What is it about?

Achille Mbembe's work analyzes how the West's denigrating projections onto Africa as a chaotic void worked to justify colonialism, and shows how this conceptual matrix - Black Reason, Blackness, and The Black - has held a grip over the African psyche, continuing to subjugate Africans even after colonialism formally ended. Mbembe suggests that liberation may be possible by appealing to an archive from the ‘underside’ of African history. 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.’ I argue that this ritual has the capacity to break the hold of the postcolony’s spell.

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Why is it important?

Achille Mbembe, the renowned Cameroonian philosopher and scholar of African history, literature, and postcolonial studies, is one of the most significant thinkers of our time. His analysis of the dynamics of (post)colonial subjugation is largely cast in terms of phallic imagery, as rape and emasculation. This article introduces an ancient and widespread (but little known) alternative exercise of power that has been fundamental to the history of African resistance to such immoral governance: the appeal of women elders to the vulva as the seat of spiritual power and moral supremacy.

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This page is a summary of: Mbembe’s Matrix and the Matri-Archive, Journal of Religion in Africa, December 2021, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/15700666-12340199.
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