Tchimmou's Return: Memories of Status and Status of Memories

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Clark Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Benedetta Rossi, University of Liverpool
This paper takes as its starting point an elderly woman’s autobiographical account of her own kidnap and sale at the market of Bilma in today’s Republic of Niger, and her retrospective interpretation of this experience after she was able to return to her village of origin. Tchimmou is the only person I met who could remember being kidnapped and sold at a market as a teen-ager, alongside six other slaves. I collected Tchimmou’s account of her sale and liberation at the hands of colonial officers when enslavement had become a distant memory to her. Her version of facts was confirmed by a number of persons whom I knew and interviewed. Indeed, I was led to her because of the particularity of her experience, which today is almost unique. The paper analyzes Tchimmou’s experience in the context of her own status in her community, and of the status of her community in the Ader region of southern Niger. The paper discusses Tchimmou’s memories of her changes of status and interrogates the ways in which these memories are shaped by the ideologies of status she partakes of. Tchimmou belongs to a community of slave descendents of the Kel Eghlel maraboutic Tuareg group. Villages like the one in which Tchimmou was born, and to which she returned after her forced migration, never ceased to be in contact with the descendents of their former masters and continued to face discrimination by the part of higher-ranking groups, Tuareg and Hausa alike. Tchimmou’s memory of her status transformations (her kidnap, sale, emancipation, and reintegration into a society marked, collectively, by slave identity) are inseparable from the status of her memories. The peculiarity of Tchimmou’s experience reveals most vividly local perceptions of status and status mobility.
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