Dr. Nathalie Arnold Koenings
Nathalie Arnold Koenings is a sociocultural anthropologist, literary translator and fiction writer. In anthropology, her interests include the mystical and geographical imaginations, the phenomenology of narrative, language, the poetics of landscape and memory, and, more recently, multispecies ethnography. Her ethnographic work has centered on rural Pemba, Zanzibar, where, since 1995, she has conducted research on social and cultural geography, sorcery and the imaginal, and memories of place and change in the 20th century. In her translations of Swahili literature, Arnold Koenings aims to privilege works that, in unique voices, deploy geographies of power and knowledge that bypass and challenge traditional Western views. Her fiction, concerned with the materiality of gender, race and power, and peopled with multilingual characters, is often set in East Africa, where Koenings grew up speaking French and Swahili. Currently on leave from Hampshire College in the USA (where she is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Swahili Studies), in January 2020, she will join Zayed University in Dubai as Associate Professor of Anthropology and African Studies.
Koenings is completing the manuscript ‘With Ripe Eyes You Will See: power, sorcery and the mystical imagination in Pemba, Zanzibar,’ based on over twenty years’ ethnographic engagement with rural communities on this understudied yet politically crucial island of the Swahili Coast. Tracing shifts in mystical discourse throughout the 20th century to today, this work explores: the role of occult experts in protecting Pemban communities from outside interference in the colonial period; the outlawing of all public non-sanctioned mystical practice after the Revolution of 1964; a revival of traditional forms in the 1980s and 90s permitted by economic liberalization and the adoption of multiparty democracy; and the growing the impact of reformist Islamic healing (dawa za kisunna and rukya) on human relationships to mystical beings and landscapes in the context of a fraught political process that casts doubt on previous methods of gaining agency. Insisting that individuals‘ and communities‘ relationships to the imaginal are centrals source of autonomy and power, this work demonstrates the keen connections between the mystical imagination, history and politics in Zanzibar, while providing a rich portrait of life in rural Pemba before, during, and after the Zanzibar Revolution. During the fellowship period, Koenings will also draft an article about a key magical Arabic-language text (Kitabu cha Ghazal) that is said to have vanished in Pemba after the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, examining stories about its loss and failed attempts at its recovery as meditations on what elders owe to, and can fear from, younger generations.
2019. ‘Far From Home: The Spirit of Travel Came to Possess me.’ Translated excerpt from Zanzibari novelist Shafi Adam Shafi’s memoir Mbali na Nyumbani (Nairobi: Longhorn, 2013). Asymptote, Spring. https://www.asymptotejournal.com/fiction/far-from-home/.
2018. ‘For Us It’s What Came After: Locating Pemba in the Zanzibar Revolution.’ In Eds. Marie-Aude Fouere and William C. Bissell. Social Memory, Silenced Voices, and Political Struggle: Remembering the Revolution in Zanzibar. Chapter Five. Pp. 145-190. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota and Nairobi: IFRA.
2017. ‘Ikiwa Kuna Shibe, Maziwa Hayauzwi: Food, History, and Community Well-being in Pemba, Zanzibar.’ Swahili Forum 24 (2017): 16-36.
2006. ‘With ripe eyes you will see: occult conflicts in Pemba’s days of caning, Zanzibar, 1964-1968.’ In Ed. Beatrice Nicolini. Studies in witchcraft, magic, war andpeace in Africa : 19th and 20th century. Lampeter: E. Mellen Press.
2002. ‘Placing the Shameless: approaching poetry and the politics of Pembanness in Zanzibar, 1995-2000’. Research in African Literatures 33, 3: 140-166.
Dr. Nathalie Arnold Koenings
Stay: 01.10.2019 - 01.01.2020, 01.05.2020 - 31.07.2020
University of Bayreuth
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