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In My Time of DyingA History of Death and the Dead in West Africa$
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John Parker

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780691193151

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691193151.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM PRINCETON SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Princeton University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PRSO for personal use.date: 18 May 2022

The Severed Head

The Severed Head

(p.107) 7 The Severed Head
In My Time of Dying

John Parker

Princeton University Press

This chapter narrates the accounts of the curation of enemies' skulls on the Gold Coast in the late sixteenth century. It discusses the preservation and aesthetic display of the mortal remains of vanquished foes as mnemonics of military prowess and embodiments of ritual power. Underlying such display was a range of what has been called 'capital visions' — that is, understandings of the severed human head as a metaphor for the sacred, as an encapsulation of horror and as an ideological artefact saturated with meaning. If across cultures, dead bodies have been understood to hold some great, if often, indeterminate potency, then that potency was encapsulated in the head. The startling transfiguration effected by its removal from the torso can be seen as the apotheosis of corporeal violence and appropriation. Ultimately, the chapter investigates how the issue of decapitation and expectations of the afterlife extended into the enslaved Gold Coast diaspora of the wider Atlantic world.

Keywords:   skull, Gold Coast, mortal remains, military prowess, ritual power, decapitation, afterlife

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