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.
"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.
Issa Boureima is a young, hip African street vendor who sells knock-off designer bags and hats in an open-air market on 125th street in Harlem. His goal is to become a "Jaguar"—a West African term for a keen entrepreneur able to spot trends and turn a profit in any marketplace. This dynamic world, largely invisible to mainstream culture, is the backdrop of this timely novel.
Faced with economic hardship in Africa, Issa has left his home in Niger and his new wife, Khadija, to seek his fortune in America. Devout Muslims, the couple has entered into a "modern" marriage: Khadija is permitted to run her own business, and Issa has agreed not to take additional wives. Issa quickly adapts to his new surroundings, however, and soon attracts several girlfriends. Aided by a network of immigrants, he easily slips through gaps in the "system" and extends his stay in America indefinitely. Following a circuit of African-American cultural festivals across America, he marvels at African-Americans' attitudes toward Africa, and wonders if he'll ever return to Niger. Meanwhile, Khadija also struggles to make it—to become a "Jaguar"—as she combats loneliness, hostile in-laws, and a traditional, male-dominated society. The eventual success of her dry goods shop and her growing affection for a helpful Arab merchant make her wonder if she'll ever join Issa in America.
Drawing on his own decades of experience among Africans both in Niger and in New York, Paul Stoller offers enormous insight into the complexities of contemporary Africa. Alive with detail, Jaguar is a story of triumph and disappointment, of dislocation and longing, and of life lived in a world that no longer recognizes boundaries.
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.
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.