In Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 23 b&w photos, 3 maps Published: March 2004

Author: Michael Jackson

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology

In 2002, as Sierra Leone prepared to announce the end of its brutal civil war, the distinguished anthropologist, poet, and novelist Michael Jackson returned to the country where he had intermittently lived and worked as an ethnographer since 1969. While his initial concern was to help his old friend Sewa Bockarie (S. B.) Marah—a prominent figure in Sierra Leonean politics—write his autobiography, Jackson’s experiences during his stay led him to create a more complex work: In Sierra Leone, a beautifully rendered mosaic integrating S. B.’s moving stories with personal reflections, ethnographic digressions, and meditations on history and violence.

Though the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.) ostensibly fought its war (1991–2002) against corrupt government, the people of Sierra Leone were its victims. By the time the war was over, more than fifty thousand were dead, thousands more had been maimed, and over one million were displaced. Jackson relates the stories of political leaders and ordinary people trying to salvage their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of cataclysmic violence. Combining these with his own knowledge of African folklore, history, and politics and with S. B.’s bittersweet memories—of his family’s rich heritage, his imprisonment as a political detainee, and his position in several of Sierra Leone’s post-independence governments—Jackson has created a work of elegiac, literary, and philosophical power.


“Jackson’s book is profound, thought-provoking and moving, and should be read by anyone with an interest in Sierra Leone.” — Diane Frost, Global Dialogue

“Jackson’s existential-phenomenological anthropology is of great inspiration to me, a source that never goes dry. And In Sierra Leone is perhaps ethnography at its best; it is specific but still encourages comparison and contemplation on the human condition…” — Sverker Finnström, American Ethnologist

"In Sierra Leone succeeds in throwing light on the rebellion. . . . Drawing on his experience before the war and supplementing it with post-war interviews, Jackson helps us understand those who took to violence." — David Keen, TLS

"[A] haunting account, a discomforting and valuable meditation." — Raymond Brinkman, Journal of Anthropological Research

"[A] melancholic, reflective and informed work that will fascinate readers wishing to learn more about West African politics and people." — Publishers Weekly

"A powerful reaffirmation of Sierra Leonean social resilience. . . . Jackson's lyrical passages also speak to the complex resilience of the human spirit. . . . He has written a book that transforms a complex and violent world into an inspiringly evocative painting." — Paul Stoller, Anthropological Quarterly

"[A] sociopolitical memoir that's educational and memorable." — David Pitt, Booklist

"Compelling. . . . Offering arresting details of the life and times of a classic African 'big man' and illuminating the nature of postcolonial politics in Sierra Leone." — Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs

"[T]his is a complex and unsettling book which is also absorbing and deceptively easy to read. . . . I found it rewarding and I believe it will be attractive to intelligent readers who are not imprisoned within conventional forms of ethnography or biography." — J. Lowell Lewis, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"The book brilliantly evokes the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of West Africa along with the emotions and ambivalences that come with long-term relationships with people there. . . . This is a work of overwhelming honesty that can be read and appreciated on many levels." — Mary H. Moran, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"This is a fascinating and many-layered book. It will be especially evocative for those familiar with Sierra Leone, both before and after the civil war. But few books I know of set out so clearly and accessibly the practice of anthropology and all the faculties and sensibilities one needs to do it well. For that reason alone it deserves to become a classic." — Richard Fanthorpe, African Affairs

“A fascinating document that reflects importantly on widescale violence and war, the nature of narrative, the sensibilities of witnessing, the play of memory, and the predicament of anthropology in places and among peoples that the discipline has studied in calmer times.” — George Marcus, author of Ethnography through Thick and Thin

“Throughout In Sierra Leone interpersonal, domestic relations of inequality—the everyday resentments, harshness, and ironies that characterize hierarchical relations between Big Men and their entourage, older brothers and their juniors—unfold against the backdrop of History with a capital H. Only someone with Michael Jackson’s unique blend of anthropological and poetic sensibility and long-term engagement with Sierra Leone could write this book.” — Mariane Ferme, author of The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael Jackson is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. He is an award-winning poet, novelist, and anthropologist. Among his many books are Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project; Barawa, and the Ways Birds Fly in the Sky; At Home in the World (published by Duke University Press); Pieces of Music, a novel; and Antipodes, a collection of poetry.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Maps xiii

1. Night Flight to Freetown 1

2. The North 12

3. Place of Refuge 20

4. In Kabala 32

5 .The Beef 41

6. Within These Four Walls 49

7. The Executions 56

8. Fina Kamara’s Story 64

9. Tina Kome Marah 74

10. Early Days 86

11. Independence 98

12. Going Abroad 107

13. In Government 112

14. Thinking Back 125

15. Seeds of Conflict 132

16. The War 140

17. Day into Night 151

18. The Reversals of Fortune 161

19. The Value of Shade 170

20. Exile 180

21. In Conakry 186

22. Trust and Truth 192

23. The Hotel 201

Notes 209

Index 223
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3313-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3301-2
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