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Returning Life: Language, Life Force and History in Kilimanjaro

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Volume 32

Methodology & History in Anthropology

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Returning Life

Language, Life Force and History in Kilimanjaro

Knut Christian Myhre

336 pages, 20 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-665-2 $145.00/£107.00 / Hb / Published (December 2017)

ISBN  978-1-80073-947-5 $34.95/£27.95 / Pb / Not Yet Published (March 2023)

eISBN 978-1-78533-666-9 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit  Buy the eBook! $34.95info on epub formatRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“Knut Christian Myhre’s book is a meticulous work of linguistic and historical anthropology, combining elements of classic ethnography with an updated attentiveness to the mutually constitutive entanglements of language, material practice, and social life… [It] is a thought-provoking addition to the growing literature on ontologies, histories, and bodily life in Africa.” • JRAI (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute)

Returning Life stands to benefit varied anthropological projects. On the one hand, it makes a valuable contribution to our understandings of life and life force in Africa and points the way for Africanist anthropologists keen to rethink classical topics in light of current disciplinary concerns and theoretical turns: not least in relation to the New Melanesian ethnography as well as diverse material, ontological, and posthuman turns. On the other, the book shows what can be achieved by caring deeply for a local vernacular while keeping in view the analyst’s conceptual tools and the underappreciated work they do in our analyses.” • Current Anthropology

“This monograph is extremely interesting, highly readable and an anthropologically important contribution to the exploration of relations between human and other forms of life, demonstrating how the material, immaterial and language are interwoven. At its best it is, in addition, also strikingly beautiful in all its descriptions of the care that Chagga people exert over life itself and its many expressions of life-force. This in itself is reason enough to read the book.” • Norsk Antropologisk Tidsskrift

Returning Life is an outstanding, historically oriented ethnography of Kilimanjaro which shows the life of language in the everyday by focusing on the concreteness of events, persons, and spaces. It is a terrific contribution to anthropological theory and to the bridges between anthropology and philosophy.” • Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University.

“Bringing together in perspicuous relation Wittgensteinian and Chagga forms of life, this meticulous work itself reopens and revivifies African ethnography more broadly. A major achievement.” • Michael Lambek, Canada Research Chair, University of Toronto.


A group of Chagga-speaking men descend the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to butcher animals and pour milk, beer, and blood on the ground, requesting rain for their continued existence. Returning Life explores how this event engages activities where life force is transferred and transformed to afford and affect beings of different kinds. Historical sources demonstrate how the phenomenon of life force encompasses coffee cash-cropping, Catholic Christianity, and colonial and post-colonial rule, and features in cognate languages from throughout the area. As this vivid ethnography explores how life projects through beings of different kinds, it brings to life concepts and practices that extend through time and space, transcending established analytics.

Knut Christian Myhre is a senior researcher in the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. He is the editor of Cutting and Connecting: ‘Afrinesian’ Perspectives on Networks, Exchange and Relationality (Berghahn 2016) and the author of numerous articles. Myhre has held positions at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the Nordic Africa Institute, and the University of Oslo.

Subject: Anthropology (General)Cultural Studies (General)Sociology
Area: Africa


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