Mbembe’s Matrix and the Matri-Archive

‘The Little Secret’ to Conjuring Away the Postcolonial Spell

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
Laura S. Grillo Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Georgetown University Durham, NC USA

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Achille Mbembe shows how the West’s denigrating projections on Africa as a chaotic void perpetrated a founding epistemic violence. The matrix of Black Reason, Blackness, and The Black worked systematically to justify colonialism and undermine African subjectivity. By maintaining its grip over the psyche, the postcolonial commandement effortlessly and indefinitely sustained subjugation. This is its ‘little secret’. Mbembe suggests that liberation may be possible by appealing to an archive from the ‘underside’ of African history to retrieve a self that is not constituted by toxic colonial projections. Drawing on my work An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa, I argue that the traditional appeal by postmenopausal women to their ‘bottom power’ is just such a living matrix – a ‘matri-archive’. Performing this ritual in the context of public protest, the ‘Mothers’ deploy their own ‘little secret’ with the capacity to break the hold of the postcolony’s spell.

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