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Sacred Rice

An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa

Joanna Davidson

Publication Date - 14 August 2015

ISBN: 9780199358687

264 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

An ethnography of identity, environment, and development in rural West Africa


Sacred Rice explores the cultural intricacies through which Jola farmers in West Africa are responding to their environmental and economic conditions given the centrality of a crop--rice--that is the lynchpin for their economic, social, religious, and political worlds.

Based on more than ten years of author Joanna Davidson's ethnographic and historical research on rural Guinea-Bissau, this book looks at the relationship among people, plants, and identity as it explores how a society comes to define itself through the production, consumption, and reverence of rice. It is a narrative profoundly tied to a particular place, but it is also a story of encounters with outsiders who often mediate or meddle in the rice enterprise. Although the focal point is a remote area of West Africa, the book illuminates the more universal nexus of identity, environment, and development, especially in an era when many people--rural and urban--are confronting environmental changes that challenge their livelihoods and lifestyles.

About the Author(s)

Joanna Davidson is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Boston University.


"The use of rice as a single master trope offers a focal point that ties together both the personal narratives of the main characters and the contexts relevant to understanding and explaining the situations in which they find themselves. The result is a readable and compelling manuscript about people struggling to create meaningful lives in a changing world." --Mark Peterson, Miami University

"Sacred Rice is well thought-out and developed. It combines classic issues and themes in anthropology with an exploration of contemporary problems that will endure. Davidson shows the power of compelling story-telling to illustrate analytical abstractions. I would recommend this book to my colleagues." --Eric Gable, University of Mary Washington

"In the following seven chapters, through the lives and stories of Keboral, Badji, their parents, and their children, she explores important anthropological issues of social change, sacralization, secrecy, religious encounters and tensions, identity, intimacy, social aspirations, development, globalization, and climate change. Her writing style, closely emulating her ethnographic method, is holistic. All these themes are knitted together among themselves and with a large body of scholarship; no single chapter can be identified with one single topic." --HNET

Table of Contents

    List of Illustrations

    Introduction: Sacred Rice
    Chapter 1. A Rice Complex
    Chapter 2. Ampa Badji and Nho Keboral
    Chapter 3. "We Work Hard"
    Chapter 4. Cultivating Knowledge
    Chapter 5. Of Rice and Men
    Chapter 6. Transgressive Segregation Revisited
    Chapter 7. Jopai, and the Limits of Legibility
    Chapter 8. Conclusions: Structural Uncertainty


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