Chokwe identity, gender and materiality (Caribu)

Start - End 
2016 - 2017 (completed)



This doctoral dissertation is about Chokwe identities, body management, and history and socio-political understanding made possible through a careful study of their material culture. The thesis offers a comprehensive analysis – rather than a historical account – of Chokwe identity constructions, body and socio-political management, spatial occupation and social networks since their encounter with the Portuguese early in the fifteenth century. To make sure every aspect of their material culture is rightly perceived in its contribution to the comprehension of the Chokwe identities and their local and global connections, the dissertation is presented under interdisciplinary perspectives and covers three countries where the Chokwe live: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. Established scholarly resources into anthropology, philosophy, history, literature, religion, economics, art history, ethnology, and traditional medicine offer a large spectrum of expertise, and several contributions that facilitate the closest possible perceptions of Chokwe identity construction strategies and body use over many years. The research presents the Chokwe within their historical confinement beside their Lunda cousins. Lunda presence and identity has in the past publicly overshadowed Chokwe’s activities and reputation. Their closeness has often made it impossible to distinguish the Chokwe separately for many years. However, as soon as the Chokwe started marking their time with specific events and engaging in specific action such as moving away from Musumba, the Lunda Capital, fighting for their chiefs, living as independent warriors, challenging colonial administrators on land occupation, they were perceived differently by neighbouring peoples and colonial powers. In the same vein, their cultural settings and ritual organizations differentiated them from their cousins and neighbors despite so many commonalities within the region. When the Chokwe king visited Tshikapa in the DR Congo in July 2015, the rituals linked to welcoming ceremonies offered a tremendous opportunity that brought to the scene artifacts, especially masks produced ix for cultural perpetuation. Songs and dances suggested a thread (tradition-bound, open to new traditions) that was followed all throughout the dissertation for the recognition of a tradition leading to ancestors and disputing with nowadays governments, the ownership of lands, people and social facts. From the conception and the fabrication of artifacts within a local dynamic, these objects are carved within their relations with the Chokwe King (as the visible representative of ancestors), and the leaders of different social classes. From the same artifacts, it is possible to find out the Chokwe’s ideas about individual and community wellbeing taught in early initiations. These artifacts offer a religious sense separating the sacred from the profane, though often presenting them in the same space as both share spaces with the living human beings. To ensure connections with ancestors, different rituals are set around the Gombo, ritual material used in ethnic consultations. Human wellbeing is pursued through herbal medication inherited from ancestors and used in a vast network that combines pharmacopoeia virtues as well as magic in the evolution of the Chokwe. Practically, their wellbeing is put into the hands of Tahi and Chimbanda whose professional secrets are in initiations that give a prominent place to ancestors. Food contributes to the sense of wellbeing and is seen as a gift from ancestors praised for making good harvest, peace, and conquests possible. Contrary to many other African societies where women’s status and gender conditions raise world preoccupations, the Chokwe women seem more able to reach social equilibrium and gender understanding in drawing from oral sources and traditions. These media offer communication strategies, especially ambiguities, that they use for upgrading their social status and sharing leadership with men fairly. Through conversations’ ambiguities, they slowly engage in positive actions and leadership with results that benefit their society. The Likumbi Lya Mize is one of the rituals whose spaces have promoted women as social and business entrepreneurs. Their managerial and entrepreneurial capacities have made them incontestable leaders. A number of established authors such as Appadurai, Ferguson, Anderson, Comaroff, Stroeken, Derrida, Foucault, Descombes, Mudimbe, and Mbembe offered theoretical tools and fieldwork material that facilitated research of people in their social environment. These scholars’ resources permitted finding out that even when marginalized by their respective governments, the Chokwe still unite over the hinterland at the borders of Zambia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of x the Congo. They have constantly invented and reinvented their identities while keeping a strong cohesion and relation with their traditional background. Innovations and respect of their cultural backbone move together.



Phd Student(s)