Current Project

Historical creolization and contemporary belonging in Ziguinchor (Senegal)

My PhD project investigates the influence of historical processes of creolization on the contemporary handling of belonging in the Ziguinchor area (southern Senegal). I am studying this in the current period of the accalmie, the calming down of the decades-long Casamance conflict. From February 2017 to February 2018, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork mostly in the city of Ziguinchor, with shorter stays in nearby villages as well as in Dakar and Praia (Cabo Verde). In my dissertation, I show how local belonging and belonging-together in Ziguinchor often manage without constructing an encompassing collective identity. At the same time, this practice makes use of the creole identity construction of only part of the population.

Unlike Bissau, such obvious Portuguese-creole features as the language Kriol have not established themselves permanently as markers of local urban identity in Ziguinchor. A stronger creole influence can be seen at the level of those value systems that structure belonging, however. The more explicitly residents express belonging to Ziguinchor, the more likely they describe themselves as “mixed” regarding their origins. They value their “mixedness” as something positive and rather unusual. For one’s belonging to Ziguinchor, it is mainly important to be born and brought up there oneself.

Still, specifically creole cultural features have a solid position in Ziguinchor. As a place, it is still associated with these old traditions despite the fact that even in the old town, they characterize merely part of the resident families. For most inhabitants, the presence of such features mainly serves as a reminder that the place of Ziguinchor itself has a “mixed” identity at its origin so that no ethnic or religious group can make any special demands. Only those inhabitants with a personal or familiar migration history from Guinea-Bissau can directly link in to Ziguinchor’s Portuguese-creole traditions. Despite frequently facing legal challenges regarding missing or false personal documents, they experience belonging to Ziguinchor as more natural than in other places in Senegal.

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