The Colonial State and Carnival

The Complexity and Ambiguity of Carnival in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

Carnival performances and their political implications underwent significant transformations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. By focusing on two periods of colonization, this article examines carnival as an event that involves a multitude of meanings and forms of imitation that could imply resistance to colonialism, but were by no means limited to critique and upheaval. Colonizers, colonized, and the people mediating and situated between these overarching categories could ascribe various meanings to specific performances, thereby underlining the multi-dimensional character of carnivalesque rituals and their heterogeneous significations. In these performances, mimicking the colonizers was an active, creative, and ambiguous undertaking that repeatedly and increasingly challenged colonial representation. However, the colonial state proved to be far less controlling and totalizing than is often assumed.

Contributor Notes

Christoph Kohl studied at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Marseille. He conducted his PhD project on Guinea-Bissau for the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale. He was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology for a project on returned refugees in Angola at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and for the research group “The Cultural Dynamics of Political Globalisation” at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). He is a Research Fellow at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI), Braunschweig. E-mail: kohl@gei.de

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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