The Hemeila riddle: Genealogical reconfigurations of pre-colonial encounters in Southwestern Mauritania

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Abstract

This article will focus on a seldom-considered aspect of Saharan social contexts: the incorporation of European/Christian characters into tribal sociopolitical frameworks. Supported by data from my fieldwork, I will discuss contemporary portrayals of a mid-seventeenth-century woman, Hemeila, whose mother is recognized as a European Christian of Iberian origin. These two women are presently incorporated in different genealogical narratives from Southwestern Mauritania. The research dealt with in this article also relates to discussions of social hierarchy familiar to Mauritania’s Arabophone populations, with a particular focus on groups holding a “religious” (zwaya) status. Additionally, this article discusses the role of the anthropologist as a producer of social facts, which in this context has led to a direct intervention in the reassessment of Saharan historical traditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
JournalHistory and Anthropology
Volume28
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2017

Keywords

  • Anthropology
  • Genealogy
  • Mauritania
  • Pre-colonial history
  • Sahara

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