Negotiating the meaning of Africa: Mandinka praisesingers in transnational contexts
The focus of the dissertation is on the performances and activities of praisesingers and the ways in which these activities act as powerful texts of culture and politics in The Gambia and the West. I reexamine ideas about culture and cultural representation through attention to a tradition of Mandinka praisesingers, known as jali. Jaliya is the institutional name of the craft. Jali are important cultural brokers in local and transregional contexts. Though their activities they help negotiate the meaning of Africa for various audiences.
The thematic counter-parts explored through ethnographic contexts focus on various meanings of culture. Challenging traditional notions of culture, understood as a moral or bounded system, this dissertation formulates a more expanded notion of the meaning of culture--one that can account for global cultural flows. Throughout the thesis the dichotomy that often exists between metropolitan theories and local contexts is challenged through attention to a complexly intertwined world; theory is not just produced in the West and exported elsewhere. Rather notions of "culture" and "the cultural" are produced in dialogue with and across imaginary geographies. Central to this project is attention to how the categories of analysis are produced.
Such themes as performance, music and ideology, formation of national culture, the construction of professional identity, and local/global cultural economies are linked in an exploration of the inventiveness of and contestations over notion of culture and cultural production. I then link these themes to various social and political histories. African and its diaspora helps to construct meaning in global centers and for various communities.
Several themes emerge in the dissertation that build from existing studies of Mandinka praisesingers. No longer can anthropologists imagine a world to be "discovered" as some might have previously thought. Indeed jali have become the focus of studies but mainly in terms of their particular practices rather than a focus on meanings and implications of their activities. This dissertation focuses on how their activities help to constitute notions of culture and various subjectivities. By extension I explore how are gender, caste, class intimately linked in their activities?