15 Nov 2023 16:00 - 18:00 Online & McDonald Institute, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER


An event by the Multi-Dimensional Dialogues of the Americas research network


Lila O’Leary Chambers (University of Cambridge)


For many years before and after European incursion into the Leeward Islands in the sixteenth century, Kalinago women played a crucial political and martial role in their communities through the careful deployment of shared alcohol served in calabash. By the mid-eighteenth century, African and African-descended women enslaved on Leeward Islands plantations put the calabash and the alcohol within it to their own ends, fostering illicit political and kinship networks through rituals of communal consumption. This paper explores the place of the assemblage of the calabash and alcohol to consider continuities and ruptures in the operation of political power outside of, and blanketed under, white settler regimes of plantation capitalism. It also builds on a growing body of scholarship that seeks to explicitly link Indigenous histories of the Caribbean with those of the enslaved and free African and African-descended communities forcibly transported to the region across the early modern period. Though the women involved hailed from different regions of the world and operated within different cosmologies, both groups drew on the same or similar sets of materials to forge political and affective connections on Caribbean ground. The calabash-as-drinking vessel is a particularly apt node of inquiry, as the movement of its species troubles the east to west trajectory typically foregrounded in Atlantic narratives of slavery. In considering the gendered dimensions of how calabash vessels and alcohol consumption featured in both Kalinago and African diasporic use, this paper seeks to move beyond the ‘drudge’ archetype, and instead point to moments of political power.

Michaelmas term theme:

En(d)gendered Extractions: Confronting the Ends and Means of Gender in the Americas

Is it time to end the gendering of the past? This series tackles gender in the Social Sciences and Humanities at a critical moment in STEM and SHAPE studies when movements to disrupt and decolonise conceptual frameworks butt against prevailing wisdoms and status quo sentimentalities. Anchored in archaeological questions but pulling in the wider academic discourse, we will ask: how can continued Gender Studies reveal the multicultural past and affect new research outcomes? Organised into four sessions and featuring experts in current-wave Americas research, we will examine the triumphs and foibles of gendered binarity approaches, reductive modelling, social and ethnic inconsistencies, and transformative methodologies that have revealed the dynamic relationships among people, communities and objects. We begin with a round-table discussion in conversation with the provocative Black Trowel community, who are seeking to end misguided interpretations of gendered bodies and rituals. This will be followed by three focused sessions to deepen our comparative framing and lead to interdisciplinary approaches. The larger purpose is to enable and inspire collaboration among our invited specialists and the academic audience, and in so doing increase research network development and engagement. Comparative examples will showcase the topic’s significance and dataset sharing throughout will help foster publication and collaboration, furthering the discussion. As a constructive platform for deconstructing a variety of gender ideologies, diversifying perspectives and identifying meaning, we also hope to welcome dissident voices to check assumptions and the status quo, engendering further decolonial approaches to shape for Americas research.

For enquiries please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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