“A small pot behind every big man”: Faith and settlement dynamics in the late Atlantic period in Bawol (western Senegambia).

  • Author: Ibrahima Thiaw
  • Topic: Buildings, towns and states
  • Country: Gambia, Senegal
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

In Bawool, as in most parts of the Senegambia, farming was the economic activity par excellence that conferred pride, dignity, freedom and honor. This idea of peasantry and of agricultural work differs fundamentally with its modern and recent historical usages in Senegambia where, although freemen, yeomen are a marginalized social category or baadolo, considered, voiceless, powerless, “uncivilized”, and “primitive”. It is suggested that this marginalization of baadolo is largely indebted to the expansion of the Atlantic system and the rise of ceddo regimes that capitalized on slave warriors and a political economy of violence. Recent archaeological survey in Bawool revealed wide scale abandonment of settlements and a move toward new cities such as Touba or Gawaan founded by Mourid clerics of the Muslim Brotherhoods. These population movements are situated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at a time of growing peanut farming. Many of the abandoned settlements we located show discretely hidden shrines at the foot of baobabs. Some of these were surrounded with fortune fences with an entrance and a lock indicating their continuous usage in the present. This paper examines the history and archaeology of Gawaan 1, or ancient Gawaan that was visited in 2008. This site offers a rare case study of where working the land is viewed as an act of bravery highly praised in the oral record. The abandonment of Gawaan 1 is analyzed in light of the foundation of Gawaan 2 or new Gawaan by a prominent member of the Mourid Muslim Brotherhood. This example is then used to gain insights on the massive abandonment of these peasant settlements and shed light on the continued use of the shrines in the present despite widespread conversion to Islam.

Keywords: peasant, slave, Muslims Brotherhood, shrines, Atlantic, peanut farming, settlement abandonment.

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