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A Ritual Geology: Gold and Subterranean Knowledge in Savanna West Africa

by Robyn d'Avignon

Duke University Press, 2022


eISBN: 978-1-4780-2307-4

OA eISBN: 978-1-4780-9267-4

Cloth: 978-1-4780-1583-3

Paper: 978-1-4780-1847-6

About the Book
Set against the ongoing corporate enclosure of West Africa’s goldfields, A Ritual Geology tells the untold history of one of the world’s oldest indigenous gold mining industries: Francophone West Africa’s orpaillage. Establishing African miners as producers of subterranean knowledge, Robyn d’Avignon uncovers a dynamic “ritual geology” of techniques and cosmological engagements with the earth developed by agrarian residents of gold-bearing rocks in savanna West Africa. Colonial and corporate exploration geology in the region was built upon the ritual knowledge, gold discoveries, and skilled labor of African miners even as states racialized African mining as archaic, criminal, and pagan. Spanning the medieval and imperial past to the postcolonial present, d’Avignon weaves together long-term ethnographic and oral historical work in southeastern Senegal with archival and archeological evidence from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Mali. A Ritual Geology introduces transnational geological formations as a new regional framework for African studies, environmental history, and anthropology.
About the Author
Robyn d’Avignon is Assistant Professor of History at New York University.
“The foremost contribution of A Ritual Geology is the representation of African miners as intellectual actors. . . . A Ritual Geology is impressive. It is crucial reading for anthropologists and historians looking to understand decolonial methodologies. It should also find a readership among actors who intervene in mining worlds, be it as corporate employees, state officials or development agencies.”

-- Dr Dagna Rams LSE Review of Books

"D’Avignon illuminates the complex narrative of African knowledge production and resource extraction using thick ethnographic descriptions, oral and life histories, and archival sources. ... [The] book is refreshing and provokes debates about African artisanal miners and local knowledge."

-- Jabulani Shaba H-Environment, H-Net Reviews

"It is a rare to read a book that is, at once, innovative in its methodology, provocative in its argument, convincing in its claims and evidentiary foundations, and beautifully written throughout. ... [D'Avignon's] book testifies to the complex and often moving insights that can be gained from approaching peoples and places, of the past and of the present, with humble curiosity and a profound sense of shared humanity."

-- Emily Lynn Osborn Journal of African History

Gold mines and mining, Gold miners, Africa French-speaking West, Ethnology, Cultural & Social, Anthropology, Social Science
Open Access Information

Label: New York University

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0