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International Workshop - Contested Millets in Africa and Asia: Past and Present

From:Th 28-03-2019
Until:Fr 29-03-2019
Where:Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, Oude Boteringestraat 38, Groningen

Presently, millets experience a revival in different parts of the world. They are promoted as healthy food (or “nutri-food”) and as a particularly sustainable crop that can adopt to dry weather conditions and poor soils. Only a few decades ago, however, some of these millets began to be branded as symbols of poverty and backwardness and slowly disappeared from the cuisines of those who formerly consumed it as a staple on daily basis. This rise or fall of millets seems to have occurred at various times and in different parts of the world. From the perspective of the organizers of this workshop, these changing evaluations of millets are best understood by using a holistic and interdisciplinary approach that focusses on the following three socio-cultural aspects of millets:

First, millets often occur as one element within complex networks consisting of crops produced and used for subsistence and/or commercial activities. The fate of millet, we hypothesize, depends on transformations within these networks and not simply on actions directly pertaining to millets. The study of the evolution (and devolution) of millets therefore requires an approach that recognizes the interconnections between crops in any given case. What were the main competitors of millets through time?

Secondly, the rise and fall of millets has an important material dimension. On the one hand, different types of millets offer certain material “affordances”, on the other hand people use various material techniques to produce, transform, store and consume millets. The domestication as well as exchange of millets is thus related to material innovations, appropriations and transformations that may – or may not – occur simultaneously. What explanations do we get for the destiny of millets in different parts of the world when we focus on this material dimension?

Thirdly, millets are not only good for eating but also for thinking. Therefore, the rise and fall of millets is strongly related to creativity of the human mind. When millets become a staple, people often develop elaborate cultural representations of this crop in myths, rituals, writings, paintings and other media. These representations are intimately related to the specific materiality of millets, their growth in a specific environment as well as to the (material) techniques developed by people when using millets for various purposes. How is this “millet thinking” affected when millets become marginalized? Is “millet knowledge” necessarily lost in this case or is it preserved as reserve for later times? Is the devaluation of millets the cause or the effect of the recurring demise of this cereal?

This workshop addresses these approaches and questions from an interdisciplinary perspective bringing together anthropologists, archaeologists, archaeobotanists, botanists, historians and historical linguists.

Practical information

This workshop is not a public conference, but if you are interested to listen to (some of) the lectures and presentations, please register via Maria Tabares: m.t.tabares student.rug.nl

More information on the program can be found here