Gifting Mecca: Importing Spiritual Capital to West Africa


This discussion of pilgrimage and its gifts, based on ethnographic research in the historically‐rich and deeply Islamic West African city of Kankan, Guinea, concerns the processes of movement of people from this remote region to and from Mecca and the transformative relationship dynamics that surround pilgrims and their families following the hajj. The ‘centre' in this case study is created, reproduced and reconfigured through the economic processes of personal experiential access and the ability to gift a reminder of that experiential access. Access to the centre transforms religious and cultural perceptions of personhood and comprises a kind of spiritual capital that is transferable. In gerontocratic, patrilineal extended family households of Kankan, participation in pilgrimage creates a new kind of globally implicated person and also may influence the relative status of other members of the household. Relying on two case studies, this paper also highlights potential tensions between two global systems, each ambiguously ‘centred' in a world far apart from Kankan: local actors negotiate competing versions of identity constructions through Western commodity metaphors and idealized Islamic/Mandé models of intergenerational kinship obligation. Discontent with passively allowing either paradigm to define what it is to be a pious or ‘modern' person, local actors juggle both sets of identity constructions to profoundly impact the notion of the person and the economy of religious experience.


Sociology and Anthropology

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West Africa, pilgrimage, gifting

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