the decolonization of consciousness: local skeptics and the “will to be modern” in a West African village



During a recent initiation ceremony, the men of Bassarel rewrote customary law. I discuss both the attitudes of the protagonists in the ceremony who likened it to a “Party Congress” and attitudes toward spirits as revealed in ritualized orations. I conclude that a tendency to objectify and manipulate custom, coupled with a pervasive skepticism about spiritual efficacy, reveals a typical West African ethos rather than reflects the ruptures of colonization and revolution. [postcolonial ethnography, belief, religious change, West Africa]