In 2002, as Sierra Leone prepared to announce the end of its brutal civil war, the distinguished anthropologist, poet, and novelist Michael Jackson returned to the country where he had intermittently lived and worked as an ethnographer since 1969. While his initial concern was to help his old friend Sewa Bockarie (S. B.) Marah—a prominent figure in Sierra Leonean politics—write his autobiography, Jackson’s experiences during his stay led him to create a more complex work: In Sierra Leone, a beautifully rendered mosaic integrating S. B.’s moving stories with personal reflections, ethnographic digressions, and meditations on history and violence.
Though the Revolutionary United Front (R.U.F.) ostensibly fought its war (1991–2002) against corrupt government, the people of Sierra Leone were its victims. By the time the war was over, more than fifty thousand were dead, thousands more had been maimed, and over one million were displaced. Jackson relates the stories of political leaders and ordinary people trying to salvage their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of cataclysmic violence. Combining these with his own knowledge of African folklore, history, and politics and with S. B.’s bittersweet memories—of his family’s rich heritage, his imprisonment as a political detainee, and his position in several of Sierra Leone’s post-independence governments—Jackson has created a work of elegiac, literary, and philosophical power.
Anthropologist, poet and novelist Jackson returned to Sierra Leone in 2002, after some 30 years' absence, at a time when the West African country was emerging from a violent 11-year civil war. In the 1970s, Jackson had lived among Sierra Leone's Kuranko people, conducting ethnographic fieldwork. He returned to ghostwrite the autobiography of his old friend, the eminent politician Sewa Bockarie Marah--known as"SB"--leader of Sierra Leone's People's Party. Jackson was eager also to record the stories of ordinary people, visiting amputee and refugee camps in order to gather their horrific survival stories. This book mingles the two projects; it captures both the intensity of high politics, by relating SB's (otherwise unwritten) biography, and the traumas of the common people. Attempting to make sense of the roots of rebel violence, Jackson focuses on intermale relations, in SB's family and in the tapestry of Kuranko social life in general."Acts of violence are prepared over long periods of time, often in the subconscious," he writes. At what point did the traditional reciprocity of village life fail a younger generation of men who craved power? How do the anxieties of powerlessness and marginalization play into the dynamics of revolution? Citing Hannah Arendt and Pierre Bourdieu, among other philosophers, Jackson shies away from easy generalizations. Instead, he offers a more tentative and open-ended meditation on a country whose belief systems, folktales and values he has studied extensively. The result is a melancholic, reflective and informed work that will fascinate readers wishing to learn more about West African politics and people. B&w photos, maps.