Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3
Masquerades of Modernity: Power and Secrecy in Casamance, Senegal. Ferdinand De Jong. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2005. 216 pp.
It is always a pleasure to find insightful Anglophone treatises on the Casamance region of Southern Senegal, and Masquerades of Modernity is an excellent new addition to this relatively small body of literature. De Jong skillfully frames his material in relation to prominent themes in social theory including modernity, globalization, and the challenges of ethnographic writing and authority. The dialogue with contemporary sociological and anthropological concepts and the erudite but accessible nature of the writing make the work an engaging read.
The argument is based on extensive field research. While intriguing tidbits and anecdotes about the research are scattered throughout the text, a more comprehensive and focused discussion of methodology would have been useful. De Jong avers that sacred forests and masquerades are central to the power dynamics and social politics of the Casamance. Contemporary manifestations of masquerades are not expressions of tradition; they are discursive responses to changing conditions. Masquerades, like other rituals and secrecy, are thus part of the ongoing renegotiation of social life and have many functions such as shaping, reinforcing, and marking identity boundaries.
As the group most commonly associated with southern Senegal, the Jola (or Diola) are most prominent in the text, but there is some comparative material and considerable discussion of the Mandinko (or Mandinka). Although the Wolof commonly symbolize the subordination to northern Senegal that is central to the rationale behind Jola revitalization movements and the Casamance secessionist struggle, the Mandinko represent the immediate Other who are juxtaposed against “Jolaness” (my term). De Jong delves into the fascinating identity politics between the Jola and the Mandinko, and like most researchers and local residents, he emphasizes Mandinkoization of the Jola at the expense of the reverse concept. While both scholars and locals emphasize the dominant narrative of Mandinkoization, the cultural exchange has been bilateral; many persons commonly identified as Mandinko engage in practices associated with Jola lifeways and worldviews. The specific nature of such exchanges vary by locality and sub-populations concerned. In neighboring Gambia Mandokization is even more pronounced, but Jola customs have also influenced members of other groups. There are also cases of Mandinko patrilineages in Jola dominated villages who over the course of two generations have largely adopted what are considered to be “typically Jola” lifestyles, for instance.
Significant portions of Masquerades and Modernity discuss Islam and gender. As De Jong alludes to, religious affiliations are deeply intertwined with identity discourses, and Islam in particular is a key construct for identity formation and inter- and intra-group differentiation. He also examines inter-generational tensions, cleavages between the sexes, and the gendering of identity politics. Masquerades and ceremonies are variously interpreted as Jola, Mandinka, and/or Islamic, and the differentiation in interpretations and narratives strongly correlate with ethno-linguistic identities and attributes such as age and especially gender. Masquerades are also said to facilitate the maintenance and reproduction of gerontocratic authority and gender-based and other social hierarchies.
The text is rich with allusions to fascinating phenomena. These include the aforementioned role of masquerades in promoting social control, the potential commodification of ceremonies and the interplay between the secret, sacred masquerades and (profane) tourism, and much more. There are numerous possibilities for further theoretical development of the case material by elaborating on existing points and applying through elaboration of existing points and application. The analysis of ritual and performance could but does not address Victor Turner’s (1969) work on those subjects and his concepts such as ritualized inversion of status hierarchies. The work also offers ample opportunities for examining or applying other models such as Barth’s (1969) work on inter-group boundaries.
In conclusion, this stimulating and rich monograph is strongly recommended for both neophyte and seasoned regional specialists, and it may also be of interest to scholars and students of Africanist anthropology, modernity, globalization, and secrecy. Modernity and Masquerades would also be a good potential text for upper-level undergraduate and postgraduate courses on modernity and ritual.
Mark Davidheiser Nova Southeastern University
Barth, Fredrik. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969.
Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine, 1969.