Colloquium 2015

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 14, 9:30a to 5:30p

Please direct questions about the colloquium to


9a – 9:45 // Welcoming and Opening of Colloquium

9:45 – 11 // Session I: The Work of Memory in the Present
Chair: SIMON GIKANDI (Princeton University)

ANA LUCIA ARAUJO (Howard University)
History and Public Memory of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and the Problem of Reparations to Africa

KOPANO RATELE (University of South Africa)
“He told me that my son has been shot”: a re-reading of a mother’s testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

11 – 11:30 // Coffee Break

11:30 – 1p // Session II: Memory in the Public Sphere
Chair: GODWIN ONUOHA (Princeton University)

JULIE MACARTHUR (University of Toronto)
Archival Memory: Mau Mau and the Politics of Memorialization in Contemporary Kenya

SADA MIRE (Leiden University)
Memory’s role in Change and Continuity in the Indigenous Institutions of the Horn of Africa

JAMES OGUDE (University of Pretoria)
Memory as an unreliable witness: Reading Kenya’s recent past through popular music

1 – 2p // Lunch Break

2 – 3:30 // Session III: Memory and the Debt of History
Chair: CHIKA OKEKE-AGULU (Princeton University)

CHIMA, KORIEH (Marquette University)
Biafra Memorabilia: De-Upholstering the Silhouette of Silence

GODWIN ONUOHA (Princeton University)
Between Personal and Official Memory: Memory, Opposition and the Nigeria-Biafra War

MOSES OCHONU (Vanderbilt University)
Memorializing History and Historicizing Memory in Contemporary Nigeria

3:30 – 3:45 // Coffee Break

4 – 5:30 // Session IV: Memory and the Imagination
Chair: FRIEDA EKOTTO (University of Michigan)

GABEBA BADEROON (The Pennsylvania State University)
Memory against memory: oblique pasts and their popular forms

LILY MABURA (American University of Sharjah, UAE)
Dreaming of Africa—Memory in a Writer’s House

D. NDIRANGU WACHANGA (University of Wisconsin-White Water)
Memory, documentary films, and digital repositories: Preserving African Memory

5:30 Closing Remarks


Is it nothing but idle compulsion that drives humanity to exhume and atone for past crimes against its kind? And is the African world then, yet again, of another kind, one that is beneath the justice of atonement and restitution? Justice must be made manifest either for all, or not at all.

(Wole Soyinka, The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness)

One wants to break free of the past; rightly, because nothing at all can live in its shadow, and because there will be no end to the terror as long as guilt and violence are repaid with guilt and violence; wrongly, because the past that one would like to evade is still very much alive.

(Theodor W. Adorno, “The Meaning of Working Through the Past”)

The subject of the second Princeton African Humanities Colloquium (PAHC) to be held at Princeton University on November 13-14 is African memory and the crisis of the present. The colloquium’s premise is that the question of memory both informs and haunts debates about the nature of the postcolonial state in Africa, the practice of politics, historical recollection, and imaginative being. The colloquium will explore how memory has been deployed and channeled in positive and negative ways in the evolution of postcolonial African societies. Participants will discuss the role of memory in the formation of collective and individual identities in Africa; its use as a tool of resistance against domination and as a resource for orientation in the present; and its function as a conduit for opening up future possibilities in regard to questions of justice and citizenship.

The colloquium will also focus on the paradox of memory, especially its use as a strategy of selection, delineation and exclusion, which in turn leads to fragmented, divisive and contested memories in places such as Nigeria (Biafra), Rwanda (Hutu/Tutsi), DRC (Katanga) and Sudan (Darfur). Considering situations in which the question of “the just allotment of memory” (Paul Ricoeur) is tied up with issues of democracy, justice, and citizenship, panelists will seek to negotiate the thin line between the injunction to remember and the imperative to forget. One central concern of the colloquium will be the contingent nature of memory, its capacity to be provisional, negotiated and contested, forgotten, suppressed or recovered, invented, revised or reinvented. Another will be an exploration of the relation between memory and the crisis of citizenship in Africa and its old and new diasporas. The colloquium will seek to open up new “problem spaces” (David Scott) by providing a forum in which insights from several disciplines (history, sociology, literary criticism, anthropology, psychology, art history, political science and philosophy) can be marshaled. What is the connection between memory and the incomplete project of decolonization? Why do questions of memory seem to trouble certain countries and regions in Africa more than others? What has been the effect of state sanctioned memory projects? Is memory to be embraced as a legacy of remembrance or to be shunned as a historical burden?

Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University
Godwin Onuoha, Postdoctoral Fellow in African Humanities, Princeton University
D. Ndirangu Wachanga, Documentalist, University of Wisconsin

Jill M. Jarvis, Doctoral Candidate in Comparative Literature, Princeton University