Disability as Embodied Memory? Questions of Identity for the Amputees of Sierra Leone


Berghs, Maria. 2007. “Disability as Embodied Memory? Questions of Identity for the Amputees of Sierra Leone; Wagadu 4 (Special Issue: Intersecting Gender and Disability Perspectives in Rethinking Postcolonial Identities): 78-92.


Author: Maria Berghs


"In this paper, my aim is to examine this problematic construction of amputee identity in Sierra Leone society after the decade-long civil war through discourses and imagery of amputees presented in the media. Firstly, I examine how the government tried to contain and control amputee identity. Arguing that security and the physical rebuilding of the country was the first thing they should address, the government tried to contain and control amputee identities in camps. In establishing security and beginning the physical rebuilding of the country, the government used the bodies of the amputees in camps as a genderless visual metaphor for the trauma and threat of war, to gain aid from foreign donors. Furthermore, by rendering amputees in terms of their genderless bodies in camps, the government could hide the traumatic visible and invisible memories of the war. This entailed that the abuses that occurred during the civil war could be hidden from the country and not be a difficult priority to be addressed. Secondly, I examine how amputees, with the help of foreign N.G.O’s and religious organizations, rejected an idea of themselves as hidden victims and organized themselves into self-help groups such as the War Affected Amputee Association and demanded compensation and rehabilitation from those who had caused their injuries. Amputees began to see themselves as people who had rights and access to certain types of (economic, social, cultural, political) capital (Bourdieu, 1986, 1991). The telling of their stories in their autobiographical terms became very important, and they even refused participation in the T.R.C if their demands were not met. Even more embarrassing for the government was that the amputees also made links, in the press, between their disabilities and a patriarchal history of colonial and post-colonial exploitation (the diamond industry) of Sierra Leone, as well as lobbied other governments and agencies for support. Thirdly, I examine how amputee communities were created in amputee camps and how amputees rejected N.G.O and religious discourses of equality. For example, counter to ideas of gender-equality it was very important to male amputees to assert and regain their traditional roles as men. Amputation used as a violent cultural weapon of war erased differences of class, ethnicity, gender, and age (Richards, 1996, Peters & Richards, 1998). However, in reintegrating amputees back into society, while notions of ethnicity may not be so important, notions of class and gender continue to be relevant cultural markers in both local and global discourses and imagery. In this way, I thus hope to trace the outline of what I feel is a struggle by amputees to create, for themselves, their own images, identities, and places in their communities in Sierra Leone. I hope to elucidate why and how amputee symbolic images, identities, and positions in society are problematic and explain why they continue to be problematic in present day Sierra Leone, both for themselves, Sierra Leoneans, and others."

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Gender, Health Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2007

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