Between tortured bodies and resurfacing bones: The politics of the dead in Zimbabwe

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60 Citations (Scopus)


Bones occupy a complex place in Zimbabwe's postcolonial milieu. From ancestral bones rising again in the struggle for independence, and later land, to resurfacing bones of unsettled war dead or the troubling remains of gukurahundi victims, it is clear that bones are intertwined in postcolonial politics in ways that go far beyond, yet necessarily implicate, contests over memory, commemoration and the representation of the past. As both extensions of the dead (spirit 'subjects' making demands on the living) and as unconscious 'objects' or 'things' (retorting to and provoking responses from the living), bones in Zimbabwe not only challenge normalizing processes of state commemoration and heritage, but also animate a myriad of personal, kin, clan, class and political loyalties and struggles. Recent political violence indicates that it is not only dry bones but also the fleshy materiality of tortured bodies that are entangled in Zimbabwe's troubled postcolonial milieu. Therefore, the author seeks to explore and contrast the complexity of agencies entangled in the affective presence and emotive materiality of both bones and bodies in Zimbabwe. If bodies inscribed with torturous performances of sovereignty do have substantial, if duplicitous, political affects, how does this contrast with the unsettling presence of the longer dead? What does the passage of time - both the material and leaky decomposition of flesh, but equally the transformative processes of burial - do to the affective presence and emotive materiality of the dead? How do broken bodies become bones?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-448
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Zimbabwe
  • affective presence and properties of materials
  • bones and bodies
  • emotive materiality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Archeology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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