The Intestines of the State
Youth, Violence, and Belated Histories in the Cameroon Grassfields
Beginning his study with a political analysis of youth in the Grassfields from the eighteenth century to the present, Argenti pays special attention to the repeated violent revolts staged by young victims of political oppression. He then combines this history with extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the Oku chiefdom, discovering that the specter of past violence lives on in the masked dance performances that have earned intense devotion from today’s youth. Argenti contends that by evoking the imagery of past cataclysmic events, these masquerades allow young Oku men and women to address the inequities they face in their relations with elders and state authorities today.
“In this enthralling history of youth in the Cameroon Grassfields, Argenti shows how centuries of inequity have made young people the brunt of unspeakable exploitation and violence. Such abiding trauma finds little voice in modern, monolithic narratives of state. But youth are still marginal in the postcolonial present, embodying most acutely the ghosts of catastrophes past. And it is they who have taken charge of the means of counter-memory, the performances of dance and masquerade most capable of engaging the dark 'history of the unsaid.' Argenti’s account offers stunning insight into pasts too horrific to be fixed in discourse, pasts ever ready to take unsettling hold of the here and now.”
“Argenti succeeds in doing justice to the uncanny tension evoked by the masquerades of Oku and their haunting performances by the chiefdom’s youth. He vividly shows how the masks’ unsettling combination of discipline and subversion expresses horrors from the past that remain unspeakable: the abduction and sale of young men and women by their eldersduring the long centuries of the slave trade, followed by similar practices in (post)colonial times. In his seminal treatment, the dances of the village youth effectively question the linear history the palace tries to impose. This book offers challenging contributions to the study of dance, the indeterminacy of memory, and the actuality of the slave trade in Africa.”