Nile Davies

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 9591

Approve Date

April 13, 2018

Project Title

Davies, Nile, Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on 'Becoming Natives: Place and the Politics of Belonging in Sierra Leone,' supervised by Dr. Rosalind Morris

Preliminary abstract: My dissertation research examines the politics of identity and belonging in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Named for a humanitarian project of symbolic repatriation for displaced Africans in the late-18th century, the Freetown Peninsula remains the symbolic locus of origins for the Krio (Creoles) — descendents of these slaves turned free black settlers. Yet the peculiarity of this inherited past makes the Krio something of an enigma: both a marginalised minority group and the privileged heirs of a settler-colonial history. What does it mean to be both ‘native’ to a land, and ‘foreign’? Such questions are at the forefront of an ongoing discourse of dispossession in contemporary Sierra Leone, in which population anxiety, land-grabbing and the spectacular construction and demolition of informal settlements in Freetown have emerged in recent years as the mark of a national crisis. In Freetown, these changes are viewed by the Krio with nostalgia: both as a figure of their lost status and a marker of their historical decline. Taking the Krio as an instructive case study, my dissertation research turns ethnographic attention to these disputes and the sentiments that accompany them as an index for broader contentions over belonging in societies structured by migration and demographic change. How might claims to land and property extend beyond the limits of legal rights and living memory to encompass the affective bonds of place and presence? And in the absence of absolute origins, under what future conditions might it be possible to transcend ethnic, cultural and local identities in order to regard the Krio as ‘natives’?