Frankfurt-Groningen Millets Network
The Gradual Vanishing of Millet in West Africa.
About Shifting Valuations, Knowledge and Biodiversity by Hans Peter Hahn.
For West Africa, historical documents from the colonial period indicate a large variety of
cultivated varieties, for both, Sorghum millets and the Pennisetum group. As preliminary
investigations in Togo and Burkina Faso have shown, the farmers in this region nowadays,
about 100 years later, know only a fraction of the older varieties. Nevertheless, most
farmers do cultivate 3-4 varieties for each of the two mentioned genera. The proposed
project has two objectives: (1) to investigate what distinguishes the varieties available today
with respect to the use of harvest, cultivation (season, labour, location of fields, yields), and
subjective appreciation (value as a cash-crop, preparation, taste, nutritional value). (2) to ask
what causes the vanishing of those varieties that do not exist any longer, provided that at
least some farmers remember the former, greater diversity.
Hypotheses about the fundamental change (or loss) concern, firstly, the increasing
availability of other crops, such as corn and rice. This includes the issues of the valuation of
mixed cultivation, since millet is usually associated with 2-3 other crops (e.g. sesame, beans).
Secondly, the change may also have to do with the question of manpower, since maize and
rice are ripening faster than certain types of millet and thus require less effort for weeding.
Furthermore, taste plays a role: are the new competitors perceived as equal or superior?
Finally, as a fifth hypothesis, a change in the agricultural system, as a whole, can be
assumed: if production is increasingly important for the national market, could that be the
cause for the marginalization of certain varieties excluded from commercialization?
Methodologically, my contribution will use classical techniques from economic
anthropology: direct observation, participatory observation, open discussion and interviews
with stakeholders (i.e. farmers) as well as experts, like market professionals. In addition,
estimates of crop quantities and income at the level of peasant households will be relevant.
In order to address the 2nd objective, ethno-historical methods shall be applied. For example,
with a view to discussing the data found in the old documents.
Prof. Dr. Roland Hardenberg
State Rice and Local Millets in the Highlands of Middle India
|Foto:||Dr. Peter Berger is Associate Professor of Indian Religions and the Anthropology of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Groningen.
His interest in millets has developed through his long-term ethnographic research in highland Central India.
The plateau of the Eastern Ghats (belonging to the Koraput district of Odisha) is home of a number of indigenous communities that cultivate both wet rice and millets.
The complementarity of these two main staple cereals is deeply rooted in local life-worlds, embedded in the social order and manifest in ritual practices.
Among the publications that discuss these aspects are his monograph “Feeding, Sharing and Devouring: Ritual and Society in Highland Odisha, India” (de Gruyter 2015).
Other relevant publications include: (2003) “Erdmenschen und Flussbräute: Natur, Umwelt und Gesellschaft in Orissa, Indien”, Baessler Archiv 51: 7-24 and (in press, with R. Hardenberg) “Cereal Belongings – a cultural perspective on cereals as resource”, Paideuma: Journal of Cultural Anthropology, 64.
His ongoing interests include the comparative study of agriculture and religion in Central India as well as the investigation of the dynamics of both resilience and change in these fields.
René Cappers is professor of Archaeobotany at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and the Leiden University. He studied biology at Groningen University and specialized in plant ecology and archaeobotany. His PhD thesis deals with methodological aspects of archaeobotanical research. Postdoctoral projects concerned the study of the modeling of the transition to early farming in the Near East and the Roman trade with Africa south of the Sahara, Arabia and India.
Currently, his interest if focused on the reconstruction of the former food economy with special emphasis on the modeling of crop selection. Recent research deals with the standardization of concepts related to (1) the morphology of plant units that are produced in agriculture and to (2) the processes that are involved in crop processing and food preparation. His study was initially focused on the founder crops of southwest Asia (wheat and barley in particular). Recently, he also started to study crops that have been domesticated in India and Africa south of the Sahara. The millet project perfectly fits into this new challenging enterprise.
Cappers, R.T.J. (2018): Digital atlas of traditional food made from cereals and milk (book and website of University Library Groningen). Groningen Archaeological Studies no. 33. Groningen: Barkhuis & Groningen University Library.
Dr. Barbara Eichhorn is Researcher at the Department of Pre- and Protohistorical Archaeology, Institute of Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University.
|Susanne Epple is a researcher at the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt/Main currently engaged in a DFG project on legal pluralism in Ethiopia.
Since 1994 she has done extensive fieldwork in Bashada, southern Ethiopia, on issues related to gender and age, social discourse and identity, and has gained MA and PhD degrees in Social Anthropology from Mainz University.
From 2007 to 2015 she taught Social Anthropology at Addis Abba University, and supervised and examined numerous MA and PhD theses based on research in different parts of the country.
Between 2012 and 2015 she also worked on marginalized groups for a project located at Hamburg University.
Her publications include numerous articles, a special issue and three books on Ethiopia, including two recently edited volumes: Creating and Crossing Boundaries in Ethiopia: Dynamics of Social Categorization and Differentiation (2014) and The State of Status Groups in Ethiopia: Minorities between Marginalization and Integration (2018).
In the planned project, Epple will explore changes and continuities in the social and ritual meaning of sorghum among selected societies of southern Ethiopia, with a special focus on related concepts of purity and impurity.
Foto: Mirko Krenzel für VolkswagenStiftung
|Nikolas Gestrich is a Junior Research Group leader at the Frobenius Institute.
He is an archaeologist specialising in the emergence and nature of complex societies in West Africa.
His current research interests lie in the relationship of Archaeology and other historical disciplines in the African past, and in the history of cities and states in the Ségou region of Mali.
Within the “contested millets” project, Nikolas’ emphasis is on material cultural expression and settlement patterns which accompany past crop regimes.
Foto: Dr. Wolfgang Staudt
Dr. Karen Hahn is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Goethe-University.
|Sophia Thubauville is researcher and head of library at the Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt am Main.
She obtained her PhD on questions of gender and agency among the Maale of southern Ethiopia from the University of Mainz. She has been undertaking extensive field research in southern Ethiopia since 2002 and codirected the South Omo Research Center in Jinka in 2009/2010.
Recent publications include the edited volumes ‘Cultural Research in Northeastern Africa. German Histories and Stories’ (2015), ‘Seeking out wise old men. Six decades of Ethiopian Studies at the Frobenius Institute revisited’ (2017), and ‘Anthropology as Homage.
Festschrift for Ivo Strecker’ (2018).
Her current research interests focus on Indian educators in Ethiopia, making archival material accessible in Ethiopian Studies, and informal savings and insurance associations.
Her research within the millet network will focus on the ritual embeddedness of sorghum and the social hierarchy of crops in southern Ethiopia.