Nicolas Argenti, The Intestines of the State: Youth, Violence and Belated Histories in the Cameroon Grassfields

Nicolas Argenti, The Intestines of the State

Wonderful, useful characterization of gerontocracy in African societies: “African political hierarchies are said to be gerontocratic not because men (and to some extent women) accumulate power as a function of growing old but, on the contrary, they can only grow old to the extent that they have successfully accumulated wealth and power.” p. 8

Classic methodological statement of the need to describe African experiences in localized or indigenous categories and imaginaries in introduction, in part to argue from the outset that masking and youth are interpenetrated or interrelated subjects/experiences/practices.

“Mimetic appropriation” as a new way to characterize mimicry–connection to Ranger’s treatment of Beni ngoma; sapeurs also mentioned.

“If the children of the Grassfields ‘talk back’, they do not do so in ways that one might expect them to. Cadets do not verbally berate their elders or their chiefs, nor do they even complain about them privately to each other that often.” p. 22

Reorganization of the periodization/time of African history–modernity as spanning the late precolonial, colonial and postcolonial.

“The origin myths do not emphasize the generosity of the founding ancestors as much as their cunning and violence against the autochthons they conspire to decimate and to rob of their land.” p. 41

Reading Mabu the hunter masquerade as performative, embedded history–why is Mabu both the most feared and one of the most anticipated/pleasing masquerades? (Ch. 3) “Mabu the wild beast confronts the people of the Grassfields with the inhuman danger of the liminal stranger allegedly lurking in the bush on the periphery of the polity, Mabu the hunter reassures the citizens that the palace protects them from this exogenous threat.” p. 63 Would be a good chapter to conclude course on slavery in W. Africa–complexity of its echoes and reworkings.

Re: Ch. 4 on the modernity of slavery and German colonialism. Two interesting things–that the Germans, with no history of participation in New World slavery, should be so hesitant to abolish it in their colonial possession–because what could more mark off the inability of the colonizer to even ‘read’ the social structures of its possession? But also love the brief mention of the Chamba, a slave-raiding state formed in the generation prior to German arrival. We really, really, really need a comprehensive synthesis of 19th C. state formation across Africa to be ‘written in’ to the history of African modernity, parallel to what Taiwo suggests about “mission modernity”. So many groups are recodified by indirect rule as “traditional” in the sense of eternal autochthons and then accepted further as such by postcolonial nationalism.

Ch. 6 is terrific in so many ways. Would probably be the chapter to tell future Honors seminars to read preferentially.

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