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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2018

Gewissheit und Geheimnis

Anne Storch


In its colonial context, Africanistics has been defined as inherently interdisciplinary: the study of African languages was intended to unveil African thinking, history and culture. Early research on spirit language practices and secrecy had a particular meaning in this context, as it helped to produce images of ‘African thought’ alongside ideas about expert identities. Linguists and missionaries who wrote about spirit possession and secret language practices, in these texts therefore not only constructed the colonial Other (traditional, static, located in another time), but also were able to present themselves to a wider academic and metropolitan audience as highly specialized cultural brokers, border-crossing pioneers who were able to reveal the hidden secrets of the colonized parts of the world and explain them to other scientists. In this contribution, I focus on the mimetic interpretations of the colonial Other in Africanist texts on spirit possession and on the ways in which Africanists of this period performed and mimicked expert identities.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston