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email@example.com Sent: Sunday, November 11, 2012 X-Posted to: H-WEST-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU Subject: West African burial practices: REPLY ------------ Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2012 12:15:18 -0600 From: Jeremy Pool <firstname.lastname@example.org> ------------------ First to the list as a whole, I apologize for speaking authoritatively in an area where I am not an expert (though I am very curious and interested to see what emerges as the conversation is pushed further) and for making statements about the region as a whole rather than specifying the areas where I have a better knowledge of the literature (and of contemporary societies). Hopefully this will be forgiven as an error of tone/phrasing rather than taken for hubris. To Kwabena Akurang-Parry, I meant simply that my impression from Sandra Greene's _Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter_ and other sources was that wooden coffins were an introduction to the burial practices (at least of coastal Ewe people) in the course of the 19th century encounter with Christian missionaries. I hope that I was not remembering this inaccurately. I know that Islamic burial also typically uses shrouding without caskets, but shouldn't have generalized to West African practice as a whole. I think the funeral/mortuary traditions are a potentially very rich area for African cultural history and hope that we scholars will explore this further. As far as a relative novelty to the formation of the American diaspora, I meant simply that, while there were a considerable number of people still being captured and taken from West Africa over the course of the 19th century, including after the formal abolition of the trade to the US, that the diasporic communities and their burial practices had already been developing there for some two centuries by that time. To Karen F. Dimanche Davis and Douglas Thomas, I am not a folklorist, and I apologize for the off-handed way I treated that question. I did intend my "among others" addendum to acknowledge that there were other trickster models in addition Ananse that found expression through Brer Rabbit tales. I know, however, that their are Anansesem/Ananese stories that, to my amateur ears, find almost word for word expression in Brer Rabbit stories as well as other African diaspora folkloric traditions. I should have taken into account the possibilities of intra-African syncretism as well as cultural adaptation. My point more generally was that while I don't want to discount the existence or continuity of particular practices between African and diasporan cultures, I feel that such an emphasis on concrete "retensions" can be a bit of a trap. It seems to me that this the practice of focusing on specific parallels of, say, coffin shape, in some ways comes out of the academic presumption that African cultural elements have to be proven where European cultural element can be assumed; that if we don't show specific practice or symbols as taking the same form in the Americas that they did in Africa, then it is assumed that African culture was lost in the trauma of the middle passage. I would hope that by this point the tabula rassa model is buried and that we can start with the presumption that African people used their cultures creatively to respond to the traumas of slavery and displacement that they faced. My concern is that we not lose sight of a broader set of cultural institutions, values and ways of thinking that are more diffuse but just as important in the formation of New World African cultures. I don't in any way think this is Rachael Pasierowska's intention and it may be that there are in fact concrete continuities in either coffin forms or the forms of other related objects from West or West Central Africa that found expression in 19th century Georgia. I would just encourage her to think about cultural systems and values as well as particular symbols or forms. Jeremy Pool