Starting from a peculiar pottery vessel displayed during an ethnographic fieldwork in South-Eastern Niger, the authors seek to reconstruct the process through which enamelware manufactured in West Africa and Asia have gradually replaced other items in marriage trousseaux and become the main expression of women’s wealth, urbanity, and aesthetic skills. Data hereby gathered are then discussed and analyzed in the next paper (Zeebroek et al., this volume), with a view to develop a multiscalar analytical framework for exploring cultural dynamics.
The first part of the paper describes the trajectory of enamelware; from the moment they are displayed in the bride’s home, up to when they are put into place and exhibited in the room the bride will occupy within her husband’s home. This allows for the identification of the social and economical elements at stake in the accumulation and display of such products. Next, the authors explore the criteria underlying the value of marriage trousseaux. These pertain to the number and typological homogeneity of items, but also their origin (real or putative), which requires that supply networks be also taken into consideration, and notably those in connection with circular migrations or the Mecca pilgrimage.
In the second part of the paper, marriage trousseaux are put into historical perspective. One sees how enamelware have gradually replaced calabashes in most populations of Southern Niger, and how this replacement has both followed and generated major changes in marital economy, the role of women, and aesthetic tastes. Authors then consider the phenomenon from a wider geographical perspective, which helps to understand why marriage trousseaux incorporate enamelware in a large part of West Africa, but also why such products have not replaced calabashes or other kinds of matrimonial goods in several populations. [ Résumé de l'article ]