Robyn D'AvignonOct 10, 2022
A Ritual Geology
Gold and Subterranean Knowledge in Savanna West Africa
Duke University Press 2022
In A Ritual Geology: Gold and Subterranean Knowledge in Savanna West Africa (Duke University Press, 2022), Robyn d’Avignon, Assistant Professor of History at NYU, retraces the history of gold mining and orpaillage along the geological formation known as the West African Birimian Greenstone Belt. D’Avignon proposes the expression “ritual geology” to refer to “a set of practices, prohibitions, and cosmological engagements with the earth”, which has both endured until today among local miners and evolved since its first traces dating back to the 9th century. More than an effort to recover a legacy of knowledge about the subterranean, which has been virtually erased during the colonial period and subsequently criminalized, A Ritual Geology addresses the challenges currently being faced by local communities due to the conquering presence of corporate mining in the region. By situating the present situation within the rich history of this transnational “ritual geology”, d’Avignon’s book does not only provide a new vista from which to consider the history of West Africa, but also contribute to the urgent problem of imagining equitable ways of redistributing geological and other non-renewable resources.
Victor Monnin, Ph.D. is an historian of science specialized in the history of Earth sciences. He is also teaching French language and literature to undergraduates.