Spirits and Pain in the Making of Ndyuka Politics

In: Maroon Cosmopolitics
Author: Stuart Strange

This chapter argues that the ways in which contemporary Ndyuka people talk about pain is critical for understanding the operation of Ndyuka politics. For Ndyuka, pain directly embodies social relationships. Pain is regarded as politically significant when its qualitative structure—character, location, intensity, frequency, etc.—is inferred to communicate a particular social relation of accountability or victimization that requires collective action from a sufferer’s family, lineage, or clan. This focus on the message “for its own sake” makes pain “poetic” (Jakobsen 1960: 356). Ndyuka communities attempt to decipher the poetics of pain and other misfortunes to identify which social relations have the most immediate role in determining their collective destiny. This focus on the poetics of pain helps continuously reshape the relations that Ndyuka recognize as politically significant, adding key insights into the moral constitution of a uniquely African American theory of politics.