Exploring Foodways Practices, Conversion, and Identity in Colonial Senegal

Johanna A. Pacyga

The Division of the Social Sciences Short-Term Research Grant supported a preliminary archaeological field season at my dissertation site in Ngazobil, Senegal. My project targets the archaeology and history of the Saint Joseph de Ngazobil Catholic mission, founded by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (known as Spiritans) in the mid-nineteenth century. My research examines the relationship between foodways (the cultivation, production, and consumption of food and drink) and the performance of identity in the context of colonialism and conversion in French West Africa. I investigate practices of embodied consumption with an interdisciplinary methodology integrating archaeological excavation, archaeobotanical analysis, and archival research. I hypothesize that—within broader contexts of French influence, imperial expansion, and nineteenth-century evangelization—culinary and hygienic practices at the mission village changed over time, as the diverse population of runaway slaves and refugees gradually formed itself into an established community in French West Africa.

Over the course of five weeks, an intensive pedestrian survey revealed occupation of the site spanning the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Based on surface deposits and the presence of defined shell middens, mounds, and surface scatters, we were able to comprehensively map the original mission village, with a Magellan GIS unit. Based on this experience, we completed 12 test units and shovel test pits throughout the site, the excavation of which is helping me to plan where I will pursue large-scale trench excavation next season. Although I am still in the early stages of analysis, my findings indicate promising archaeological contexts for investigating domestic practices, as I have been able to locate three household areas within the site. Finally, part of this season was dedicated to creating and testing field flotation protocols for the collection of archaeobotanical materials (a key line of evidence for a project centered on investigation of foodways). A range of samples were collected and successfully processed in the field, further analysis here in Chicago will help to finesse my collection and processing methods for future seasons at Ngazobil.

The photograph associated with this post shows my co-excavator Haeden Stewart (doctoral candidate, anthropology) mapping in one of the mounds at Ngazobil.

Johanna A. Pacyga is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology.