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Centre of African Studies: Events


A Ritual Geology: Gold and Subterranean Knowledge in West Africa

A Ritual Geology: Gold and Subterranean Knowledge in West Africa
Speaker: Robyn d'Avignon # NYU
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Introduced by
Date and Time
22nd Jan 2020 16:00 - 22nd Jan 2020 17:30
Violet Laidlaw room, 6th floor CMB

The Birimian Greenstone Belt—a geological formation that undergirds much of savannah West Africa—is currently the focus of one of the world’s largest transnational gold mining booms. Anglophone mining giants and “juniors” have opened exploration camps and cut truck-and-shovel open pit gold mines into Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. Dotting the interior of these state-issued mining permits are thousands of so-called “artisanal” gold miners. Many of these artisanal miners descend from Maninka lineages for over a millennium. 

This talk examines how Maninka clans, villages, and polities along this geological belt came to know, narrate, and objectify the underground as a source of mineral wealth. By the nineteenth century, I argue, residents of these gold-producing zone shared a ritual understanding of the underground as the property of otherworldly forces: land spirits, mystical snakes, and goblins. In charting this “ritual geology,” this talk contributes to theorizing in environmental history of the ways in which experts use maps, models, legal instruments, and ritual, to objectify “nature.” 

Freshers 2013