The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History will be available via subscription on April 26. Visit About to learn more, meet the editorial board, learn about subscriber services.

Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, AFRICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 24 March 2019

Bodily Ways of Knowing: Anthropological and Historical Approaches to Affect and the Senses

Summary and Keywords

For centuries, European and Global North observers of non-Western societies have been fascinated by African bodily expressivity and power. Artistic and ritual displays of bodily ways of knowing have captivated explorers, traders, missionaries, anthropologists, historians, and tourists, and this engagement has spawned a robust industry of representational accounts of African affect and sensibilities. Both European colonialism and American imperialism created and produced voluminous documentation of “the black body” through study of folklore, proverbs, myth, sculpture, masks, adornment objects such as beads, tunics, hair combs, and so forth. In addition, film and still photography have been used to capture vivid portrayals of bodily powers revealed in dance and possession trance. A history of such documentation and collection reveals shifts over more than a century in the way body, affect, and sensing have been understood and studied. Anthropology and psychology took the lead in attending to affect and the senses, but by the late 20th century additional fields such as music, art history, archaeology, and history joined in the sensory turn.

Keywords: body, senses, sensory experience, affect, feeling, emotion, ontology, epistemology, phenomenology, embodiment

Fascination with African Corporeality

In 1944 anthropologist Roger Bastide wrote: “Africa penetrates the ears, the nose, and the mouth, hits the stomach, imposes its rhythm on the body and spirit, obliging him to move from the mysticism of stones and inlaid wood to the religions of Africa.”1 Considered one of the most sensuously attuned scholars of the 20th century, Bastide was enthralled with a way of knowing and being he associated with Africa as he carried out extensive fieldwork in Brazil.2 His statement stands out because of its direct, unsubtle reference to bodily aspects of intercultural encounter. If all scholars had addressed African sensory phenomena as transparently as Bastide, a history of affect, feeling, emotion, and sensing in Africanist scholarship would be straightforward. But emotionality and sensory embodiment were not always proper or well-defined topics—even though there was a fascination with this realm of African life. This article, then, represents a preliminary exploration of how Africanist scholars have studied affect and the senses—what kinds of sources they have used, what techniques they have employed, and what theoretical approaches they have relied on and/or developed.

The topic—roughly African corporeality, sensation, emotionality, and materiality—is vast. In addition, the meaning of certain concepts and terms may diverge dramatically in other cultural contexts. For instance, human sensing is typically understood to engage five modalities: hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling. But an in-depth ethnographic exploration of the senses among Anlo-Ewe speakers in southeastern Ghana revealed to this author that a well-defined coherent model of five senses was not particularly meaningful to them.3 Instead, Ewe speakers’ ideas about how we know and perceive the world included experiences of balance, movement, proprioception, as well as multiple kinds of tasting, hearing, and touching. It is important to state up front, therefore, that “the senses” or “the emotions” are not stable, fixed phenomena but rather can vary by cultural and historical context.

The Body in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Collectibles

“The ears of a chief are as the ears of the elephant” (i.e., he hears all that is going on).” This is one of nearly 4,000 Ashanti proverbs published in the1870s by the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society.4 Bodily references and metaphors figure prominently in many such 19th-century documents, reflecting a dialectic between African sensibilities and European fascination with so-called traditional systems of thought. Decades after the collection of these particular sayings, Captain R. S. Rattray translated and interpreted approximately 900 of the aphorisms to provide Europeans insight into an ethics Rattray believed was revealed by the sayings. His volume was introduced, in part, with the suggestion that, “Much has been said and written concerning the difficulty which the European mind usually experiences in comprehending the mentality of Orientals, but it is probable that the difficulties which beset a student of West African thought are far greater than any which are experienced in Asia.”5 Notwithstanding how this statement perfectly exemplifies both Edward Said’s “Orientalism” and V. Y. Mudimbe’s “Invention of Africa,” we can interrogate 19th-century collectibles—from carvings, masks, figurines and body ornamentations to photographs, folktales, and lexicons—to better understand how Africans represented bodily ways of knowing and how Europeans endeavored to collect, categorize, and catalog this extensive repository.

Among the proverbs collected by Basel Missionaries and translated by Captain Rattray, we find reference to not only wild but also domesticated animals: “When the feathers of a fowl grow, they still remain attached to its body.”6 Loyalty to the chief is at the heart of this saying: when individuals accumulate wealth and status, they must stay attached to their patrons just as a grown feather is expected to remain connected to a chicken’s body. Sayings such as this struck some observers of the time as quaint or “so trite and obvious that we should hardly esteem them worthy to rank as proverbs at all.”7 Others considered them valuable because these “proverbial sayings of the natives . . . furnish . . . the principal, if not the only, means whereby an understanding of their character and mentality may be acquired by Europeans.”8 Interpreters of the time drew a clear distinction between humanity and animality (“man” being a “master of nature”), so some of the subtleties of animal metaphors and what they revealed about African embodiment went unremarked. But as Francois Laplantine has pointed out, “The life of the senses . . . inscribes itself into the continuity of the living. It poses the question of human beings’ animality.”9 What fine-grained attention to animals and the likeness to humans can show is, for one thing, a “rhythmic rather than semiological character of the life of the body and the affects.”10 Much more about “animated being” was captured in the collected proverbs while perhaps not fully understood.

Early Africanists, such as Rattray, were interested in “traditional thought,” so while they did not explicitly interpret sayings in terms of “bodily ways of knowing,” it is possible to glean a sense of how the body was understood. For instance, for the saying “No one shows the child of a fetish priest how to dance,” Rattray explained that in this context the verb “to dance” was synonymous for the verb “to prophesy,” revealing how movement and its accompanying sensory experience was understood to help cultivate a kind of spiritual knowing.11

Collectibles included folktales and myths, sometimes filled with dramatic bodily expressions, exemplified in a Bushongo narrative recorded in 1910 in the Congo River region about Bumba vomiting up the entire universe.12 Bumba, representative of the “power without beginning,”13 was in terrible pain and successively vomited up the sun, moon, and stars; spewed out living creatures such as leopard, eagle, crocodile, and tortoise; and eventually ejected humans from his stomach. Interpreters of this myth point to structural similarities between Bumba’s bodily experience and that of women going through birth (mouth-womb, vomit-baby, pain of delivery), and draw attention to a seeming prominence of fertility motifs in African symbology.

One of the most famous collectibles was a wood and glass Vili figure from the Congo purchased by Henri Matisse which appears in his Still Life with African Sculpture.14 Stories abound about a gathering of artists in Paris in the fall of 1906 when Pablo Picasso sat with this statue in his lap the entire evening, mesmerized by the way some unknown African carver had represented the body. The very next day Picasso began sketching eyes, nose, lips, torso, shoulders, and legs in an abstracted style not yet seen in his work. These preliminary studies eventually led to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), and art historians generally agree that these events were critical to the development of Cubism.15 African affectability was palpable in the Vili figurine as the Parisian artists considered it “primitive” in the sense that it embodied an “expression of uninhibited naivete and freedom.”16 While Demoiselles d’Avignon represents a watershed moment in the co-opting of African sensibilities into Western art, it was actually not the first time Picasso

. . . explored the theme of Africa in his art. In his 1905 study for Salome and Herod . . . he includes the figure of a black servant girl, taken from an unusual source, a reimagining of an illustration of a Dahomey Amazon from Richard Burton’s famous 1863 travelogue, King of Dahome, and/or another similar illustration by the same English artist, John Wood. The first of the works depicts two well-muscled, simian-jawed women who resemble hags searching for enemy prey. Their hooded eyes, low angled foreheads, thick cheekbones, broad fleshy lips, and unkempt hair create a certain bestial aspect and danger that is heightened by their physiognomies starkly profiled against the brightly lit sky. . . The women’s barely human features reinforce highly derisive Western views of Africans in this era; their features are more apelike than human, consistent with social evolutionary theories of this period.17

Art historian Suzanne Preston Blier’s views are worth quoting at length here because she vividly captures ambivalent relationships Westerners held to African sensibilities and bodily power.

Such ambivalence is seen even more poignantly in the way missionaries simultaneously condemned and collected “fetishes”—the most popular taking the form of a human figure covered in nails or blades. Collected largely between 1870 and 1920, they fascinated and repulsed outsiders and were misunderstood and erroneously characterized for decades.18 What do these “fabricated things” or “empowerment objects” reveal about African bodily sensibilities?19 Anthropologist Wyatt MacGaffey has suggested that “The material fetish as an object established an intense relation with, and exerted power over, the desires, actions, health, and self-identity of individuals whose personhood was conceived as inseparable from their bodies: the human body (as the material locus of action and desire) was subjected to the influence of amulets and the like that, although cut off from the body, functioned as its controlling organs at certain moments; for example, for healing.”20 Minkisi, as they were known in Kongo society, provided a vessel of sorts for a spiritual entity—just as human bodies function as containers for an empowering soul. Human bodies hosting spirits by means of alternative states of consciousness or possession trance is yet another African practice that both compelled and repelled Europeans during the colonial era, and ritual is the focus of the next section.

Bodily Praxis in Ritual

Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough contains the following description of a Southern African Mashona king-priest named Magondi: “A missionary has seen and described the deity discharging . . . part of his duty in front of the royal hut. For three mortal hours, without a break, to the banging of a tambourine, the click of castanettes [sic], and the drone of a monotonous song, the swarthy god engaged in a frenzied dance, crouching on his hams like a tailor, sweating like a pig, and bounding about with an agility which testified to the strength and elasticity of his divine legs.”21 Grounded in the evolutionist framework of his time, Frazer assumed human society progressed epistemologically from magic to religion to science, and his goal was to demonstrate the universality of a basic ritual in which the king-priest was murdered by his successor. In Africa, Frazer theorized, rainmaker magician sorcerers had evolved into chiefs and kings, but the office was still primarily hereditary passing from father to son. This was due largely to the possession of certain powers, some of which are alluded to in the description of a Mashona king-priest with “divine legs” able to engage in “frenzied dance” because of their “strength and elasticity.” The physical prowess of African leaders was both feared and admired by outsiders, but nearly always tinged with racialist stereotypes of the time. Structural-functionalist explanations were pursued, and indeed despite Frazer’s universalist goals, he digressed with analysis of the health and death function of the sorcerer’s body-power.22

Working within and breaking away from structural-functionalism, E. E. Evans-Pritchard opened up new possibilities of understanding bodily knowledge based on the fieldwork he conducted in Southern Sudan in the 1920s. His descriptions may strike readers as similar to the missionary quoted by Frazer since he wrote, for example, of witch doctors who “dance themselves into a state of fury and gash their tongues and chests with knives;” not insignificantly, however, Evans-Pritchard followed up by asking, “What is the meaning of all this fury and grotesque expression?”23 Not satisfied with purely functional explanations, Evans-Pritchard moved anthropology into a more interpretive, symbolic direction by delving into Azande cultural logic. Vigorous dancing activated medicine the witch doctor had consumed, spreading the substance throughout his body; the powerful movements also fought the powers of evil and could even drive witches away from his patient; the dancing combined with music, handbells, and rattles “intoxicated” not only the performers but also the audience, which created “a proper atmosphere for the manifestation of esoteric powers.”24 Most significantly, Evans-Pritchard argued, the skilled and dramatic dancing provided “public entertainment” and the performance enhanced the witch doctor’s reputation.25 “Every movement in the dance is as full of meaning as speech,” Evans-Pritchard wrote. “All this jumping and leaping embodies a world of innuendo.”26 Pointedly addressing the role of the senses in these performative rituals, he observed that witch doctors did not “rely entirely upon the settled faith” of their audiences but instead made “belief easier by compelling their surrender to sensory stimuli.”27 Azande society had a highly sophisticated evidentiary system for explaining misfortune and identifying witches. It included oracles as well as recourse to autopsies because witchcraft was understood to be a substance in the body. Located at the very tip of the sternum, perhaps on “the edge of the liver,” it was “of a reddish colour” and contained “seeds of pumpkins and sesame and other food-plants . . . devoured by a witch.”28 Descriptions such as these, based on Azande autopsies, along with a demonstration of the entrails of a goat, led Evans-Pritchard to think witchcraft substance was the “small intestine in certain digestive periods.”29 Resisting common views of his time which would classify people espousing such beliefs as less advanced than Euro-Americans, Evans-Pritchard instead attended intricately to this embodied knowledge and explicated its logic, providing one of the first serious studies of African embodied knowing.

If Evans-Pritchard explicated witchcraft’s rationale, Laura Bohannan showed its emotional vicissitudes in her fictive account of living in northern Nigeria in the early 1950s. Return to Laughter has been pegged as a story of the emotional experience of a social scientist herself, while what can be learned about Tiv society has been downplayed. However, written during the height of structural functionalist anthropology, it is more phenomenological in its treatment of cultural differences, and in hindsight the document turns out to provide a valuable window onto cultural sentiments surrounding witchcraft. The protagonist Redwoman’s close friend Amara faces prolonged and probably obstructed labor; divination rituals reveal that four men have reason to bewitch her—two uncles, her father, and her husband. Henceforth anger, jealousy, rage, and fear are unleashed as a series of familial/community conflicts are forced into the open. The arguing escalates to the point where daggers are drawn between two brothers (Amara’s uncles) and most of the men go off to consult an oracle. Amara and the baby die, at which point:

Amara’s husband tore out of the hut, grazing his shoulder on the low doorway. We heard him shout, “What have I ever done to you that you rob me of my wife and child?” . . . even as he shouted, the women broke into a terrible wailing, a banshee lament torn from soul and body. Standing, hands clasped behind the head, body arched and shaking with the cry that began in a high scream and sobbed itself slowly down the scale into silence.30

While this may have been published as a fictional account, a skilled ethnographer described these emotional responses to death, family conflict, and witchcraft, and it is undoubtedly based on events she witnessed. The feeling tone of Return to Laughter is not only reliable but to a great extent ahead of its time. Emotion has historically been associated, by Westerners, with a variety of “devalued aspects of the world—the irrational, the uncontrollable, the vulnerable, and the female.”31 Bohannan went against the grain, as a researcher and professional anthropologist, in attending to Tiv affective life and in placing emotion squarely at the center of this book, so it is not surprising that she did it through fiction and originally under a pseudonym.

Indeed, Audrey Richards, a contemporary of Bohannan, wrote in 1956: “In spite of the mass of literature on primitive ritual that exists, it is extraordinary how few of the accounts . . . give a clear idea of the feeling-tone of the actors engaged” (emphasis added).32 In Chisungu she describes a puberty rite she witnessed in 1931 among Bemba women in Rhodesia (now Zambia). Connecting matrilineality with an emphasis on the importance of fertility in girls’ initiation ceremonies, Richards highlighted Bemba ideas about how “women provide all the physical substance from which the foetus is formed” and children are “produced from women’s blood; activated only by semen and ancestral spirit.”33 Richards had been told that Chisungu involved teaching girls how to be wives, mothers, grown women, so she erroneously formed a mental image of them engaged in an almost classroom-style pedagogical session.34 Instead of such a cerebral transmission of knowing, however, the twenty-three-day ritual included deeply embodied ways of learning—such as “the act of picking up objects with the mouth” as a means of getting the girls to “do unusual things” because adulthood involves such challenges.35 To enhance their allure and emphasize sexual aspects of the ritual, the girls were “painted white like the egret and . . . likened to beautiful white birds.”36 A central song was called “The arm pit can never be higher than the shoulder” and reinforced cultural values on the “prerogatives of age” or the fact that “the younger can never be more important than the older.”37 In her conclusion, Richards commented, “The emotional and intellectual needs of individuals, as they are conditioned by the society in which they are brought up, seem to me a proper study for social anthropologists, as proper as the analysis of institutionalized roles, social relationships or social groups on which so much emphasis has been laid recently. The one cannot be studied without the other.”38 Like Bohannan, Richards went against the grain in foregrounding emotional aspects of Bemba life, and in a review of Chisungu Hortense Powdermaker observed the ethnography “includes the feeling-tone of the actors, unfortunately omitted in so many accounts of rituals in primitive societies” (emphasis added).39

As women, Richards, Bohannan, and Powdermaker were perhaps more comfortable than their male colleagues with the emotional realm of intercultural interactions, and their works reflect greater attentiveness to this line of research. Powdermaker took Richards’ lead in conducting ethnography in colonial Rhodesia, and while Copper Town: Changing Africa is explicitly about labor, leisure, and social change, the physicality of certain themes inevitably involved body talk. For example, chapters on the nature of marriage and “true love” feature ideas about sexuality, desire, jealousy, and moral knowing. Most striking, however, is Powdermaker’s description of three everyday rituals: beer drinking, listening to the radio, and viewing films. “Beer was food,” Powdermaker explained, as well as “a payment for labor, a necessary element on ritual occasions, and [an] important part of hospitality and entertainment.”40 Beer was made from “maize, millet, kafir, cassava, bananas, and honey. . . When drinking, Africans did not usually eat other foods, for beer was considered a food. It was a source of vitamin B, lacking in much of their other diet. Its alcoholic content was estimated at about 4 per cent . . . it was impossible for anyone except a chief to get enough beer to become a regular drunkard.”41 As European ways-of-being infiltrated the lives of those in and around Copper Town, drunkenness grew among people who resisted change and resented wage discrepancies as well as the attitudes of racial superiority among their colonial supervisors. Discussion of beer and anxiety, fatigue, sleepiness, aggression, hostility, and other feeling-states contributed to Powdermaker’s analysis of change. In addition, “radio meant a change in sensory perceptions. In the past Africans heard voices and music only directly from human beings. Now they . . . also hear them from a ‘box’,” which involved “an extension of sensory perceptions and the capacity to accept and enjoy new forms of indirect participation.”42 A transformation was taking place in social relations, and the senses constituted a major means of engaging and being connected. Direct participation was giving way to indirect and more passive forms of leisure so that a man interviewed about his experience with the cinema explained: “When the people [on screen] are fighting, I feel as if I am also going to fight someone. My muscles feel it (tensing his arm muscles to show me), and I feel as if I am fighting.”43 Others noted similarly visceral, palpable responses to viewing film, and some even indicated it was too foreign or exotic for them to engage. A woman in her thirties explained:

Cinema is a strange thing to me. At home we did not have it, and how can I develop the habit of going to the cinema now? The people who enjoy it are those who have been born here, and this is their home. They start early going to cinema, and they have developed great interest in it. It is the same with wireless. I drink beer on the Copperbelt, because beer is not a new thing to me. I started drinking beer while at home, and here it is just a matter of continuing what I have always done. At home the only “cinema” I had seen was to watch people dancing, and I have not stopped watching people dance here, because I had this sort of thing at home. But I do not want to follow strange European entertainments. I must stick to my own.44

This woman’s comments indicate that she perceived dancing to be akin to cinema in the sense that both were viewable. But there is something “strange” about viewing film, for her, and unfortunately the analysis did not go deeper. However, Powdermaker’s account did reveal that in the Copper Belt, people were undergoing significant changes in their understandings of their own bodily experiences as they encountered forms of “European entertainments.”

At about the same time, Jean Rouch began filming Africans engaged in possession trance, and in 1954 he shocked a group of Europeans when he screened graphic footage which appears in Les Maitre Fous.45 Paul Stoller suggested that “sensuous scholarship” may have started on that very night because Rouch’s work so innovatively “tack[s] between the sensible and the intelligible.”46 In many ways intellectuals of this time were fairly unself-conscious about how they represented Africans, but Rouch’s work forced them to consider how European viewers would be likely to deem as “savage” the behaviors captured on film. That was not Rouch’s intention; according to Stoller, Rouch actually wanted to “demonstrate how Songhay people in the colonial Gold Coast embodied knowledge and practices ‘not yet known to us’ ” and to “challenge his audiences sensuously to think new thoughts about Africa and Africans” (emphasis added).47

Also in the 1950s, Victor and Edith Turner’s work with Ndembu people (in Northern Rhodesia, later renamed Zambia) is noteworthy for its slight shift toward a more sensory and affective approach. Edith Turner reflected:

Vic and I found the Ndembu to be a turbulent, highly conscious community, continually performing ritual. As we lived among them, we began to doubt the dominant paradigm of the structural functionalism we had learned. We began to see that it had limitations. It did not seem the right instrument for evaluating the negotiations, conflicts, rites of redress, transitions, and initiations in Ndembu life—all processes that changed social structure or resulted in social structure, and thus it was process that appeared to be primary—structure becoming secondary.48

Victor Turner found Ndembu diviners operated largely in nonverbal, sensory ways, and he ventured to describe and analyze their embodied knowing. He believed that “African thought . . . embeds itself from the outset in materiality, but demonstrates that materiality is not inert but vital,”49 and this led him to use psychology as well as analogy with non-Western philosophy (Hinduism and Buddhism) to explore its efficacy. He demonstrated how diviners used sensuous symbols to stimulate emotions; drew on intuition and feeling; noted the sensation of pain (like the pricking of needles in the lungs) that accompanied heightened awareness in the divining process. At a time when emotion and sensation were understood as the purview of psychology—as they were supposedly confined to the individual rather than socially and culturally shared—Turner spotlighted these collective dimensions of Ndembu medico-religious life.50

Sick Bodies, Gendered Bodies, and Children

In 2014, Nancy Rose Hunt wrote that among topics in African history, “The body has arrived with a vengeance . . . concrete and metaphorical bodies of all kinds—some soaped, baptized, medicalized, scarified, circumcised, or possessed, others flogged, war-ravaged, dismembered, emaciated, fattened, bloated, or scatological. African bodies, whether in our historical narratives or in pasts as they unfolded, have never been so plotted, problematized, and analogized.”51 Hunt’s thorough and insightful article examines how as a result of the gendering of African historical studies since the late 1950s we have seen an increase in the topics of affect, emotion, and subjectivity. Readers should definitely consult Hunt’s review for an understanding of historiography on gender and affect as well as a sense of the historians of Africa who have contributed work in this arena. Hunt notes that “Studies that explicitly engage affect remain relatively new across all fields of history, though it seems that the theme will expand as an analytic in African history over the years to come. A search for ‘affect’ and ‘affective’ in three of our core journals—The Journal of African History, Africa, and Journal of Southern Africa Studies—confirms the substantial growth in the scholarly use of these words since about 2004.”52 Clearly Hunt’s piece is a necessary corollary to our review here.

The 1960s and ’70s also yielded studies of culture, illness, and health that brought to the fore the centrality of the body’s diversity and dynamism. For example, John Janzen’s classic study of medical pluralism and therapy managing groups in Lower Zaire focused primarily on social relationships activated by episodes of illness, but it also documented how core the human body was to a Kongo system of knowledge. Janzen explained: “in Zaire, organs, functions, and bodily symptoms are related to a more expansive unit than is the case in Occidental medicine, philosophy, or religion,” and he explicated master Nganga (healer, priest) Nzoamambu’s “medical cosmology.”53 Dealing with emotional afflictions was critical in Nzoamambu’s practice, as it was in numerous healing systems studied by medical anthropologists throughout this time.54

As medical anthropology was on the rise, a few psychologists were also posing questions about mental illness, perception, child socialization, and a range of other issues that implicate affect and the senses. A particularly impressive psychiatric work is M. J. Field’s Search for Security, filled with dozens of clinical case studies of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and so forth, in rural Ghana.55 Putting aside the host of problems that ensue from imposing Western categories onto illness experiences (not the least of which is dismissal of local disease models), Field’s notes for the 146 cases presented are rich with subjective accounts of feelings, physical sensations, and personal interpretations of symptoms. For example, a 50-year-old woman called Ama reported that “the world was no good. She had ‘burnings’ all over her scalp and in her belly and was restless, ‘going here and there.’ She felt weak, tired and ‘useless’, could not do her work and could not sleep. Later she began to feel that she had caused the lorry accident [in which her son and mother were injured], was a witch and had been ‘caught’ by the obosom [small god or lesser deity] . . . for her sins.”56 The case study also revealed that Ama gave birth to twelve children, seven of whom died, and alerted us to another case later in the book describing Ama’s 16-year-old son who Field believed was dealing with a new case of schizophrenia. Field diagnosed Ama with depression. A book such as Field’s reminds us of the value of interdisciplinary work because in 1955 (when she documented the cases) affect, feelings, and bodily sensation were mostly the purview of psychology/psychiatry rather than history or anthropology.

Indeed, social psychologist Mallory Wober also had an interest in Africa and published an exhaustive survey of psychological research carried out on the continent.57 Most significant for our concern would be his “sensotype hypothesis” or the idea that “the prevailing patterns of childhood intake and proliferation of information from the various sense modalities differ according to culture” and that “in the sensotype common in certain West African cultures, proprioceptivity is (still) relatively more elaborated with respect to visuality than would be the case in Western cultures.”58 Wober presented results of various psychological experiments and tests involving proprioceptive skills which revealed certain groups of Africans performed better than Europeans, and he called for greater attention to possible differentiation of sensory fields in styles of cognitive functioning. His pioneering work supporting a sensotype hypothesis departed dramatically from colonial African psychology; he claimed that “great skills in Africa . . . have escaped qualitative study and certainly quantitative measurement by psychologists.”59 Wober considered unique configurations of sensory skills to be “special abilities” that reflected perceptual and cognitive developments that were strengths in the world in which specific African groups lived.60 Colonial psychiatric and medical practitioners, on the other hand, deemed Africans to have “ocular, olfactory and auditory capacities . . . keener than those of Europeans” along with “a high threshold for pain.”61 This supposed “scientific fact” was then used to justify “all sorts of physical abuses ranging from harsh physical punishment to heavy work.”62 The ideological function of such colonial ideas is transparent, and Wober wrote about what he called a “centri-cultural approach” that burdened psychological findings.63

Robert A. LeVine, too, was interested in psychological differences between Africans and Euro-Americans, and in an essay on personality he devoted one of his seven major topics to “affects or emotional states, which are difficult to compare across cultures—especially with objectivity—but can hardly be omitted in any attempt to assess patterns of personality.”64 More specifically, separation anxiety was the affective expression he reported on, discussing distinctions between the ways Westerners and Africans coped with parting from intimate loved ones. A great deal of Robert and Sarah LeVine’s research centered on parenting and child socialization practices among Gusii people in Kenya, so their reports were filled with thick description of bodily interactions, the emotional tenor of mother–infant relations, caregiving practices of siblings and other members of extended families, greater attention to learning by doing and by participation than by verbal instruction, and so forth.65

Expression of emotion also figured prominently in Paul Riesman’s 1970s study comparing personality development between Fulbe and RiimaayBe people in Burkina Faso.66 Patience, joy, anger, shame, compassion, gratitude, and fear were all taken up as he described what it meant “to own one’s own head” or be the master of your own emotions, compared to those who were “mastered by one’s emotions.”67 Riesman detailed how children grew into being either RiimaayBe or Fulbe, a distinction he observed adults hold and carry, and his ethnographic descriptions richly elaborated on feelings, expressive behaviors, and the embodiment of identity. If Riesman’s life had not been prematurely cut short, he most certainly would have continued to contribute insightful understandings of bodily ways of knowing among Fulani.68

Subjectivity and Feelingfulness in Turn-of-the-Century Ethnography

In the early 1980s, Michael D. Jackson published two articles—“Knowledge of the Body” in Man and “Thinking Through the Body” in Social Analysis—which helped to usher in a phenomenological and sensory turn in anthropology as well as Africanist scholarship.69 Having conducted extensive fieldwork among Kuranko people in Sierra Leone, Jackson’s work wove together ethnographic descriptions and analysis with personal reflections and philosophical expositions. In “Thinking Through the Body” he tells a story of sitting among Kuranko men as a girls initiation ceremony unfolds and pestering his assistant with questions about the significance and meaning of songs, gestures, dances, costumes, and so forth. The young man insists that the “performers were simply contributing to the enjoyment of the occasion, and doing what was customary during initiations.”70 Jackson admits that he initially felt compelled to abstract the actions he observed and label them with some “reified category” such as “social solidarity,” “functional equilibrium,” “adaptive integration,” or “unconscious structure” (his somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of theories of meaning).71 And he reflects on having “always had serious misgivings about the way this sort of interpretation tends to exclude—because of its focus on oblique aims, semantic meanings, and abstract functions—those very particularities of body use which are the most conspicuous elements of the rites, and refer not to a domain of discourse or belief but to an environment of practical activity.”72 Lived experience and radical empiricism thus became central to Jackson’s work.73 He sought to find and narrate common ground in human existence, notwithstanding diverse and seemingly incomparable cultural traditions.

Paul Stoller’s oeuvre, not unlike Jackson’s, stands as one of the most extensive accounts to date of embodied knowing and sensuous representation of an African lifeworld. Some of his early essays about Songhay society in Niger—for instance, “Eye, Mind, and Word in Anthropology” and “Bad Sauce, Good Ethnography”—critiqued the ocular centric approach of most social science while simultaneously deploying the senses in cutting edge ways to advance anthropology’s mission of intercultural understanding.74 In Embodying Colonial Memories, a book concerning Hauka spirits and possession trance, Stoller wrote, “The human body is not principally a text; rather, the sentient body is culturally consumed by a world filled with forces, smells, textures, sights, sounds and tastes, all of which trigger social memories.”75 His representation diverged from other scholars’ work on possession in that he did not treat African bodies as texts and African performances as discourse. Rather, Stoller dealt with ethnographic material from a subjective perspective, using phenomenological techniques portray lifeworlds he wanted us to understand.76

Reflections about an “African sensibility” emerged as a central component of John Miller Chernoff’s book on music and drumming in Ghana.77 Chernoff emphasized the importance of participation as a means of gaining knowledge as well as the musical skills he acquired while in Ghana, and he relied on subjectivity as a means of presenting his learnings. Without reference to terms such as “lived experience” and “radical empiricism,” there is still a phenomenological feel to Chernoff’s work. He extrapolated from musical practices and preferences to suggest that “African affinity for polymetric musical forms indicates that, in the most fundamental sense, the African sensibility is profoundly pluralistic.”78 In a nutshell, Chernoff suggested that polymetric rhythms were not restricted to the musical/aesthetic sphere but extended into social-psychological life. Their sensibility, their bodily way of knowing, according to Chernoff, was fundamentally pluralistic.

Music and dance yielded understanding about affect, sensation, and bodily experience for a number of scholars. Steven Friedson studied healing rituals among Tumbuku people in Malawi and reported extensively on “the visceral sensations” of the drumming, singing, clapping, heat, breeze, bells, and rattles felt by participants.79 He asked, “What is it to dance a disease, to drum a diagnosis, and in doing so to embody the spirits?”80 Friedson then began fieldwork in southeastern Ghana in the Brekete Vodu sect and wrote about the profound physicality of spirit possession experiences.81 He reflected that in other works dealing with ritual praxis “We get no feel for the embodied presence of these dancing gods, the soundscape of a tuned world, the sheer intensity of being-with the gods in a musical way.”82 The centrality of rhythm, movement, kinesthesia, and sound to this community and their being-in-the-world is palpable, and Friedson emphasizes how “trance dancing privileges the body as the site of a gathering of mortals and the divine.”83 Also focused on Ghana, musicologist and sensory anthropologist Steven Feld turned his attention to audible aspects of Accra lifeworlds and produced a book ostensibly about jazz.84 While part storytelling, part memoir, part ethnography, the work also advances Feld’s ideas about “acoustemology,” which combines acoustics and epistemology or gets at “a way of knowing the world through sound” and further reinforces how culturally significant acoustical knowledge is in many African contexts.85

Ghana was the site of other work attending richly to sensory modalities and bodily ways of knowing.86 Inspired by questions in a newly developing field of sensory anthropology, Kathryn Linn Geurts conducted fieldwork with Anlo-Ewe speakers and co-constructed (with Ewe collaborators) a kind of “indigenous sensorium” distinct from the five senses model prominent in Euro-American societies. Noting that hearing, movement, and balance provided sensory experiences highly valued in local cultural lifeworlds, the work spoke to earlier critiques of ocular centrism in Africanist scholarship. It also established that at least some Ghanaian sensibilities foreground bodily feeling as a vital source of information about environment, self-making, and moral knowing, and it excavated an important indigenous phenomenon encapsulated in the term seselelame (literally perceive-perceive-at-flesh-inside). While seselelame is an Ewe term, it captures dimensions of habitus or being-in-the-world that are arguably more pan-African than restrictively Ewe and is hence a local iteration of a broad African foundational schema.87 There is reason to believe that seselelame underpins a fusion rather than atomization of the senses, an integration rather than splitting of mind–body communication.

Imagination and morality were the focus of T. O. Beidelman’s study of Kaguru modes of thought.88 He emphasized the affective and emotional power of imagination and acknowledged it included picturing “a world different from that which they actually experience.” This allowed for criticism and subversion of the social order as “imagination provides vent for profound disquiet and hostility.”89 Kaguru thought included clear polarities between right and left, men and women, insiders and outsiders, and so forth, but in lived experience “ambiguous interstices” and contradictions were explored as they navigated moral intersubjectivities. Of particular interest was an extended discussion of bodily hygiene, grooming, intricate connections between food and sex, parenthood practices, and values surrounding sensuality.

Michael Lambek and Andrew Strathern’s Bodies and Persons considered “how ‘the body’ as a topic may configure comparatively” between African and Melanesian societies “as categories such as descent group or personhood have done.”90 They noted, somewhat ironically, that “ ‘Good’ ethnographies practically must say something about the ‘the body’ nowadays” and that in certain ways “ ‘body’ is a successor to ‘person’ as a focus of interest” among anthropologists. Lambek’s discussion of dualism was particularly stimulating as he worked through distinctions between incommensurability, incompatibility, and incomparability of “body” and “mind.”91 Foregoing “rationalizing the boundary” between body and mind, and accepting their incommensurability, there then emerges an existing open-endedness in comparisons. Lambek suggested that “forms of comparison (or interpretation) will be multiple and not anchored along some fixed grid,” so a “lack of resolution between mind and body is not a negative thing but generative of potentially lively cultural production and debate.”92

Historical and Archaeological Excavation of Sensory-Affective Experiences

A perennially neglected topic of research on human emotion in African contexts has been “love.” Fortunately, Megan Vaughn’s “The History of Romantic Love in Sub-Saharan Africa”93 and an edited volume Love in Africa assembled by Jennifer Cole and Lynn M. Thomas began to fill that vacuum.94 Vaughan reviewed some of the scholarship on the history of emotions; touched on linguistic evidence that demonstrated pre-colonial lexicons for passionate love (distinct from sexual desire); and briefly reviewed early anthropological studies of marriage, colonialism and affective regimes. She concluded, “Love, as the evidence of African societies reminds us, . . . takes forms that are far richer and more diverse than can be allowed for by the restrictive ideals of romantic love.”95 Cole and Thomas point out that despite the long-standing interest of historians and anthropologists in kinship, courtship, sexuality, and marriage, they “largely ignored love in Africa.”96 Rather than treating love as a universal category, the authors approached it as an analytic problem and explored “how emotions are embedded in historically situated words, cultural practices, and material conditions.”97 Chapters range regionally from Nigeria and Niger to Kenya, Madagascar, Botswana, and South Africa and topically from the “Dear Dolly” column in Drum magazine, the emergence of “modern girls” in 1920s South Africa, to the viewing of a Mexican telenovela called Rubi and how it allowed the audience to consider issues of poverty, fantasy, and love. Cole’s more recent edited volume (with Christian Groes), Affective Circuits, looks at how African migrants to Europe “rework family ties and intimate relations.”98 Finally, another vital source on intimate life includes Lynn Meskell’s work focused on ancient Egyptians’ family dynamics, emotional lives, sexuality, and sense of self.99

Historians of pre-colonial Africa have been developing very exciting approaches to “excavating” affective and sensory phenomena. Historian Kathryn M. de Luna observed that “most historical approaches to emotions concentrate on communities and places with dense, descriptive documentary records.”100 She asked: “How, then, can the history of emotions be reconstructed, particularly for the oral societies of precolonial Africa?”101 She proceeded to demonstrate how historians, linguists, and archaeologists could combine forces to research “entanglements between the sensuous, the affective, and the material in human relationships.”102 In the absence of records such as letters, diaries, poems, and other affectively and sensorially rich material, comparative historical linguistics could make use of dictionaries, ethnographies, and archaeological studies to examine a word’s history and its changing meaning through related languages. It is worth quoting de Luna at length:

The reconstruction of “core” vocabulary for emotions like “to like, to want, to love” may well yield stable semantic domains with little to teach us about changing emotional styles, but words for political office, social relationships, or ritual practice carry the potential to be domains of affective, sensory experience. Their broader semantic fields often yield rich evidence of feelings and identify the context in which emotives were exchanged and emotional styles explored, standardized, and contested because speakers can invent words about affective life from vocabulary for the context and experience inspiring their feelings.103

In addition, archaeology is critical to this process because:

The theory of “materiality” suggests that the particular physical qualities of the places, spaces, and objects themselves (size, texture, weight, materials, layout, color, shape, malleability, movements, distribution) and the physicality of their use by human bodies have the power to shape . . . cultural and social life. To this list of physical qualities, we might add their affectivity: how objects and spaces inspire or facilitate—even require—different feelings in the people who experience them through the senses.104

Complementing de Luna’s deployment of historical linguistics is the use of oral traditions replete with affective and sensory references. This is exemplified well by David Schoenbrun’s account of the founding of a new sovereignty in 16th-century Bunyoro (contemporary Uganda) after they experienced the trauma of a major famine.105 A “stranger king” named Rukidi entered Bunyoro and “developed a new arrangement of politics and ritual,” which Schoenbrun characterized as initiating a “profound affective shift.”106 Attentive to the rich emotional depth of Bunyoro oral traditions about this new dynasty, Schoenbrun explained that “Rukidi’s traditions deployed affective language, told of emotional events, and depicted bodily displays of emotions that respected silent, calm self-control in the service of a radical change in ritual practice.”107 Historian David Gordon’s Invisible Agents attends powerfully to emotional dimensions of Zambian spiritual beliefs and spirit manifestations.108 Gordon was able to pursue his interest in spiritual agency using not only his own ethnographic material but also research notes compiled by a host of previous scholars of central Africa (such as Audrey Richards) as well as archives from prophetic church movements (Watchtower and Alice Lenshina’s Lumpa Church) referencing conflicts with the United National Independence Party (UNIP) during the time of Zambian independence. This historiography led to a richer appreciation of the struggles of ordinary people but also insight about emotional aspects of spiritual agency.109

Providing an overview of “Emotion in Archaeology,” Jeffrey Fleisher and Neil Norman point to an array of works beginning to probe “the place of concern, worry, and fear in archaeological interpretations.”110 While not devoted completely to excavations in Africa, the volume outlines conceptual frameworks, issues, critical questions, and challenges for archaeology as it grapples with material manifestations of emotion in past societies. Combining archaeological materials with oral traditions and sensory-affective attentiveness, co-authors Susan Kus and Victor Raharijaona have sensuously described and discussed mortuary rituals, architecture, sovereignty, and other aspects of life in the central highlands of Madagascar.111 Humanistic scholarship can benefit dramatically from these exciting interdisciplinary methods and gain powerful insights about subjective dimensions of early African societies.

Critical Disability Studies: Human Rights Combine with Affect and the Senses

Attentiveness to disability, anomalous bodies, and non-neurotypical minds has become one of the most fruitful arenas in which emotion, sensation, and bodily knowing can be more deeply understood. In one of the most significant studies to date of bodily, affective, and sensorial aspects of African lifeworlds, historian Julie Livingston’s research on disability, illness, and aging in Botswana allowed her to examine moral imaginings related to “public health” issues.112 Attending closely to historical changes wrought by colonialism and labor migration, Livingston also presents intimate narratives of families dealing with chronic illness and disability, providing rich insight about the toll taken by long-term caregiving. Clinical and biomedical knowing was present among her interlocuters as well as Tswana medical theories and practices, filling Livingston’s case studies with “entangled therapeutics.” A focus on caregiving (performed largely by women) yielded a wealth of affective and emotional material, making Livingston’s work exemplary in terms or our interest in bodily ways of knowing. Touching on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, she pointed out that many of those infected “like all debilitated people, did a lot of living before they died,” hence it was incumbent upon the global health community to weigh in on this issue.113

Focusing specifically on the impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, Mark Hunter combined “ethnography and history to illuminate the deep connections between political economy and intimacy—a broader term than sex that extends analysis into fertility, love, marriage, and genital pleasure.”114 He distinguished between “provider love” and “romantic love” and also the “materiality of everyday sex” as he explored how people navigate intimacy in circumstances of poverty as well as chronic unemployment. He showed how in recent decades women have asserted their rights to safe sex, pleasure, and independence from men, but this has been followed by tension along gender lines with masculinity revolving around conspicuous consumption as well as sexual conquest. As men engaged with multiple partners and refused to marry, they were accused of spreading disease, curbing masculine respectability, and impacting the quality of intimate relations. Through life stories that include the use of love letters and text messages, he captured emotional vicissitudes in relationships at a time of increased inequality as well as during a “time of AIDS.”

In 2009 Critical Disability Studies scholar Denise M. Nepveux produced a groundbreaking study of Ghanaian women with disabilities, attending richly to the emotional lives of the individuals whose stories she documented.115 Nepveux emphasized how their “social personhood is undermined” through persistent marginalizing processes such as “rolelessness,” “inferior education,” and livelihood efforts in “unsustainable trades” as well as constant “expressions of pity or contempt” by fellow Ghanaians. While the life story narratives Nepveux presents demonstrate moving accounts of women “knitting themselves back into the fabric of their families, neighborhoods, and religious communities,”116 the intense struggle this takes is very striking.

Also concerning Ghanaian people with disabilities, Kathryn Linn Geurts’s piece “When You Cannot Headload” explored how one’s sensibilities could become disabled as one’s body was marked as significantly different from others.117 Historian Jeff D. Grischow presented a rich life history of his Ghanaian friend Kwesi, who lost his leg in 2008 due to a motorcycle accident.118 Grischow’s narrative approach allowed him “to gather deep personal data that illustrate the real experience of pursuing disability rights in the majority world.”119 In addition, a project Geurts jointly conducted with Sefakor G. M. A. Komabu-Pomeyie (a Ghanaian national) involved observant participation and interviews with individuals involved in Ghana’s disability rights movement and focused on the feelingful, affective, and sensory dimensions of their work.120 The inquiries were aimed at eliciting sensory-rich stories from activists about some of their practices and experiences and then collectively reflecting on how attentiveness to the senses helped to open up spaces of understanding and empathy as well as produce insight on more effective strategies for social change. In this and other ways, studies of disability, affect, and sensation have contributed to humanistic scholarship in important ways.

Discussion of the Literature

Literature on affect and sensory experience in Africa has been produced primarily by anthropologists, in part because anthropology’s hallmark method of observant participation created a relatively easier segue into studies of subjectivity, experience, and embodiment (compared to data gathering techniques used in other fields). Even so, as Rosabelle Boswell observes about research in the Indian Ocean region:

not many anthropologists . . . have shifted their research methodology to consider the dialogical and mutually implicating process of field research, nor have they articulated its profoundly sensuous aspects. The emphasis remains on achieving an “objective” theoretically informed account. This emphasis results in an occulting of the ‘subjective’ and sensorial frames of fieldwork.121

Boswell critiques a routine distancing of research subjects by scholars more concerned with engaging authority and power (“looking North”) than with pursuing a kind of relational listening characterized as an “embodied, dialectical multisensorial process,” which is “also profoundly political.”122 And this draws attention to one of the main issues for sensory scholarship: it challenges the very grounds of scholarship itself. Boswell reveals that “Even my own, earlier work is not immune from the pull of objectification. As a younger scholar, writing on Mauritius I read and accepted mostly Euro-American theories to frame my findings.”123 But a main thread in scholarship attentive to emotion, sensing, and subjectivity has been a proclivity for going against the grain (e.g., Bastide, Bohannan, Richards, Rouch, Stoller, Wober, to name only a few). To advance sensory scholarship in Africa, more work by Africans themselves will need to be promoted. This is not a panacea, and Boswell herself asks how African scholars can “reveal the richness of their own voices, if they have been trained to articulate a ‘masterly’ Euro-American voice?”124 But Boswell’s “Sensuous Stories” itself is a lodestar. Her notion of “listening as sense-work” along with her “theory of the local listener” point Africanist sensory scholarship in extremely fruitful directions.

Further Reading

Batic, Gian Claudio, ed. Encoding Emotions in African Languages. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011.Find this resource:

De Luna, Kathryn M. “Marksmen and the Bush: The Affective Micro-Politics of Landscape, Sex and Technology in Precolonial South Central Africa.” Kronos: Southern African Histories 41 (2015): 37–60.Find this resource:

Douny, Laurence. Living in a Landscape of Scarcity: Materiality and Cosmology in West Africa. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Drewal, Henry John. “Senses in Understandings of Art.” African Arts 38, no. 2 (2005): 1, 4, 6, 88, 96.Find this resource:

Geurts, Kathryn Linn. “On Rocks, Walks, and Talks in West Africa: Cultural Categories and an Anthropology of the Senses.” In Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader. Edited by A. C. G. M. Robben and J. A. Sluka, 496–510. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.Find this resource:

Howes, David, and Constance Classen. Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. London: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:

Hunt, Nancy Rose. A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Iliffe, John. Honour in African History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Lamp, Frederick John, ed. See the Music, Hear the Dance: Rethinking African Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Munich: Prestel Publishing, 2004.Find this resource:

Ross, Fiona. “Sense-scapes: Senses and Emotion in the Making of Place.” In Raw Life, New Hope: Decency, Housing, and Everyday Life in a Post-Apartheid Community. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Thompson, Robert Farris. Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music. Pittsburgh: Periscope, 2011.Find this resource:


(1.) Carlos Haag, “The Arts of Roger Bastide,” Pesquisa Fapesp, June 2011 (on-line publication).

(2.) Francois Laplantine, The Life of the Senses: Introduction to a Modal Anthropology (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

(3.) Kathryn Linn Geurts, Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in and African Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); “Consciousness as ‘Feeling in the Body’: A West African Theory of Embodiment, Emotion and the Making of Mind,” in Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, ed. David Howes (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 164–178.

(4.) Robert Sutherland Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs: The Primitive Ethics of a Savage People (London: Oxford University Press, 1916), 115.

(5.) Rattray, 3.

(6.) Rattray, 80.

(7.) Rattray, 5.

(8.) Rattray, 5.

(9.) Laplantine, Life of the Senses, 67.

(10.) Laplantine, 68.

(11.) Rattray, 35.

(12.) Barbara C. Sproul, Primal Myths: Creating the World (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 44–45.

(13.) Basil Davidson, The African Genius (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969), 49.

(14.) Suzanne Preston Blier, “Africa and Paris: The Art of Picasso and His Circle,” in The Image of the Black in Western Art, Vol. 5 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 77–98.

(15.) Andrew Meldrum, “Stealing Beauty,” The Guardian, March 15, 2006.

(17.) Blier, “Africa and Paris,” 89–90.

(18.) Wyatt MacGaffey, “African Objects and the Idea of Fetish,” Anthropology and Aesthetics 25 (1994): 123–131.

(19.) “Fabricated things” is MacGaffey’s term in “The Personhood of Ritual Objects: Kongo ‘Minkisi’,” Etnofoor 3, no. 1 (1990): 45–61; “empowerment objects” comes from S. P. Blier, African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

(20.) MacGaffey, “African Objects and the Idea of Fetish,” 123.

(21.) James George Frazer, The Golden Bough (New York: Collier Books, 1922), 113.

(22.) Frazer, 100.

(23.) Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 76–77.

(24.) Evans-Pritchard, 89, 77, and 88, respectively.

(25.) Evans-Pritchard, 77.

(26.) Evans-Pritchard, 89.

(27.) Evans-Pritchard, 88.

(28.) Evans-Pritchard, 2.

(29.) Evans-Pritchard, 2.

(30.) Elenore Smith Bowen, Return to Laughter (New York: Doubleday, 1954), 199.

(31.) Catherine A. Lutz, Unnatural Emotions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 3–4.

(32.) Audrey I. Richards, Chisungu (New York: Grove Press, 1956), 56.

(33.) Richards, 160 and 142.

(34.) Richards, 126.

(35.) Richards, 94.

(36.) Richards, 124; see 90 for what is called “white washing.”

(37.) Richards, 72–73.

(38.) Richards, 169.

(39.) Hortense Powdermaker, review of Chisungu, American Anthropologist 60, no. 2 (1958): 392.

(40.) Powdermaker, Copper Town: Changing Africa (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 44.

(41.) Powdermaker, Copper Town, 45.

(42.) Powdermaker, 232.

(43.) Powdermaker, 260.

(44.) Powdermaker, 298.

(45.) Paul Stoller, Sensuous Scholarship (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 119–133.

(46.) Stoller, 133.

(47.) Stoller, 119 and 120.

(48.) Edith Turner, Experiencing Ritual (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), 6.

(49.) Victor Turner, Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975), 21.

(50.) Ndembu sensory values and relative significance are eloquently discussed by psychiatrist Lisa Andermann in “ ‘To Render Visible’: Making Sense Among the Ndembu,” in The Varieties of Sensory Experience, ed. David Howes (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 203–209.

(51.) Nancy Rose Hunt, “The Affective, the Intellectual, and Gender History,” Journal of African History 55, no. 3 (2014): 331–345; see 334 for quoted text.

(52.) Hunt, 337.

(53.) John Janzen, The Quest for Therapy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 169 and 158.

(54.) Historians, anthropologists, and medical anthropologists conducted excellent studies of illness and health, many of which provide insight about African theories of personhood and the body as well as (sometimes incidental) information about affect, feeling, and the senses. An initial list includes: Steven Feierman and John M. Janzen, eds., The Social Basis of Health and Healing in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Zacchaeus Akin Adewumagun et al., eds., African Therapeutic Systems (Waltham, MA: Crossroads Press, 1979); Richard Katz, Boiling Energy: Community Healing Among the Kalahari Kung (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); Rene Devisch, Weaving the Threads of Life: The Khita Gyn-Eco-Logical Healing Cult Among the Yaka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Nancy Rose Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); Kathryn Linn Geurts Sensory Perception and Embodiment in West African Medical Practices (M.A. thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1991); and Judy Rosenthal, Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Vodu (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998).

(55.) Margaret Joyce Field, Search for Security: An Ethno-Psychiatric Study of Rural Ghana (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960).

(56.) Field, 151.

(57.) Mallory Wober, Psychology in Africa (London: International African Institute, 1975).

(58.) Mallory Wober, “The Sensotype Hypothesis,” in The Varieties of Sensory Experience, ed. David Howes (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 31–42; see 33 for quoted text. Also refer to Mallory Wober, “Sensotypes,” Journal of Social Psychology 70 (1966): 181–189.

(59.) Wober, Psychology in Africa, 118.

(60.) Wober, Psychology in Africa, 111.

(61.) Nelia Dias, “Exploring the Senses and Exploiting the Land,” in Material Powers: Cultural Studies, History, and the Material Turn, eds. Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce (London: Routledge, 2010), 171–189; see 180–181 for quoted text.

(62.) Dias, 181.

(63.) Wober, Psychology in Africa, 118.

(64.) Robert A. LeVine, “Patterns of Personality in Africa,” Ethos 1 (1973): 123–152.

(65.) Robert A. LeVine, Suzanne Dixon, Sarah LeVine, et al., Childcare and Culture: Lessons from Africa (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

(66.) Paul Riesman, First Find Your Child a Good Mother (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992). Also see Paul Riesman, “Love Fulani Style,” Society 10, no. 2 (1973): 27–35; and Paul Riesman, Freedom in Fulani Social Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

(67.) Riesman, First Find Your Child, 200.

(68.) In the 21st century, the field of cultural psychology is home to scholars interested in comparative work on affect and embodiment. For example, see Vivian Dzokoto, “Different Ways of Feeling: Emotion and Somatic Awareness in Ghanaians and Euro-Americans,” Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology 4, no. 2 (2010): 68–78.

(69.) Michael D. Jackson, “Knowledge of the Body,” Man 18 (1983): 327–345; “Thinking Through the Body,” Social Analysis 14 (1983): 127–149.

(70.) Jackson, “Knowledge of the Body,”: 333.

(71.) Jackson, 335.

(72.) Jackson, 335.

(73.) Michael D. Jackson, Paths Toward a Clearing (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 2.

(74.) Paul Stoller, “Eye, Mind and Word in Anthropology,” in L’Homme 24 (1984): 91–114; Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes, “Bad Sauce, Good Ethnography,” Cultural Anthropology 1 (1986): 336–352.

(75.) Paul Stoller, Embodying Colonial Memories (New York: Routledge, 1995), 7.

(76.) Here it is worth noting why I have not included (in this article) seemingly body-oriented works such as Jean Comaroff’s Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance, Janice Boddy’s Wombs and Alien Spirits, and Luise White’s The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi. Though highly instructive about symbolic meanings, these works treat the body primarily as a discursive site, utilizing cognitive models of culture. Here we are after what Stoller has referred to as a “sentient body”; we are interested in studies that are inclusive of sensory experience, feeling, emotion, and affect.

(77.) John M. Chernoff, African Rhythm and African Sensibility (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).

(78.) Chernoff, 155.

(79.) Steven M. Friedson, Dancing Prophets: Musical Experience in Tumbuku Healing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

(80.) Friedson, Dancing Prophets, xi.

(81.) Steven M. Friedson, Remains of Ritual: Northern Gods in a Southern Land (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

(82.) Friedson, Remains of Ritual, 8.

(83.) Friedson, Remains of Ritual, 11.

(84.) Steven Feld, Jazz Cosmopolitanism in Accra: Five Musical Years in Ghana (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

(85.) Music and dance continue to be fruitful arenas for sensory scholarship, apparent in dissertations such as: Tamara D. Turner, Algerian Diwan of Sidi Bilal: Music, Trance, and Affect in Popular Islam (Doctoral thesis, King’s College London, 2017); and Sheron Wray, Towards Embodiology: Modelling Relations Between West African Performance Practices, Contemporary Dance Improvisation and Seselelame (Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey, 2017).

(86.) Kathryn Linn Geurts, Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

(87.) Kathryn Geurts and Elvis Gerson Adikah, “Enduring and Endearing Feelings and the Transformation of Material Culture in West Africa,” in Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture, eds. Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden, and Ruth Phillips (Oxford: Berg, 2006), 35–60; see 58 for quoted text.

(88.) Thomas O. Beidelman, Moral Imagination in Kaguru Modes of Thought (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).

(89.) Beidelman, 6.

(90.) Michael Lambek and Andrew Strathern, eds., Bodies and Persons (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 3.

(91.) Lambek and Strathern, 103–123.

(92.) Lambek and Strathern, 110.

(93.) Megan Vaughan, “The History of Romantic Love in Sub-Saharan Africa: Between Interest and Emotion,” Proceedings of the British Academy 167 (2010): 1–23.

(94.) Jennifer Cole and Lynn M. Thomas, eds., Love in Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

(95.) Vaughn, 23.

(96.) Cole and Thomas, 2.

(97.) Cole and Thomas, 3.

(98.) Jennifer Cole and Christian Groes, eds., Affective Circuits: African Migrations to Europe and the Pursuit of Social Regeneration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

(99.) Lynn Meskell, Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); “Intimate Archaeologies: The Case of Kha and Merit.” World Archaeology 29, no. 3 (1998): 363–379.

(100.) Kathryn M. de Luna, “Affect and Society in Precolonial Africa,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 46, no. 1 (2013): 131.

(101.) de Luna, 131.

(102.) de Luna, 122.

(103.) de Luna, 132–133.

(104.) de Luna, 130.

(105.) David Schoenbrun, “A Mask of Calm: Emotion and Founding the Kingdom of Bunyoro in the Sixteenth Century,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 55, no. 3 (2013): 634–664.

(106.) Schoenbrun, 634–635.

(107.) Schoenbrun, 639.

(108.) David M. Gordon, Invisible Agents: Spirits in a Central African History (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012).

(109.) Gordon, 18–21.

(110.) Jeffrey Fleisher and Neil Norman, The Archaeology of Anxiety: The Materiality of Anxiousness, Worry, and Fear (New York: Springer, 2016).

(111.) Susan Kus and Victor Raharijaona, “Visible and Vocal: Sovereigns of the Early Merina (Madagascar) State,” in Archaeology of Performance: Theaters of Power, Community, and Politics, eds. Takeshi Inomata and Lawrence S. Coben (New York: Altamira Press, 2006), 303–329; and Susan Kus and Victor Raharijaona, “House to Palace, Village to State: Scaling Up Architecture and Ideology,” American Anthropologist 102, no. 1 (2000): 98–113.

(112.) Julie Livingston, Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).

(113.) Livingston, 237–239.

(114.) Mark Hunter, Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 3.

(115.) Denise M. Nepveux, ‘In the Same Soup’: Marginality, Vulnerability, and Belonging in the Life Stories of Disabled Women in Accra, Ghana (Doctoral thesis, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2008).

(116.) Nepveux, xi.

(117.) Kathryn Linn Geurts, “When You Cannot Headload: Balance, Mobility, and the Dis/abling of Sensibilities in Metropolitan Accra,” in Körper, Dinge und Bewegung: Der Gleichgewichtssinn in materieller Kultur und Ästhetik, ed. Rainer Schönhammer (Vienna: Facultas Verlag, 2009), 97–106.

(118.) Jeff D. Grischow, “‘I nearly lost my work’: Chance Encounters, Legal Empowerment and the Struggle for Disability Rights in Ghana,” Disability and Society 30, no. 1 (2015): 101–113.

(119.) Grischow, 104.

(120.) Kathryn Linn Geurts and Sefakor Grateful Miranda A. Komabu-Pomeyie, “From ‘Sensing Disability’ to Seselelame: Non-Dualistic Activist Orientations in Twenty-First-Century Accra,” in Disability in the Global South: The Critical Handbook, eds. Karen Soldatic and Shaun Grech (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2016), 85–98.

(121.) Rose Boswell, “Sensuous Stories in the Indian Ocean Islands,” The Senses and Society 12, no. 2 (2017): 193–208; see 195 for quote.

(122.) Boswell, 197.

(123.) Boswell, 195.

(124.) Boswell, 195.