Pauline Harding (UCL) - 2017-18 Students

Archaeology as ‘Witchcraft’: Spirits, Sorcerers and Salesmen in Buganda

Sub-Saharan Africa’s heritages remain underrepresented within world heritage lists. This research explores why, with a focus on what ‘heritage’ means globally and how this contrasts with understandings of heritage in Uganda. Drawing on interview materials and observations from ethnographic fieldwork at heritage sites in Uganda, and also on historical records and academic texts, it examines Ugandan heritage values in terms of historically rooted practices that are living, thriving and continually evolving, in contrast to international values that centre on static historical monuments or ancient practices considered to be ‘at risk’. It explores Ugandan heritages that have been associated with ‘primitive’ behaviours, spirits and ‘witchcraft’, within an immensely complex socio-political and ideological setting that sees Ugandans varyingly preserve, develop and destroy elements of its own past. Central themes include government and kingdom uses of heritage to pursue conflicting agendas of politics, land ownership and identity; community perceptions of archaeological sites as spiritual gateways that connect the living and the dead; and ‘fake’ heritages developed by cultural entrepreneurs and manipulated for financial gain. Through analysis of these themes, this research seeks to outline why Uganda’s heritages are so divisive within the nation; how this prevents them from being satisfactorily understood and celebrated on an international scale; and what are the most appropriate ways to research and protect them in the future.

Primary supervisors: Andrew Reid, Kevin MacDonald
Secondary supervisor: Rachel King

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