In this erudite and gracefully written ethnography, Mariane Ferme explores the links between a violent historical and political legacy, and the production of secrecy in everyday material culture. The focus is on Mende-speaking southeastern Sierra Leone and the surrounding region. Since 1990, this area has been ravaged by a civil war that produced population displacements and regional instability. The Underneath of Things documents the rural impact of the progressive collapse of the Sierra Leonean state in the past several decades, and seeks to understand how an even earlier history is reinscribed in the present.
Mariane C. Ferme Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and Chair of the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
"Researched with unusual sensitivity, original in approach, illuminating beyond its immediate geographical and theoretical referents, and written in a style that is both carefully crafted and eminently accessible...this is the work of a remarkably talented observer and scholar."—Jane Guyer, editor of Money Matters: Instability, Values and Social Payments in the Modern History of West African Communities, former president of the African Studies Association
"The world is currently quite aware of Sierra Leone and its predicament, and it needs this well-informed and beautifully written account of what makes the country so wonderful despite its woes. Ferme's work is truly transcendent, capturing magnificently well some of the most important aspects of an otherwise "difficult" ethnographic case. It is a truthful and honest piece of work, based on a deep grasp of the ethnographer's craft. "—Paul Richards, author of Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone
Ferme is a true master in the magic of "things." She gives the study of secrecy new impetus by examining its history, relating that history not only to discourse but also to material conditions. She brilliantly shows how, for Sierra Leone societies, the celebration of ambiguity has been a way to live with permanent danger-from the long history of slavery through the present civil war. —Peter Geschiere, author of The Modernity of Witchcraft, Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa
The Underneath of Things is a model of patience, detailed observation, and elegant writing: a theoretically creative study that is keen to track and to disentangle the webs and flows of everyday life.—Achille Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony