Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, History, University of California / Los Angeles

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of California / Los Angeles
Whispers in the West: the Emergence of a Jewish Community in Twentieth-Century Ghana

My project aims to understand the historical precedent behind the recent development of Jewish communities in Africa. It centers on the oral history of the House of Israel, a Jewish community that emerged in western Ghana in 1976. I will examine how the House of Israel's identity is constructed through their oral histories, which relays a Jewish heritage and indigenous practices associated with Jewish ritual, while also influenced by their encounters with normative Judaism in the 20th and 21st centuries. My work investigates the historicity of their claim by mapping out Jewish presence and mobility in West Africa, from trans-Saharan traders in the interior of West Africa in the 11th - 16th centuries to agents of empire on the West African coast in the 16th - 19th centuries, and finally impacts of Israeli support and transnational trade in the independence era. Further, my project evaluates ideological trends that generated from a colonial logic tethered to racial taxonomies and spiritual genealogies. These trends may have influenced both the transmission of oral histories as well as how early European travelers, who produced some of the earliest ethnographies of the pre-colonial and colonial eras, witnessed and understood indigenous practices and beliefs through a Hebraic lens. My project also examines the emergence of this community in independent Ghana, when "African Zionism" (David Apter 1963) and pan-Africanist ideologies were embraced. Through oral histories, archival sources, and ritual memory, my project will contribute to the history of Jewish Africa.