oneself from those thoughts of revenge and those memories of one’s loss that might otherwise keep one in thrall to one’s persecutor forever. and reckoning what we stand to gain or lose. I can shut them out of my mind. m’bara hake11 to an ye12—“I can forgive. stirring up old hatreds and hurts. In my recent writing. the contenders were not two. in which one reclaims one’s own life.” Was forgetting possible. I have explored the ways in which ordinary Sierra Leoneans. and go on with your life. you don’t really forget. and hesitate and reflect. than a pragmatic assessment of what was most expedient if one was to salvage one’s life and livelihood —a matter of what one could and could not do. but at least I can rid myself of them. raking over the coals. but I cannot forget. All you can do is accept. 2004). or killing it. Forgiveness implies neither loving those that hate you. A matter of whether one had the power to see that justice was done and whether one could endure replaying the horrors one had endured. But you don’t really forgive. which stretched between each of us” (1989:38). nor even understanding them (“they know not what they do”). Violence. But it was less a choice grounded in moral or intellectual belief. The hawk has flown away. loved ones. weighing our options. I can expel them from my life. one could not discern a single frontier but rather many confused. You simply accept that there’s nothing you can do to change what has happened. Reconciliation was the only reasonable choice. having suffered grievous losses during the war. and the Appearance of the Past was all around but also inside. “Say a hawk came out of the blue and seized one of your chickens.Storytelling Events. Look at me. and how deep down did the forgiving go? Noah emphasized the powerless of those who had lost limbs. nor absolving them from their crime. unpremeditated actions that we only retrospectively dignify with the notion of freewill. the ‘we’ lost its limits. considering our position. it is a form of redemption. What can you do? You can’t get it back. Avenging and Forgiving What we call “choices” are often habitual. 368 . But there are moments when we are faced with a dilemma. and livelihoods in the war. You have no means of hunting it down. I have no way of taking revenge on the rebels who took away my livelihood.” Noah’s words reminded me of a passage in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958:237). addressed the peace (Jackson 2003. My friend Noah Marah and I often talked about the phrase I heard often in the refugee camps of Freetown. vengeance was not an option. For many people. perhaps innumerable frontiers. rather.
forgetting…these are all relative terms. they are simply leaving it up to God to see that justice is done. we are letting sleeping dogs lie. open up old wounds. If we talk about the war. They are stratagems for making things happen that are in one’s own best interests or are consonant with what a person’s significant others deem to be imperative. when women who were sexually abused in the course of the war march in the streets of Freetown demanding justice and reparations rather than hide their “shame.” Grievance Mode and Acceptance Mode Noah’s observations make it clear that espoused attitudes do not always or necessarily go all the way down. and of punishing those who perpetrated human rights abuses. Same as they say in Krio. It is not a question of giving voice to one’s personal experience. Thus. forgiveness. and that God will mete out punishment in His own good time. of publically confronting one’s oppressor. No one forgives the RUF. In Sierra Leone right now. We simply do not want it to happen again. and perhaps entail further acts of violence and revenge—this does not exclude the possibility that some will see the Western emphasis on talking through one’s grievances. Most of us here feel that God sees everything.” Noah continued. 369 . as a more effective way of securing benefits than silence and resignation.” or when refugees adopt the language of human rights and speak of their suffering as post traumatic stress disorder in order to gain sympathy and assistance from NGOs. “I am freeing myself of the effects of your hatred. So I might say. But this doesn’t mean that justice will not be done. They are performative in character. it is not because we are plotting revenge or want to prolong the suffering. rather than mirror the way a person “actually” thinks or feels. You understand? We are fed up with the war. Fed up with atrocities. Although many Sierra Leoneans are critical of the work of the Western-funded and fostered Truth and Reconciliation Commission—seeing it as a foreign imposition that will revive bad memories. God will take out my anger on him. Because how can you ever be reconciled to someone who has killed your father or cut off your hand? Reconciliation. I don lef mi yon to God. but of securing the means to improve one’s everyday lot. That’s why we say. we are witness not to imperatives of “belief” or “culture” but to imperatives of survival.MICHAEL JACKSON “If I say i hake a to nye. I have left it up to God. I am refusing to hate back.
become habitual ways of addressing the world. persecution. assumed or discarded as circumstance demands. when Foday Sankoh had an opportuni370 . Similarly. feed fantasies of revenge. and humiliated that he becomes consumed by a cold. theft. as anthropologists. have repercussions that they do not. inertia. and culture merely a set of masks. and. Sankoh nursed an abiding hatred for Joseph Saidu Momoh. the successor to Siaka Stevens. encourage the idealization of the lost object. Violence. One does not have to look far to find examples of grievance mode. Here was a man who reminds one of Dostoevsky’s abject hero in Notes from Underground—someone who feels himself so downtrodden. thwarted. under certain circumstances. perhaps no one better exemplifies this grievance mode than Foday Saybana Sankoh—an army corporal. he is so in thrall to his ressentiment that nothing can cure him of it. enthusiastically led the armed wing of the RUF during the civil war. and depression. protest. More imperative even than power was this self-defeating need to keep his hatred alive. cashiered and sentenced to seven years in Pademba Road prison for his alleged role in the 1971 conspiracy to overthrow President Siaka Stevens. Indeed. prevent creative reengagement with the world. In Aotearoa-New Zealand and Aboriginal Australia this is a common performative mode.Storytelling Events. withdrawal. For years. and as such. and the views they espouse. which was why. and cannot. poisonous craving for revenge. for the strategies to which people have recourse. Let me draw a distinction between two strategic or performative modes that I will call grievance mode and acceptance mode. by holding a person in thrall to the past. My argument is that each mode has positive and negative extremes. and grieving are all psychologically positive ways of working through the trauma of separation and loss. For example. in which colonialism is fetishized and racialized as an explanation for every disadvantage and misfortune indigenous people have suffered and are suffering. these behaviors can. in which external action is supplanted by libidinal “work” on one’s own emotions and fantasies of occult power—a kind of “fatalistic submission to the forces of the world” (Bourdieu 2000:223). Key images recur—oppression. and the Appearance of the Past This does not mean that. it may just as readily lead to fatalism. while grievance mode is practically synonymous with bereavement behavior. while acceptance may imply a sober assessment of the limits of one’s freedom. always control. we are brought to the vulgarly pragmatist conclusion that beliefs are little more than mundane strategies. in which anger. and in his embitterment and resolve to see the APC destroyed. In the recent history of Sierra Leone. and contamination—and claims for redress are made on the strength of historical injustices.
Ethical Ambiguity and the Anthropology of Events The course of history. he argued that the RUF had not fought a war to secure posts. and the presence of NGOs create new forms of dependency and recreate the stigmatized and marginalized situation in which people lived under colonial rule. the Western agendas for Truth and Reconciliation. and many symbolic possibilities. like the course of any human life.” while confirming Winnicott’s great insight that this is also the space of play. the source not only of Africa’s salvation but of the meaning of Africa itself. or gerontocratic forms of social organization all carry the risk of assigning such causal weight to enduring primeval. And all the while the influx of foreign aid and foreign goods. inevitably. the living are regarded as victims of their own history. some to be conjured out the volatile circumstances of a globalized world. arguments to the effect that violence in Sierra Leone is an expression of primitive irrationality. Thus. some born of the past. And it is because this cultural space contains many voices. a model of how we should approach an understanding of the present. or structural essences that both the power and responsibility of the living to choose their future are downplayed. for us. come to terms with what has 371 . the circumstances of colonial history. and Europe made. I have spoken to Sierra Leoneans who doubt that “Africans” have the capacity to govern themselves and who see no local answer to the problem of endemic corruption and croneyism among ruling elites. and it is the interplay between past and future at the level of events that should be the focus of our ethnographic labor. hoping to find in occult experience the new dispensation they have been unable to find in everyday life. many points of view. one wonders whether a new fatalism has been born of the Sierra Leonean war.MICHAEL JACKSON ty to realize his revolutionary ideals in government. It is in these lulls that we take stock of our situation. To emphasize the indeterminate relation between past and future is to emphasize the ethical ambiguity of the present. Some have embraced Islam and “new” religions. its sole objective had been a kind of cleansing or purging—to remove a corrupt regime from power. combine and permute constantly in the creation of what we call history. or of their own African essence. But all manner of potentialities. historical. that storytelling events may constitute. comprises a succession of turbulent events interrupted by periods of comparative calm. As a result. I have suggested that storytelling events exemplify the hermeneutic openness and indeterminacy of culture as “potential space. As for acceptance mode.
responsible for the world in which we live. Violence. but by connecting us with others as co-creators of a viable social world (Arendt 1958:178). and political issues arise here. As Sartre puts it. these are also the moments when we foreshadow—in the ways we speak. apart from being a response. then we are. and the Appearance of the Past occurred. rationalizations. social. Sartre defines human freedom as our capacity to make ourselves out of what we are made (1969:45). and in a second work (Jackson 2004b). Accordingly. It is this capacity for rebirth—occurring ”against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability” and appearing “in the guise of a miracle”—that redeems us. and begin anew. not simply by freeing us from our thralldom to the past. This is the ethical burden of Akira Kurasawa’s great film. even if it is only to assume this responsibility. reaction.Storytelling Events. yet in so far as our responses to the events in which we find ourselves embroiled influence events as yet unborn. Hannah Arendt refers to this generative or initiatory aspect of human action as “natality:” “Since action acts upon beings who are capable of their own actions. for in so far as we are slaves to the past. is always a new action that strikes out on its own and affects others” (1958:190). I bear witness to the extraordinary capacity of Sierra Leoneans to remake their lives in the wake of the decade-long civil war. freedom may be understood therefore as the “small movement which makes a totally conditioned social 372 . and narratives eclipse and compromise our memory of those events). which is why ethics is perhaps more urgently a matter of how we react to circumstances than the circumstances themselves. Roshomon—not just that the truth of any event is relative to our vantage point and interests. I argue that Arendt’s notion of natality is needed to complement Bourdieu’s notion of habitus (with its emphasis on engrained habits of thought and action that effectively bind us to the past. we are not entirely responsible for our own actions. does one decide on revenge or reconciliation? To what extent can parents justifiably plead that they are so shaped by the circumstances of their own childhoods that they are powerless not to repeat past patterns in their relationship with their own children? Can history absolve us? Can new technologies relieve us of the burden of choosing our own fate? Can culture be invoked to explain or excuse our actions? My argument echoes Sartre’s point—that the onus is always on us to accept responsibility for what we are made. and act—the shape of things to come. In the wake of a violent act. think. but that the outcome of any event hinges on how successfully we claim final truth for our own view and how we relate our own interests to others. to some degree. In a recent book (Jackson 2004a). Important ethical. even as the meanings we give to past events in our imaginings.
It may follow a verbal apology. malice. for a small child does not enter the public domain for some time after its birth. The Kuranko phrase ko manni a nyorgo manni means literally “something happened. 11 Hake is sometimes translated as “sin. To understand the situations in which this drama plays out we need not only an ethnography of events. Here the term is used as a synonym for a commoner. by implication a praise-singer. danger. Uncertain and afraid of the offender. 3 Kenya Fina Mara and Tina Kuyate were both married to the late Diang chief. but analytical strategies that explore the interplay of history and biography. balanje (xylophone)-hitter. 2000b) 2 Rosalind Shaw’s superb ethnographic work among the Temne shows how the present and past “mutually configure” each other. in which the offender begs 373 .” though the word covers a multitude of motives— hatred. and witchcraft (1997. ill-will. 2002. its partner [i. In Kuranko thought. a jeleba. its counterpart] also happened. linguistic. These new social and cultural forms are the effect of a dialogical mediation between the present historical situation and a past repertoire of ideas with which social actors critically engage” (2001:227). 7 8 bal’fole. a drifter. Magba Koroma I—Tina being baramusu (senior wife) and Kenya Fina gberinya (second-married. in which case the offender must indemnify the person to whom injury has been caused. This compensatory action may be effected through several means. the locus of the story ceases to be mythical and is suddenly brought closer to home.MICHAEL JACKSON being someone who does not render back completely what his conditioning has given him” (1969:45).” 9 Throughout the telling of this story. 10 kemine gbana—an unmarried young man. people had kept their distance from him. that we should be alert to “the importance of understanding history not only as a site of causal explanations but also as a source of particular forms—symbolic. and how the habitus of the slave trade produced “oblique” effects and “practical memories” in contemporary cultural preoccupations with secrecy.e. theft. the offense calls for payback (tasare). someone of inconsequential status. so that if a person offends. 2004a. 5 6 The Seli is the largest river draining the southern area of Kuranko country. in a similarly non-reductive vein. lit. envy—and distracts from the principle of retributive justice that lies behind it. 2003). Keti Ferenke acted as a kind of second to Kenya Fina. practical—that social actors deploy to rework the social fabric in response to contingent events. 4 The Senegalese fire finch (tintingburuwe) habitually flits and nests around houses. ENDNOTES 1 This paper contains several excerpts from previously published work (Jackson 2002. and it is this association with domestic space that may explain why the souls of dead infants are said to inhabit the fire finch while awaiting possible reincarnation. suspicion. junior wife). This circumlocution conveys the idea that women prepare the best food for their lovers. and at this point—responding to Kenya Fina’s own aside—he interrupted the story to remind everyone of an incident that had taken place in Kondembaia a few days before. the same thing. an idler. It may follow a court hearing. while Mariane Ferme argues. intersubjective relationships are governed by reciprocity. A man had quarrelled with another man and inflicted a minor wound with a knife. wrongs. or injures another person without justification. In referring to a local river.
such redress was thought to require divine agency. Michael. Michael. particularly if the victim is protected by magical medicines. Michael. Violence. Shaw. Pierre. London: Duckworth.” In Being There: New Perspectives on Phenomenology and the Analysis of Culture. and the Everyday in Sierra Leone. no matter how forcefully circumstance has obliged or compelled her to act in one way rather than another. Primo. and Johnson. if the injured party feels that no worldy agency can secure redress.” It is perhaps necessary to point out that choice is never a matter of individual will.). 95-105. Michael. 2004a. Experience and its Modes. “The Production of Witchcraft/Witchcraft as Production: Memory. however. Toward a Philosophy of the Act. Karl. George. Existential Anthropology: Events. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Michael. Rosalind. Levi. Hannah. Bourdieu. At the same time. freedom is always exercised within limits—a cybernetic search for a balance between what can and cannot be done under given circumstances. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Lund: Nordic Academic Press. Jackson. Marx. 1993. The Drowned and the Saved. he may be inclined to leave matters in the hands of God. Exigencies. New York: Vintage. Allegories of the Wilderness: Ethics and Ambiguity in Kuranko Narratives. In Sierra Leone. Bakhtin. 1980. and the Slave Trade in Sierra Leone. 1958. Jackson. Durham: Duke University Press. It may. (trans. 1978. In conversations with Kuranko informants in JanuaryFebruary 2002. History. Translated by Richard Nice. 2003. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2002. Jonas Frykman and Nils Gilje (eds. ”People feel that God is just and omnipotent. Jackson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. American Ethnologist 24(4):856-876. Transgression and Intersubjectivity. The Politics of Storytelling: Violence. lead the injured party to take matters into his own hand and seek sorcery as a form of revenge. Metaphors We Live By. 1989. M. Truth and Other Enigmas. 2000. Michael. Jackson. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. One way or another He’ll avenge the crime or wrong-doing. Translated by Vadim Liapunov.M. 374 . 2004b. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Underneath of Things: Violence. Ferme. 1934. In a previous discussion of hake (Jackson 1982:29-30) I speak of automatic redress. every human being seeks to act as if she decided her situation. 1933. The Human Condition. and the Appearance of the Past forgiveness. Michael. As Noah put it. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mark. Moscow: Progress Publishers. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louise Bonaparte. and Effects. Lakhoff. 1997. Mariane. 1982. if recourse to legal means or the workings of individual conscience are unavailing. Modernity. Dummett. Alternatively. Oakeshott. in which an unprovoked and unjustified offense will boomerang back against the offender.Storytelling Events. Raymond Rosenthal). Pascalian Meditations. eds. and it is this ethical latitude that makes every intersubjective moment to some extent. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 2001. Jackson. 12 REFERENCES Arendt. Austin: University of Texas Press. for as my earlier discussion of hake makes clear. “The Politics of Reconciliation: Reflections on the Postwar in Sierra Leone.
D. “Itinerary of a Thought. Rosalind. 2002. “Robert Kaplan and ‘Juju Journalism’ in Sierra Leone’s Rebel War: The Primitivizing of an African Conflict.” New Left Review 58:43-66. 375 . Rosalind.W. 1969. Shaw. 81-102. Sartre. Birgit Meyer and Peter Pels (eds. Playing and Reality.MICHAEL JACKSON Shaw.” In Magic And Modernity: Interfaces Of Revelation and Concealment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone. 1974. 2003. Jean-Paul. Winnicott. Stanford: Stanford University Press.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
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