African Spectral Pasts and Their Presences on the Malabar Coast

In: Matatu
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  • 1 Pennsylvania State UniversityDepartment of Asian Studies and the African Studies Program, USA, State College, PA
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In the coastal regions of Kochi in Kerala, memories of forced African migration to India are preserved through shrines dedicated to African or Kappiri spirits, belief in their mischievous acts, and their intercessory powers. Shrines for African spirits are eclectic and modest, and they operate as indexical reminders of the troubled African pasts during the colonial occupation of Kerala. For most local people, Kappiri is a spectral deity, figureless and seemingly abstract, and a pervasive spirit who inhabits the coastal landscape. By studying vernacular histories, tales of spirit sightings, and worship practices surrounding the spectral figure of Kappiri, I have analysed how African spirits manifest their phantom presences and channel their spectral powers to those who seek to believe in their histories, which otherwise are obliterated from institutional discourses. Focussing on different material and intangible manifestations of African spirits, I discuss how different recollective practices—ritualistic, creative, and secular—offer alternative discursive exegesis on Afro-Indian connections.

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