ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field


‘People of the hills’: a translocal mining community in West Africa

Katja Werthmann, University of Mainz, Germany

This paper explores the emergence of a multi-ethnic, multi-national, translocal mining community in West Africa, based on fieldwork in Burkina Faso. Modern non-industrial gold mining in Burkina Faso started around 1980 during a drought that affected several West African Sahel and Savanna regions. Since then, gold mining has gradually spread over several regions of Burkina Faso, as it did in the neighbouring countries Mali, Niger, Ghana, and Benin. In Burkina Faso, gold digging is pursued both as a dry-season activity by farmers and as a full-time occupation by professional itinerant gold diggers who keep moving from mine to mine. According to IMF and other estimates, up to 200.000 people are working in gold mines in Burkina Faso. Many of them also migrate to gold mines in the neighbouring countries and vice versa. In addition, mining camps attract a wide range of providers of goods and services. During the peak season, a mining camp can comprise more than 10.000 inhabitants and thus attain urban dimensions.

Individual reasons for migration to the gold mines are diverse and range from economic pressure to the escape from criminal charges. Many people consider mining camps to be “a world apart”, where drug abuse, violence, and prostitution prevail. Therefore, everybody who works in those camps runs the risk of acquiring a bad reputation, regardless of their actual occupation. Consequently, sojourners in mining camps develop an ambivalent sense of belonging to a particular kind of non-local community. It is an “a-spatial community” that temporarily aggregates in boom regions, an “occupational community” defined by the distinct social organization of exploiting a resource, and a “symbolic community” whose members are known by a particular name: tang ramba – “people of the hills”.

“People of the hills” are united through the exploitation of a specific resource in different localities, through relationships that continue beyond one particular locality, and through an urban life-style in spite of the remoteness of some localities. In contrast with transnational migratory phenomena, mining communities do not constitute diasporas where ethnic, religious, or territorial identity is (re﷓)constructed by the “invention of tradition”. On the contrary, within the mining camps ethnic or regional origin is downplayed, while the nation-state or local rural communities may have a vested interest in the expulsion of “strangers”.

Where is the Field? An anthropologist’s view of how migrants, scholars, politicians, and journalists co-produce the global imagery of new Chineseness overseas

Pál Nyíri, University of Oxford

"New migrants" is the term that has as of recently been in official use in the People’s Republic of China to denote mainly those mainland Chinese – including students – who have moved abroad in the decades since the country’s post-Mao reform began. New migrants are seen to be both educated and “patriotic”, hence suited for the leadership of overseas Chinese communities in Japan, the US, and Europe, which are judged as losing touch with the homeland and Chinese culture. Furthermore, they are seen to be a resource for China’s modernisation through the attraction of foreign investors and business partners.

"New migrants", most of whom are in Europe, America, and Japan, are both unprecedentedly mobile – not infrequently maintaining residence permits and businesses in three or more countries and regularly returning to China – and unprecedentedly mediatised. On the one hand, they have global access to both Chinese state television and Hong Kong-based satellite channels such as Phoenix and Channel V. On the other hand, they have founded a host of new print and audiovisual media, including publications explicitly positioned as “global Chinese”, like Worldwide Chinese (London) or Who’s Who of Chinese Origin Worldwide (Budapest). These publications employ Western Orientalising, and Chinese self-Orientalising, discourses of Chineseness and promote the myth of the Chinese as the thoroughly modern, yet authentic, global Asian (Ong 1997). In Hungary, where the first Chinese newspaper was launched in 1992, there were nine of them. In Japan, a Chinese-language television began broadcasting in 2000. "New migrants" have also been active creators of pulp fiction and soap operas about themselves, the so-called “new migrant literature” (Barmé 1999).

This paper examines the standardisation of content, style, and layout in print media, and content and image in soap operas, to evaluate the extent to which these products combine global tropes of mobility and globalisation with essentialisation of Chineseness to come up with the image of a globally successful Chinese patriot.

Religious maids on the move. Translocality - past and present

Dr. Gertrud Hüwelmeier, Institut für Ethnologie, Feie Universität Berlin

Since the emergence of hundreds of women´s congregations in the midst of the 19th centrury the members have been translocal in their activities. Catholic sisters have been engaged in founding schools and hospitals, in educating children and taking care of the sick and poor within and outside their countries of origin. Due to political conflicts in Europe and to mass migration to the US many of the European sisters left their home countries, settled in new places and moved again in order to fulfill the needs of the people. Today many of these congregations are transnational in their perspectives and orientations, in their ideas about culture, in the composition of their members, in their daily lives, in their prayers and in their work.

Based on my fieldwork in a women´s congregation with houses and convents in different parts of the world, I would like to outline the transformations of the religious community in a historical and anthropological perspective. Special attention will be given to new possibilities of travel and communication which are challenging the individual and collective identities of the nuns, living dispersed all around the globe, belonging to one community.

Transnational connections of catholic sisters as global players and global prayers have vast consequences for the process of research. In my paper I would like to argue for a combination of ethnographic and historical analysis. Following the people means doing fieldwork at different places, following their histories means work in different archives. Comparing past and present will give new insights about the question whether globalization, translocality and cross border activities are really new phenomenons and in what degree the contemporary processes differ from experiences in the 19th and 20th century.