The most prolific ethnographic filmmaker in the world, a pioneer of cinéma vérité and one of the earliest ethnographers of African societies, Jean Rouch (1917-) remains a controversial and often misunderstood figure in histories of anthropology and film. By examining Rouch's neglected ethnographic writings, Paul Stoller seeks to clarify the filmmaker's true place in anthropology.
A brief account of Rouch's background, revealing the ethnographic foundations and intellectual assumptions underlying his fieldwork among the Songhay of Niger in the 1940s and 1950s, sets the stage for his emergence as a cinematic griot, a peripatetic bard who "recites" the story of a people through provocative imagery. Against this backdrop, Stoller considers Rouch's writings on Songhay history, myth, magic and possession, migration, and social change. By analyzing in depth some of Rouch's most important films and assessing Rouch's ethnography in terms of his own expertise in Songhay culture, Stoller demonstrates the inner connection between these two modes of representation.
Stoller, who has done more fieldwork among the Songhay than anyone other than Rouch himself, here gives the first full account of Rouch the griot, whose own story scintillates with important implications for anthropology, ethnography, African studies, and film.
Seizing the space opened by the early 1990s democratization movement, Muslim women are carving an active, influential, but often-overlooked role for themselves during a time of great change. Engaging Modernity provides a compelling portrait of Muslim women in Niger as they confronted the challenges and opportunities of the late twentieth century.
Based on thorough scholarly research and extensive fieldwork—including a wealth of interviews—Ousseina Alidou’s work offers insights into the meaning of modernity for Muslim women in Niger. Mixing biography with sociological data, social theory and linguistic analysis, this is a multilayered vision of political Islam, education, popular culture, and war and its aftermath. Alidou offers a gripping look at one of the Muslim world’s most powerful untold stories.
Runner-up, Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association, 2007
Niger most often comes into the public eye as an example of deprivation and insecurity. Urban centers have become concentrated areas of unemployment filled with young men trying, against all odds, to find jobs and fill their time with meaningful occupations. At the heart of Adeline Masquelier’s groundbreaking book is the fada—a space where men gather to escape boredom by talking, playing cards, listening to music, and drinking tea. As a place in which new forms of sociability and belonging are forged outside the unattainable arena of work, the fada has become an integral part of Niger’s urban landscape. By considering the fada as a site of experimentation, Masquelier offers a nuanced depiction of how young men in urban Niger engage in the quest for recognition and reinvent their own masculinity in the absence of conventional avenues to self-realization. In an era when fledgling and advanced economies alike are struggling to support meaningful forms of employment, this book offers a timely glimpse into how to create spaces of stability, respect, and creativity in the face of diminished opportunities and precarity.
Obstetric fistula is a birthing injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor that results in urinary and fecal incontinence. It is nearly non-existent in the Global North. In contrast Niger, in West Africa, has one of the highest rates of fistula in the world. In Western humanitarian and media narratives, fistula is presented as deeply stigmatizing, resulting in divorce, abandonment by kin, exile from communities, depression and suicide. In Fistula Politics, Alison Heller illustrates the inaccuracy of these popular narratives and shows how they serve the interests not of the women so affected, but of humanitarian organizations, the media, and local clinics.
"This ethnography is more like a film than a book, so well does Stoller evoke the color, sight, sounds, and movements of Songhay possession ceremonies."—Choice
"Stoller brilliantly recreates the reality of spirit presence; hosts are what they mediate, and spirits become flesh and blood in the 'fusion' with human existence. . . . An excellent demonstration of the benefits of a new genre of ethnographic writing. It expands our understanding of the harsh world of Songhay mediums and sorcerers."—Bruce Kapferer, American Ethnologist
"A vivid story that will appeal to a wide audience. . . . The voices of individual Songhay are evident and forceful throughout the story. . . . Like a painter, [Stoller] is concerned with the rich surface of things, with depicting images, evoking sensations, and enriching perceptions. . . . He has succeeded admirably." —Michael Lambek, American Anthropologist
"Events (ceremonies and life histories) are evoked in cinematic style. . . . [This book is] approachable and absorbing—it is well written, uncluttered by jargon and elegantly structured."—Richard Fardon, Times Higher Education Supplement
"Compelling, insightful, rich in ethnographic detail, and worthy of becoming a classic in the scholarship on Africa."—Aidan Southall, African Studies Review
The tale of Paul Stoller's sojourn among sorcerors in the Republic of Niger is a story of growth and change, of mutual respect and understanding that will challenge all who read it to plunge deeply into an alien world.
In Mastering the Niger, David Lambert recalls Scotsman James MacQueen (1778–1870) and his publication of A New Map of Africa in 1841 to show that Atlantic slavery—as a practice of subjugation, a source of wealth, and a focus of political struggle—was entangled with the production, circulation, and reception of geographical knowledge. The British empire banned the slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery itself in 1833, creating a need for a new British imperial economy. Without ever setting foot on the continent, MacQueen took on the task of solving the “Niger problem,” that is, to successfully map the course of the river and its tributaries, and thus breathe life into his scheme for the exploration, colonization, and commercial exploitation of West Africa.
Lambert illustrates how MacQueen’s geographical research began, four decades before the publication of the New Map, when he was managing a sugar estate on the West Indian colony of Grenada. There MacQueen encountered slaves with firsthand knowledge of West Africa, whose accounts would form the basis of his geographical claims. Lambert examines the inspirations and foundations for MacQueen’s geographical theory as well as its reception, arguing that Atlantic slavery and ideas for alternatives to it helped produce geographical knowledge, while geographical discourse informed the struggle over slavery.
My African Horse Problem
William F. S. Miles University of Massachusetts Press, 2008 Library of Congress DT547.27.M55 2008 | Dewey Decimal 916.690454092
In February 2000, William Miles set off from Massachusetts for a Muslim village in West Africa with his ten-year-old son Samuel to settle an inheritance dispute over a horse. National Public Radio was so intrigued with this story that All Things Considered broadcast his pre-departure testament, as well as a follow-up commentary on what actually happened.
My African Horse Problem recounts the intricacies of this unusual father-son expedition, a sometimes harrowing two-week trip that Samuel joined as "true heir" to the disputed stallion. It relates the circumstances leading up to the dispute and describes the intimacy of a relationship spanning a quarter century between William Miles and the custodians of his family horse—Islamic village friends eking out a precarious existence along the remote sub-Saharan borderline between Nigeria and Niger.
My African Horse Problem is a multi-layered narrative—part memoir, part ethnography—reaching back to Miles's days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the 1970s and a Fulbright scholar in the 1980s. At a deeper level, the story juxtaposes the idealistic and sometimes irresponsible tendencies of a young university graduate with the parental concerns of a middle-aged, tenured professor. Miles wonders if he was justified in exposing Sam to some of the worst health risks on earth, mainly to restore tenuous ties with long-ago friends in the African bush. Was it reckless to make his son illegally cross international boundaries, in a quixotic quest for justice and family honor? My African Horse Problem is more than an adventurer's tale with a unique story line: it is a father-son travel rumination, leavened by Sam's journal entries that help his father see Africa anew through a child's fresh eyes. In this era of religious and racial tensions, it is also a reaffirmation—within a black Muslim context—of the basic human imperative of trust.
It is the anthropologist’s fate to always be between things: countries, languages, cultures, even realities. But rather than lament this, anthropologist Paul Stoller here celebrates the creative power of the between, showing how it can transform us, changing our conceptions of who we are, what we know, and how we live in the world.
Beginning with his early days with the Peace Corps in Africa and culminating with a recent bout with cancer, The Power of the Between is an evocative account of the circuitous path Stoller’s life has taken, offering a fascinating depiction of how a career is shaped over decades of reading and research. Stoller imparts his accumulated wisdom not through grandiose pronouncements but by drawing on his gift for storytelling. Tales of his apprenticeship to a sorcerer in Niger, his studies with Claude Lévi-Strauss in Paris, and his friendships with West African street vendors in New York City accompany philosophical reflections on love, memory, power, courage, health, and illness.
Graced with Stoller’s trademark humor and narrative elegance, The Power of the Between is both the story of a distinguished career and a profound meditation on coming to terms with the impermanence of all things.
Bori, in the Mawri society of Niger, are mischievous and invisible beings that populate the bush. Bori is also the practice of taming these wild forces in the context of possession ceremonies. In Prayer Has Spoiled Everything Adeline Masquelier offers an account of how this phenomenon intervenes—sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically—in human lives, providing a constantly renewed source of meaning for Mawri peasants confronted with cultural contradictions and socio-economic marginalization. To explore the role of bori possession in local definitions of history, power, and identity, Masquelier spent a total of two years in Niger, focusing on the diverse ways in which spirit mediums share, transform, and contest a rapidly changing reality, threatened by Muslim hegemony and financial hardship. She explains how the spread of Islam has provoked irreversible change in the area and how prayer—a conspicuous element of daily life that has become virtually synonymous with Islamic practice in this region of west Africa—has thus become equated with the loss of tradition. By focusing on some of the creative and complex ways that bori at once competes with and borrows from Islam, Masquelier reveals how possession nonetheless remains deeply embedded in Mawri culture, representing more than simple resistance to Islam, patriarchy, or the state. Despite a widening gap between former ways of life and the contradictions of the present, it maintains its place as a feature of daily life in which villagers participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and approval. Specialists in African studies, in the anthropology of religion, and in the historical transformations of colonial and postcolonial societies will welcome this study.
Still Waters in Niger
Kathleen Hill Northwestern University Press, 2001 Library of Congress PS3558.I3897S74 1999 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
A New York Times Notable Book for 1999
Best Fiction of 1999, the Los Angeles Times Book Review
Starred review, Publishers Weekly
Finalist for 1998 Dublin IMPAC Literary Award
The narrator of this book is an Irish-American woman who returns to the West African country of Niger where she had lived seventeen years earlier as the wife of an academic and the mother of three young daughters. Now she is visiting her eldest daughter, Zara, who has herself returned to Africa during a season of devastating drought and is working in a village clinic that cares for women and children suffering from starvation.
Still Waters in Niger is a beautifully observed account of a return to a place at once exotic and familiar, as well as a tale of inner discovery. As the narrator reacquaints herself with her daughter and with the Africa of her past, she meets other mothers and their children. With her own memories of young motherhood strong, she becomes aware of the strikingly similar ways in which the impassioned and often difficult bonds between mothers and daughters are revealed across the divide of cultures. Hill paints a compelling portrait of a community of women grounded in kinship and care for their children, a society characterized not only by pain and exhaustion but by humor, delicacy, and strength. Filled with vivid, elegant descriptions and meditations on hunger, poverty, the desert, women, memory, and the love between mothers and daughters, Still Waters in Niger is the haunting story of a woman looking simultaneously backward and forward.
Yaya’s Story is a book about Yaya Harouna, a Songhay trader originally from Niger who found a path to America. It is also a book about Paul Stoller—its author—an American anthropologist who found his own path to Africa. Separated by ethnicity, language, profession, and culture, these two men’s lives couldn’t be more different. But when they were both threatened by a grave illness—cancer—those differences evaporated, and the two were brought to profound existential convergence, a deep camaraderie in the face of the most harrowing of circumstances. Yaya’s Story is that story.
Harouna and Stoller would meet in Harlem, at a bustling African market where Harouna built a life as an African art trader and Stoller was conducting research. Moving from Belayara in Niger to Silver Spring, Maryland, and from the Peace Corps to fieldwork to New York, Stoller recounts their separate lives and how the threat posed by cancer brought them a new, profound, and shared sense of meaning. Combining memoir, ethnography, and philosophy through a series of interconnected narratives, he tells a story of remarkable friendship and the quest for well-being. It’s a story of difference and unity, of illness and health, a lyrical reflection on human resiliency and the shoulders we lean on.