Looking for a documentary on African military ritual strangeness...
December 8, 2013 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Heard about this documentary from an anthropology student, but she didn't know the name of it... Back in the colonial days (20th C) of African holdings, some European military would depart their bases yearly and allow the African soldiers to take over. The African soldiers would dress as the Europeans and re-enact their modes of life and work, but in some kind of ritualized parody.

Things mentioned were the soldiers drinking continuously, smoking cigars non-stop, taking on the physical mannerism of the Europeans, but pushing it to extremes. The student didn't tell me which European holding it was. I think she said it was from a while back (black and white?).

The European commanders felt it was good to let the troops do this to keep tension low and morale high. It sounds like some kind of carnival/masquerade action where all roles are turned upside down temporarily. The low become the high and vice versa.

Any ideas? I'd love to get a copy and show it publicly.
posted by artof.mulata to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I bet a visual anthropologist who specialized in colonial Africa would know. Maybe one of these two?
posted by jabes at 1:36 PM on December 8, 2013

Response by poster: Hmm, never thought of mailing profs; I'll try that tomorrow and see if anything comes of it. Thanks for the suggestion, jabes!
posted by artof.mulata at 1:47 PM on December 8, 2013

This doesn't quite fit what you're describing, but perhaps you're thinking of the Congolese subculture of Sapeur? They have certainly appropriated colonial dress, but under different circumstances than you describe. The Herero people of Namibia might be a better fit.
posted by TungstenChef at 2:42 PM on December 8, 2013

Your question reminded me of a question I asked on the green sometime ago, here.

In particular the book referenced in the answers, "Dancing in the Streets", is an interesting read and - if I remember correctly - mentions something that used to take place in the Caribbean which sounds very much like what you're describing. If I remember rightly there a situation where those of African origin would dress in the clothes of the Europeans who lived on the islands and were normally in charge of government etc.

More generally the book refers to a number of situations thoughout history where those who were customarily without power in society were allowed to emulate and mock those who did have power in a number of places and times.

I borrowed the book from the library so I don't have it here to refer to but if you use 'Look Inside' on the Amazon site and search for the word 'dress' you can see what I'm referring to .
posted by southof40 at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2013

Response by poster: TungstenChef & southof40, I'm aware of both the culture of Sapeur and the idea of carnival, but neither of these are it. That Ehrenreich book looks pretty fascinating, though!
posted by artof.mulata at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2013

Best answer: Enough details are off that it's a long-shot, but this is reminiscent of Jean Rouch's Les maîtres fous, currently online here:
"The subject of the film was the Hauka movement. The Hauka movement consisted of mimicry and dancing to become possessed by British Colonial administrators. The participants performed the same elaborate military ceremonies of their colonial occupiers, but in more of a trance than true recreation ... Les maîtres fous offended both colonial authorities and African students alike. Indeed, the film was so controversial that it was banned first in Niger, and then in British territories including Ghana. The film was considered offensive to colonial authorities because of the Africans' blatant attempts to mimic and mock the 'white oppressors.' On the other hand, African students, teachers, and directors found the film to perpetrate an 'exotic racism' of the African people."
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:24 PM on December 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Monsieur Caution, can I offer you my first born? That is it! Thank you so very much. I bet my roommate that someone on Metafilter would figure this out within a few hours of my posting the question. You have totally made my month. Thank you thank you thank you!
posted by artof.mulata at 5:44 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For the record: The film is short and can be found all over the web in various (subtitled) languages. It's beautiful and exciting and, as Monsieur Caution mentioned, easy to perceive as controversial. But is it ever astounding...
posted by artof.mulata at 9:56 PM on December 10, 2013

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