Current Project

In my project, I will research the relationship between various forms of luso-creole identity and processes of integration and conflict in the Ziguinchor region (Senegal). Parts of Ziguinchor’s population share cultural practices and identity markers that are in some way linked to Portugal. This dates back to a time when a common cultural, economic, and—to some degree—political space evolved as part of the Atlantic world, integrating the Cape Verdean Islands with trade networks along coastal Senegambia and the Upper Guinea Coast.

Today, Senegalese national culture and identity is dominated by a process often referred to as Wolofization, describing the spread of an urban variety of the Wolof language from the capital Dakar to all urban centers of the country, including Ziguinchor, and, more recently, to the countryside, as well. Wolofization is accompanied by other processes of cultural exchange on the national level. Indigenous luso-creole culture continues to be practiced in a number of local lineages or households in the city of Ziguinchor and the villages surrounding it. In addition, Bissau-Guineans have been migrating to Ziguinchor for decades and brought their variants of luso-creole culture with them.

Existing studies point to the conflictual as well as integrative potential of luso-creole identity and culture in Ziguinchor. In the local context, claims to resources and prestigious positions in and around Ziguinchor may still be legitimated by a person’s luso-creoleness. Certain luso-creole lineages claim to be the first inhabitants of the former Portuguese trading post of Ziguinchor, and thanks to their local Bainunk (or Jola) parentage claim ownership to land in the surrounding areas. I want to explore if and how their former role as Ziguinchor’s political and commercial elite continues to give them a privileged position in various social contexts.

In the context of national integration, there are tensions between the Casamançais and the northern Senegalese (i.e. from the part of Senegal north of the Gambia), even beyond the armed conflict between the secessionist movement MFDC (Mouvement des forces démocratiques de la Casamance) and the Senegalese state. Many Ziguinchorois complain that the Senegalese state, represented largely by Northerners, deters their region from living up to its potential. Yet, young people in Ziguinchor – luso-creoles included – seem to embrace northern Senegalese youth culture. I will study how and in what contexts luso-creoles make use of different cultural traditions to stress differences or similarities with Northerners and other Casamançais.

In the context of transnational relations and migration, luso-creole identity and culture often seems to play a particularly integrative role. In neighboring Guinea-Bissau, luso-creole culture has become the nucleus of Bissau-Guinean national culture and identity. In Ziguinchor, Bissau-Guinean immigrants’ integration seems to be facilitated by their luso-creole background. I will explore whether and how a shared luso-creole identity is evolving among immigrants and local populations characterized by luso-creole identity and whether and how shared luso-creoleness facilitates relations between Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and Ziguinchor more generally.

I will also examine my case by comparing it with specific aspects of other cases of creole identities in the Upper Guinea Coast region. I thereby intend to contribute to the knowledge about creolization processes in Upper Guinea Coast societies and to creolization’s role in processes of integration and conflict as well as to existing theories of creolization more generally.

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