Colonial Transactions

9781478001232: Hardback
Release Date: 12th July 2019

9781478001584: Paperback
Release Date: 12th July 2019

35 half-toness, 4 maps

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 344

Series Theory in Forms

Duke University Press Books

Colonial Transactions

Imaginaries, Bodies, and Histories in Gabon

Florence Bernault retells the colonial and postcolonial history of present-day Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present, showing how colonialism shaped French and Gabonese obsessions about fetish, witchcraft, and organ trafficking for ritual murders.
Hardback / £90.00
Paperback / £22.99

In Colonial Transactions Florence Bernault moves beyond the racial divide that dominates colonial studies of Africa. Instead, she illuminates the strange and frightening imaginaries that colonizers and colonized shared on the ground. Bernault looks at Gabon from the late nineteenth century to the present, historicizing the most vivid imaginations and modes of power in Africa today: French obsessions with cannibals, the emergence of vampires and witches in the Gabonese imaginary, and the use of human organs for fetishes. Struggling over objects, bodies, agency, and values, colonizers and colonized entered relations that are better conceptualized as "transactions." Together they also shared an awareness of how the colonial situation broke down moral orders and forced people to use the evil side of power. This foreshadowed the ways in which people exercise agency in contemporary Africa, as well as the proliferation of magical fears and witchcraft anxieties in present-day Gabon. Overturning theories of colonial and postcolonial nativism, this book is essential reading for historians and anthropologists of witchcraft, power, value, and the body.

Preface  ix
Introduction  1
1. A Siren, an Empty Shrine, and a Photograph  27
2. The Double Life of Charms  69
3. Carnal Fetishism  96
4. The Value of People  118
5. Cannibal Mirrors  138
6. Eating  168
Conclusion  194
Notes  205
Bibliography  293
Index  321

Florence Bernault is Professor of African History at Sciences Po (Paris); Emerita Professor of African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; author of Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale: Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, 1940–1965; and editor of A History of Prison and Confinement in Africa.

“Outlining African and European cosmological frameworks in the years preceding and following colonization, Florence Bernault does not see a rationalist Europe encountering an Africa steeped in the occult. Rather, she finds a colonial encounter in which each side mixed notions of human and superhuman power. Colonial Transactions is both an informative history of a region of Africa and a valuable reflection on widely held colonial beliefs about the peculiarity of Africans.”

Frederick Cooper, author of
Citizenship, Inequality, and Difference: Historical Perspectives

“Florence Bernault develops a revolutionary view of colonial history that overhauls basic frameworks and pervasive dichotomies, showing how Gabonese and French colonizers’ imaginaries were convergent rather than oppositional, as is generally assumed. Colonial Transactions' audacious theoretical sophistication, vivid examples, and innovative analysis give it an urgency and broad relevance that will have an impact that exceeds far beyond its Gabonese focus.”

Peter Geschiere, author of
Witchcraft, Intimacy, and Trust: Africa in Comparison