WOMEN, ANCESTORS, AND ALTERITY AMONG THE MANJACO OF GUINEA-BISSAU BY ERIC GABLE* (Mary Washington College, Virginia) Introduction I would like to explore the ways Manjaco women of the village- cluster of Bassarel (Guinea-Bissau) give male ancestors a voice by talk- ing to them. In so doing, I hope to critically appraise two assumptions about ancestorhood in canonical Africanist texts (e.g. Fortes 1965; Kopytoff 1971; Mendosa 1976; Calhoun 1980): one, that ancestral power reflects and reinforces the rule of a kind of andro-gerontocracy; and two, that ancestors embody in their persons society's essential morality. Africanists have debated whether ancestral power is largely a 'pro- jection' of 'the palpable power of living elders' (Kopytoff 1971: 137 summarizing Fortes 1965), whether ancestors are simply an extension of the 'eldership complex' (Kopytoff 1971; 1981), or whether ancestors are moral beings who embody the 'should' of jural elders' authority rather than the idiosyncratic 'is' of elders' power (Mendosa 1976; Cal- houn 1980; 1981). But the upshot is the same. Whether ancestors are projections, extensions, or idealizations of old men on earth, they are the 'official guardians of the social and moral order' (Ray 1976: 146). The moral order usually concerns property (cf. Goody
Journal of Religion in Africa – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 1996
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