Beads, bones, rags, straw, leather, pottery, fur, feathers and blood—these are the raw materials of vodun artworks. The power of these images lies not only in their aesthetic, and counter-aesthetic, appeal but also in their psychological and emotional effect. As objects of fury and force, these works are intended to protect and empower people and cultures that have long been oppressed.
In this first major study of its kind, Suzanne Preston Blier examines the artworks of the contemporary vodun cultures of southern Benin and Togo in West Africa as well as the related voudou traditions of Haiti, New Orleans, and historic Salem, Massachusetts. Blier employs a variety of theoretically sophisticated psychological, anthropological, and art historical approaches to explore the contrasts inherent in the vodun arts—commoners versus royalty, popular versus elite, "low" art versus "high." She examines the relation between art and the slave trade, the psychological dynamics of artistic expression, the significance of the body in sculptural expression, and indigenous perceptions of the psyche.
Throughout, Blier pushes African art history to a new height of cultural awareness that recognizes the complexity of traditional African societies as it acknowledges the role of social power in shaping aesthetics and meaning generally. This book will be of critical importance not only to those concerned with African, African American, and Caribbean art, but also to anthropologists, African diaspora scholars, students of comparative religion and comparative psychology, and anyone fascinated by the traditions of voudou and vodun.
"An extraordinary tour de force."—Choice
"Extraordinarily detailed....Blier's examination of the entire, often mysterious history of vodun is...in a word, definitive."—Booklist
"A serious study that concentrates on the hidden power of objects and the meaning behind that potency is long overdue. Welcome Susan Blier's African Vodun....Certainly a must for...those concerned with the psychology of art."—Janet L. Stanley, Art Documentation
"[Blier] is usually sensitive to the need to resist imposing Western artistic values and academic methodologies inappropriately upon such art. But she offers the reader a gift even more precious; she offers rare insights into how various art forms—sculpture and home architecture in particular—yield meanings for the African users of such art.—Norman Weinstein, Boston Book Review
In recent years the popularity of service learning and study abroad programs that bring students to the global South has soared, thanks to this generation of college students' desire to make a positive difference in the world. This collection contains essays by undergraduates who recount their experiences in Togo working on projects that established health insurance at a local clinic, built a cyber café, created a microlending program for teens, and started a local writers' group. The essays show students putting their optimism to work while learning that paying attention to local knowledge can make all the difference in a project's success. Students also conducted research on global health topics by examining the complex relationships between traditional healing practices and biomedicine. Charles Piot's introduction contextualizes student-initiated development within the history of development work in West Africa since 1960, while his epilogue provides an update on the projects, compiles an inventory of best practices, and describes the type of projects that are likely to succeed. Doing Development in West Africa provides a relatable and intimate look into the range of challenges, successes, and failures that come with studying abroad in the global South.
Contributors. Cheyenne Allenby, Kelly Andrejko, Connor Cotton, Allie Middleton, Caitlin Moyles, Charles Piot, Benjamin Ramsey, Maria Cecilia Romano, Stephanie Rotolo, Emma Smith, Sarah Zimmerman
While living in West Africa in the 1970s, John Chernoff recorded the stories of "Hawa," a spirited and brilliant but uneducated woman whose insistence on being respected and treated fairly propelled her, ironically, into a life of marginality and luck as an "ashawo," or bar girl. Rejecting traditional marriage options and cut off from family support, she is like many women in Africa who come to depend on the help they receive from one another, from boyfriends, and from the men they meet in bars and nightclubs. Refusing to see herself as a victim, Hawa embraces the freedom her lifestyle permits and seeks the broadest experience available to her.
In Exchange Is Not Robbery and its predecessor, Hustling Is Not Stealing, a chronicle of exploitation is transformed by verbal art into an ebullient comedy. In Hustling Is Not Stealing, Hawa is a playful warrior struggling against circumstances in Ghana and Togo. In Exchange Is Not Robbery, Hawa returns to her native Burkina Faso, where she achieves greater control over her life but faces new difficulties. As a woman making sacrifices to live independently, Hawa sees her own situation become more complex as she confronts an atmosphere in Burkina Faso that is in some ways more challenging than the one she left behind, and the moral ambiguities of her life begin to intensify.
Combining elements of folklore and memoir, Hawa's stories portray the diverse social landscape of West Africa. Individually the anecdotes can be funny, shocking, or poignant; assembled together they offer a sweeping critical and satirical vision.
In the West African nation of Togo, applying for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery is a national obsession, with hundreds of thousands of Togolese entering each year. From the street frenzy of the lottery sign-up period and the scramble to raise money for the embassy interview to the gamesmanship of those adding spouses and dependents to their dossiers, the application process is complicated, expensive, and unpredictable. In The Fixer Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a Togolese visa broker—known as a “fixer”—as he shepherds his clients through the application and interview process. Relaying the experiences of the fixer, his clients, and embassy officials, Piot captures the ever-evolving cat-and-mouse game between the embassy and the hopeful Togolese as well as the disappointments and successes of lottery winners in the United States. These detailed and compelling stories uniquely illustrate the desire and savviness of migrants as they work to find what they hope will be a better life.
While living in West Africa in the 1970s, John Chernoff recorded the stories of “Hawa,” a spirited and brilliant but uneducated woman whose insistence on being respected and treated fairly propelled her, ironically, into a life of marginality and luck as an “ashawo,” or bar girl. Rejecting traditional marriage options and cut off from family support, she is like many women in Africa who come to depend on the help they receive from one another, from boyfriends, and from the men they meet in bars and nightclubs. Refusing to see herself as a victim, Hawa embraces the freedom her lifestyle permits and seeks the broadest experience available to her.
In Hustling Is Not Stealing and its follow-up, Exchange Is Not Robbery, a chronicle of exploitation is transformed by verbal art into an ebullient comedy. In Hustling Is Not Stealing, Hawa is a playful warrior struggling against circumstances in Ghana and Togo. In Exchange Is Not Robbery, Hawa returns to her native Burkina Faso, where she achieves greater control over her life but faces new difficulties. As a woman making sacrifices to live independently, Hawa sees her own situation become more complex as she confronts an atmosphere in Burkina Faso that is in some ways more challenging than the one she left behind, and the moral ambiguities of her life begin to intensify.
Combining elements of folklore and memoir, Hawa’s stories portray the diverse social landscape of West Africa. Individually the anecdotes can be funny, shocking, or poignant; assembled together they offer a sweeping critical and satirical vision.
Letters from Togo
Susan Blake University of Iowa Press, 1991 Library of Congress DT582.9.L65B55 1991 | Dewey Decimal 916.681
Blake's adventurous essays—her Letters from Togo—are based on the letters she wrote to her friends from Lomé, the West African capital where she spent a Fulbright year teaching American literature from 1983 to 1984. As Blake begins the process of making sense out of a vibrant, seeming anarchy, we are pulled along with her into the heart of Togo—a tiny dry strip of a country no one can even find on a map.
With her delightful prose and insight for detail Blake introduces us to Mahouna, her housekeeper, who runs a cold drink business from his refrigerator in a country where electricity is unreliable; to American Lee Ann and her Togolese family, who works at the American school to earn the fees for a private education for her children; and to the suave René, wearing silk shirts and a most seductive smile, who teeters on the edge of the Togolese and expatriate worlds.
Since Lomé is both an overgrown village and a cosmopolitan city, Blake's exhilarating, often humorous experiences range from buying a car to attending a traditional tom-tom funeral, from visiting people who hunt with bows and arrows to enduring faculty meetings, from negotiating the politics of buying produce to lecturing on Afro-American literature at the English Club. Together, her enlivening letters trace the pattern of adjusting to a foreign environment and probe the connections between Africa and this curious, energetic American. Not "out of Africa" but within it, they take advantage of time and perspective to penetrate the universal experience of being a stranger in a strange land.
Since the end of the cold war, Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new political and religious phenomena, including an eviscerated privatized state, neoliberal NGOs, Pentecostalism, a resurgence in accusations of witchcraft, a culture of scamming and fraud, and, in some countries, a nearly universal wish to emigrate. Drawing on fieldwork in Togo, Charles Piot suggests that a new biopolitics after state sovereignty is remaking the face of one of the world’s poorest regions.
In a country where playing the U.S. Department of State’s green card lottery is a national pastime and the preponderance of cybercafés and Western Union branches signals a widespread desire to connect to the rest of the world, Nostalgia for the Future makes clear that the cultural and political terrain that underlies postcolonial theory has shifted. In order to map out this new terrain, Piot enters into critical dialogue with a host of important theorists, including Agamben, Hardt and Negri, Deleuze, and Mbembe. The result is a deft interweaving of rich observations of Togolese life with profound insights into the new, globalized world in which that life takes place.
In this book, Nina Sylvanus tells a captivating story of global trade and cross-cultural aesthetics in West Africa, showing how a group of Togolese women—through the making and circulation of wax cloth—became influential agents of taste and history. Traveling deep into the shifting terrain of textile manufacture, design, and trade, she follows wax cloth around the world and through time to unveil its critical role in colonial and postcolonial patterns of exchange and value production.
Sylvanus brings wax cloth’s unique and complex history to light: born as a nineteenth-century Dutch colonial effort to copy Javanese batik cloth for Southeast Asian markets, it was reborn as a status marker that has dominated the visual economy of West African markets. Although most wax cloth is produced in China today, it continues to be central to the expression of West African women’s identity and power. As Sylvanus shows, wax cloth expresses more than this global motion of goods, capital, aesthetics, and labor—it is a form of archive where intimate and national memories are stored, always ready to be reanimated by human touch. By uncovering this crucial aspect of West African material culture, she enriches our understanding of global trade, the mutual negotiations that drive it, and the how these create different forms of agency and subjectivity.
At first glance, the remote villages of the Kabre people of northern Togo appear to have all the trappings of a classic "out of the way" African culture—subsistence farming, straw-roofed houses, and rituals to the spirits and ancestors. Arguing that village life is in fact an effect of the modern and the global, Charles Piot suggests that Kabre culture is shaped as much by colonial and postcolonial history as by anything "indigenous" or local. Through analyses of everyday and ceremonial social practices, Piot illustrates the intertwining of modernity with tradition and of the local with the national and global. In a striking example of the appropriation of tradition by the state, Togo's Kabre president regularly flies to the region in his helicopter to witness male initiation ceremonies.
Confounding both anthropological theorizations and the State Department's stereotyped images of African village life, Remotely Global aims to rethink Euroamerican theories that fail to come to terms with the fluidity of everyday relations in a society where persons and things are forever in motion.
The first integrated history of the Ghana-Togo borderlands, Smugglers, Secessionists, and Loyal Citizens on the Ghana-Togo Frontier challenges the conventional wisdom that the current border is an arbitrary European construct, resisted by Ewe irredentism.
Paul Nugent contends that whatever the origins of partition, border peoples quickly became knowing and active participants in the shaping of this international boundary. The study itself straddles the conventional divide between social and political history and offers a reconstruction of a long-range history of smuggling and a reappraisal of Ewe identity.
Addressing topics such as imperialism, cocoa, the Customs Preventive Service, Christianity, and Ewe unification, this study will be of interest to scholars and to others concerned with issues of criminality, identity, and the state.