Times Past Under Fire: Accounting for the Efficacy of Reconciliation Rituals in Postwar Sierra Leone

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the wake of Sierra Leone’s civil war, Fambul Tok, a locally run internationally funded NGO, promotes community ownership of the peace process by invoking the efficacy of “local traditions.” Its programs take the form of spectacular bonfire ceremonies that host acts of public testimony, witnessing, and forgiveness. Attending to the aesthetic dimensions of one Fambul Tok bonfire reveals disconnections between Fambul Tok’s self-image and villagers’ own perceptions of and aspirations for the occasion. These disjunctures testify to the bonfires’ nature as an “invented tradition” constituted as much by Western psychoanalysis, internationalist bureaucracy, and an imagined primordial Africa as by lived experience. Justifications for such ritualistic processes call upon overlapping yet often contradictory narratives about the source of their efficacy. Moreover, adherence to international technocratic norms leads participants to prioritize metrics legible to foreign audiences, indicating the limits of so-called local models within current systems of post-conflict intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Art of Emergency: Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190692322, 9780190692360
StatePublished - Mar 2 2020


  • adherence
  • aesthetics
  • efficacy
  • metrics
  • peace
  • reconciliation
  • ritual
  • Sierra Leone
  • testimony
  • tradition


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