Clay and earth: Excavating partialities and relations

Olívia Maria Gomes da Cunha


Inspired by the idea of “transculturation,” formulated as a contrastive metaphor and concept by Fernando Ortiz in the 1940s, this article seeks to explore the making of clay balls called “Moengo pemba,” extracted from former bauxite excavation areas by Maroon Ndyuka men. With the establishment of the US bauxite industry in Moengo (Suriname) in the late 1910s, subsequent mining and lumbering activities had profound effects on the lives of Maroon families. The labor of Ndyuka men in tree-cutting and bauxite excavation, and women’s work in the gardens and markets, were affected by new moral and economic forces, punctuating diverse forms of circulation and consumption. The use of Moengo pemba has evoked existential effects connected to the Maroon person and body, their ancestors, and other nonhuman beings inhabiting the forest. The association between the clay, the healing powers of pemba, and its ontological effects on Ndyuka bodies in a landscape of environmental destruction is explored here through a contrapuntal dialogue.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713388