Barawa, and the Ways Birds Fly in the Sky

Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986

Though we are all prefigured by our social and historical origins, no two of us, the Kuranko say, ever trace the same path across the sky.

Barawa is a work of ethnographic fiction.  It mixes ethnographic fieldwork, ethnohistorical documentation, and imaginative reconstruction, and through a series of striking portraits – of Africans and Europeans alike – recounts a story of social change, colonial penetration, and genealogical succession in the remote Kuranko chiefdom of Barawa over a period of several hundred years.  Chronicling the journeys of early European explorers, the advent of Islam, the impact of two world wars, modern-day political struggles, and the course of his own fieldwork, Michael Jackson interleaves historical perspectives and individual biographies in this sustained meditation on how human beings are both shaped by external circumstances and, reciprocally, give shape to their own lives.

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