I had come to Sierra Leone and The Gambia on a Fulbright-Hays grant to research my dissertation thesis that Sierra Leonean emulations of Hunting, that is, young men’s masquerade societies borrowed from the Yoruba in neighboring Nigeria, represent an urban ritual response to trauma in the face of low institutional social support.
I wanted to investigate how refugee identity and ritual performance are linked to Sierra Leoneans’ chronic adjustment difficulties and profound sense of alienation from their own culture, a condition Eisenbruch terms “cultural bereavement” . When I arrived and started talking to people, however, they were not interested in discussing the “trauma” of war. In fact, trauma was a not a word used by Sierra Leoneans to describe their emotions or feelings of frustration about the war and about life. It was not an indigenous phrase in the Krio language but one they had learned to use when talking to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to show their distress and request financial support. It had become a buzzword. They had learned that “trauma” meant something significant to the West, and could be used as a magical appeal for help.
But when the aid agencies were not around, or had met their quotas, locked their doors, and gone home, Sierra Leoneans were much more interested in discussing their dilemmas and frustrations through the vocabulary and cultural lens of trust.