Feet in the Fire: Social Change and Continuity among the Diola of Guinea-Bissau Open Access

Davidson, Joanna Helen (2007)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/12579s38w?locale=en


Diola villagers in Guinea-Bissau have long been recognized for their capacity to grow rice in their landscape of tangled mangroves and thick oil palm forests. Recently, declining rainfall, desertification, and widespread erosion have increasingly challenged their ability to provision themselves through long-established wet rice cultivation practices. The effects of these ecological shifts are exacerbated by increased youth migration, national political instability, and the simultaneous increasing demands of a cash economy and declining overall economic security.

Based on two years of ethnographic research in Guinea-Bissau, this dissertation begins with the recognition, shared by most residents in the region, that Diola villagers are currently challenged to maintain a way of life that has largely worked well for many centuries. Diola see their sustenance system not simply as a means of survival, but as integrally tied to their conceptions of personhood, social relations, ritual obligations, and collective cultural identity. What do Diola villagers do when the actions that define a worthy person are no longer tenable? What happens when they find that many of the premises of their society are working against them? How does a cultural group maintain itself as suchwhen the values that have long defined its members are under severe pressure? This ethnography tells a complex and often contradictory story about Diola responses to these challenges by examining three central crises underway in Diola-land.

First, I consider Diola responses to changes in their environment that impinge upon their ability to maintain their long-held system of rice agriculture. The second part examines Christian missionary presence in Diola-land, and particularly how Diola Christians negotiate the different orientations and opportunities of village and mission life. The final section explores a conflict between Diola and Fula residents in this region, and explicates Diola values regarding social incorporation and exclusion.

Across these sites of analysis, this study explores which social forms are reproduced, which boundaries are maintained or redrawn, and how such processes are continually contested. Through specific ethnographic examples that have direct bearing on current Diola lives these three stories collectively engage broader questions about conflict, social change and continuity.

Table of Contents

Feet in the Fire: Social Change and Continuity among the Diola of Guinea-Bissau

Prologue: Feet in the Fire

Part I: Environmental and Economic Crises: Rice and Rain, Labor and Leveling

Chapter One: Introduction: Rice, Rain, and Responses

Chapter Two: Wombs and Tombs: An Example of Social Reproduction in the Ritual Realm

Chapter Three: “We Work Hard:” The Customary Imperatives of the Diola Work Regime

Chapter Four: Controlling Knowledge: Secrecy and Silence in Diola Social Life

Part II: Mission Implausible: Conflicting Values of Mission and Village Life

Preface: Dry Season 1998: A Crisis in the Diola Christian Community Chapter Five: The PIME Mission in Susana, 1952-2003 Chapter Six: Becoming and Being: Diola and Catholic Socialization and Systems of Thought

Part III: The Diola-Fula Conflict

Preface: May 30, 2000: A Day of Destruction

Chapter Seven: Postcolonial Politics and Local-State Relations in Guinea-Bissau

Chapter Eight: Settlement History and Strangers: The Dynamics of Incorporation and Exclusion in Diola-Land



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