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Waging War on the Dead: The Necropolitics of Sufi Shrine Destruction in Mali


The destruction of Sufi heritage in Timbuktu used and abused heritage to assert sovereignty, terrorize the living, and repudiate materiality. Archeologists have not analyzed how necropolitics relates to the desecration of the dead and the torture of the living in Mali, where “bodies” are becoming prime stages for radical performances of sovereignty, ideology, and materiality. To understand how Sufi shrines are becoming prime ideological battlegrounds, we must consider the affective presence and emotive materiality of the dead “bodies” and “spirits” of the saints being “slayed,” and acknowledge the relationship between the disturbance of the dead and postcolonial violence on the living.


La destruction des sanctuaires soufis à Tombouctou est une violence faite au patrimoine dans le but d’imposer une souveraineté, de terroriser les vivants et de rejeter la matérialité. Les archéologues n’ont pas analysé comment la nécropolitique est liée à la désacralisation des morts et à la torture des vivants au Mali, où les « corps » deviennent les premiers bastions d’un exercice radical en termes de souveraineté, d’idéologie et de matérialité. Pour comprendre comment les sanctuaires soufis sont en train de devenir les principaux champs de bataille idéologiques, nous devons prendre en compte la présence affective et la matérialité émotionnelle des « corps » et des « esprits » morts des saints « occis » et reconnaître la relation entre la perturbation des morts et la violence postcoloniale sur les vivants.


La destrucción de santuarios sufíes en el maltratado patrimonio de Tombuctú para reafirmar la soberanía, aterroriza a los vivos y repudia la materialidad. Los arqueólogos no han analizado cómo la necropolítica se relaciona con la profanación de los muertos y la tortura de los vivos en Malí, donde los “cuerpos” se están convirtiendo en escenarios primordiales de las representaciones radicales de soberanía, ideología y materialidad. Para comprender cómo los santuarios sufíes se están convirtiendo en campos de batalla ideológicos primordiales, debemos considerar la presencia afectiva y la materialidad emotiva de los “cuerpos” y “espíritus” muertos de los santos “asesinados” y reconocer la relación entre la perturbación de los muertos y la violencia postcolonial sobre los vivos.

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Correspondence to Emily Jane O’Dell.

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O’Dell, E.J. Waging War on the Dead: The Necropolitics of Sufi Shrine Destruction in Mali. Arch 9, 506–525 (2013).

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Key Words

  • Mali
  • Sufism
  • Necropolitics
  • Terrorism