An Archaeology of Missionary Encounters: Initial thoughts and things from Saint-Joseph de Ngasobil (Senegal).
Saint-Joseph de Ngasobil, Senegal’s first Catholic mission, was created in 1848 on the eve of France’s colonial expansion. Established without much backing from French and African authorities, the religious community and its small population of converts stood in a tense and complex relationship to Senegal’s changing political landscape. Missionaries were trapped between their allegiance to the spirit of the times and the ideals of the Church, and in the course of its existence, the mission was often caught between the agendas of the French administration, traditional political elites, commercial capital, and the rural society that surrounded it on all sides. Accordingly, Saint-Joseph’s tumultuous past offers unique perspectives on the history of religious encounters in Senegal and its relation to colonial modernity. Since 2008, Saint-Joseph de Ngasobil has been the object of exploratory archaeological research and intensive archival fieldwork. This paper reports the initial outcomes of this project, and the possibilities it presents for exploring the material traces of colonial conversion, translation, and world-making in France’s African empire.
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