Cine-animism: The Return of Amílcar Cabral and Many Returns

by Filipa César

we are a society of dead and living
Amílcar Cabral

War of Ontologies

On August 3, 1959, workers at the port of Pidjiguiti in Bissau organized a strike demanding better working conditions and wage raises. Seamen and dockworkers, particularly those working for Casa Gouveia, the local import-export arm of the Portuguese commercial monopoly of the Companhia União Fabril (CUF), were violently repressed by the company’s security forces, colonial officials, the police, and the military. Around 50 people died, and about a hundred were injured. According to the accounts of the survivors and other witnesses, a military commander shot at the heads of those who had taken refuge at sea. For the anti-colonial party PAIGC—just founded in 1956 and from which some militants had been involved in the strike—this was a turning point for the resistance that had been as continuous as the Portuguese occupation of the West African coast. A political and diplomatic way to independence, unlike in the neighboring Republic of Guinea, seemed to be off the table. The Portuguese colonial order and its mercantile companies managed necropolitics with the clear assumption that through legal abstractions, the production and distribution of death, it would be possible to continue to capitalize on overseas territories and its human and natural resources. Uncannily, these mechanisms of violence and force were coevally corrupted by the way different media, subjectivities, ontologies, epistemologies, and technologies operated in the same place—the animistic imaginaries of permanently situated resistance. The courageous demands made by the women at the port to the governor prevented the burning of the bodies and had them returned to their families for the necessary mourning ceremonies. Besides artillery and manpower, other forces were deployed to the same battleground in a conflict of imaginaries and its means of (re-)presentation. It is as if the Portuguese colonialists tried to subdue something that cannot be subdued, something ungraspable that escaped their own understanding of life and codes of existence. As Amílcar Cabral, African liberation leader of the PAIGC and agronomist, claimed at the 1972 funeral of Kwame Nkrumah: “We, Africans, firmly believe that the dead continue living by our sides, we are a society of dead and living” (Cabral 2012). This anti-colonial declaration counters western ontologies—you may force and kill, but even the dead have agency beyond your grasp. This multi-voiced essay revisits O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (eng. The Return of Amílcar Cabral, Guinea-Bissau/Guinea/Sweden, 1976), the first film produced collectively by Guinean filmmakers in the aftermath of the war of liberation of Guinea-Bissau from Portuguese occupation in 1974.[1] It draws on my reflections and recollections, and those of cine-kins engaged with the remains of the Guinean archive. The film itself celebrates the life of Amílcar Cabral and how his presence remains vital. It documents the solemn ceremony of the return of Cabral’s remains to Bissau in 1976 from Conakry where he had been assassinated in January 1973.[2] According to Sana na N’hada, who was responsible for the production and editing, the original aim of the film was first to call upon the Guinean diaspora to return to the newly liberated nation and second to create a “slow film” as a placeholder for reflection. The funeral documentation was edited with Guinean songs and archival material channeling several of Cabral’s addresses to freedom fighters during the guerrilla war.

This essay acts as a “séance,” full of impossibilities and limitations that start already with its written form, corrupting the insistent orality and the sonic reverberant agency operating in the film. Without wanting to explain the film or counter its opacity, my path is to follow the mediality experiment that this film presents. The essay embraces the intrinsic nature of cinema as an animistic medium and attempts to show how this film, as a mourning ritual, offers an accurate example for convening spectral, political, and epistemological troubles in order to think through cinema in and beyond modern anti-colonial gestures: cine-animism.

[Fig. 1] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

[Fig. 1] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

Animist Medium

If Africa has been imagined from the outside, those who remain there continue to imagine new ways to subvert the images that have fictionalized them, and create their own representations.

Achille Mbembe

Sana na N’hada, who produced and edited The Return of Amílcar Cabral, is a member of the Balante community whose animistic cosmogony he grew up with and was initiated into. “I would say that animism is not a fixed religion. It is practised everywhere, and it is based on natural phenomena. There are things about us that we cannot understand. But it is not a religion” (César, Hering, and Rito 2017, 351). What happens when the medium of cinema is in the hands of a practitioner with an animistic ontological understanding, who was initiated into filmmaking during the armed struggle?

Guinean sociologists Miguel de Barros and Mónica Sofia Vaz articulate the animistic understanding of death in Guinean creole cosmologies:

Thinking about death is an act in life. … In traditional African societies it is particularly interesting to verify the dialogue and closeness between the living, the dead and … that the human dimension is more than physical and biological. … The soul or the mind may, however, occupy another space and time … The living may then have the role of helping the soul in this transition, in the beginning of a new path, which one wants to be appeased, and with meaning, through rituals associated with death. (2020, my translation)

Referring to the Judeo-Christian tradition in the film Les Statues Meurent Aussi (1953), Chris Marker posits: “We put stones over our dead in order to prevent them from escaping.” Cinema, with its specific qualities between material, spatial, and temporal projection, is a medium propensive for animist technologies. This echoes Teresa Castro’s definition of animistic media:

  • a medium that animates still images, turning stillness into motion and virtually endowing photograms with “self-motion”;

  • a medium that is capable of animating the world, as well as the things and beings that inhabit it;

  • a medium, finally, that came to be envisaged, by means of the camera as its embodiment, as an autonomous agent evincing a form of (machinic) “intelligence” or “consciousness.” (2016, 248–49)

Simultaneously, the medium of cinema jeopardizes the concept of linear time because of its capacity to collapse many presents and presences onto the audience’s timescape, rendering a layering of different temporalities sensorially.

Seeking to overcome the hold that the postcolony continues to exert over lives, Achille Mbembe also attempted a way out of the generalized “circulation and exchange of death as the condition for becoming human” and enunciated how the “disposing-of-death-itself” could be in the core of a “veritable politics of freedom” (Mbembe and Hofmeyr 2006).

The very title, The Return of Amílcar Cabral, is a bold announcement of a cinematic gesture meant to defeat the finitude of death, the animistic aspect to what is humanely present otherwise. In Romance languages, present (time), presence (matter), and gift (sociality) are the same word: “presente.” Somehow through this “return,” film history was presented with an animist, anti-colonial cinematic event where an imaginary of liberation and emancipation is attempted within a conjuration that makes a present of many agencies (time/matter/sociality) at stake, including all contradictions (some tragic) that African nationalist constructs embody. In this birth of Guinean cinema, a magnetism between the flow of the animist ontologies and the potential animist mediality of cinema takes place.

[Fig. 2] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N'hada)

[Fig. 2] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

Opening Ritual

We have come up with ways how to speak about spectres but we haven’t learned yet how to speak to them.

Tobias Hering (2015, 74)

The film opens the cinematic mourning ritual, summoning viewers with the harmonious sound of the kora announcing a spiritual spread.[3] The chords swell in all directions in a cosmic expanse, as if the sonic waves were spreading everywhere, convoking communion and attention. Slowly, like a spill being absorbed in reverse, the notes align back into harmonic organization to allow for the voice of the griot to describe what the notes are already doing “Dear Quade is playing the kora in honor of the PAIGC.”[4] The verticality of the kora strings make the link between above and below—the cosmic and the terrestrial—as does the first image, a vertical pan from the trees’ canopy tilting down to the middle of an empty paved road decorated with pennants, to a solitary sentinel stands alert and armed on the sidewalk, protecting the path for what is about to pass as the griot and kora continue “the work achieved …, the struggle for emancipation and Independence. … I am announcing the PAIGC’s message about the death of Cabral. But what’s immortal? Cabral’s struggle is immortal” (my translation).

With the introduction of the word “immortal,” a spell is cast for the duration of the film and the actions that follow—the making present of what is there otherwise. The bodily and the immortal agency is a combination that the animistic medium of film can make both graspable and opaque. The animist coding of matter is not a form of resistance, but a force of existence that operates humanity beyond the body and is therefore, not colonizable matter, not reachable to the oppressors.

The filmmakers appropriate the modern cinema technology and make a collective film of an apparently secular mourning ritual for the leader of the anti-colonial struggle. They operate a participant objectification, while at the same time encoding various elements of the montage to hint at the animistic culture to retain its own agency through the celebration of the immortality in death: the griot, the strings, the drums and the traditional weaving on the ground. As Christina Sharpe convokes the multiple meanings of wake within Black struggles to surviving imperialism, this film is also a space enabler for awareness, awakening, mourning, alert, and water and air trail (see Sharpe 2016).

Transfers: Body and Celluloid

Where the presence of your mortal remains will fertilise the radicalization of the revolution of all our people with whom you so wonderfully identified.[5]

Sekou Touré

It was precisely this film that we were hoping to find when we started cataloguing the Guinean film archive in Bissau.[6] Within the dozens of film cans of 16mm reels in various states of decay, three were identified as containing O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral. We, myself and a group of cine-kins, opened them one by one, and found that the celluloid had dissolved into a brown-black-redish vinegared paste. But when I passed the sad news on to Sana na N’hada, he told me that he still had a few cans in his home that he had rescued from the 7th of June War in 1998. In fact, there it was, the last known copy—The Return had returned as it promised. After almost 30 years of not being accessed or shown, the celluloid copy of The Return of Amílcar Cabral, returned through another transfer—the digital scanner reading the inscribed surface. In 1976, the celluloid got exposed to the light matter through the photons: “Doesn’t a breath of the air that pervaded earlier days caress us as well?” (Benjamin 2006, 390). Now other photons, cast by the shadows of that air, get processed into little squares of red, green, and blue colors saved as ones and zeros on a hard disk. In this transfer, both the distance of the time span between the two exposures and the nearness of the surface of transfer collide. Maybe that awkward experience of Benjaminian aura, “A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” (Benjamin 2008, 23). In the purposeful absence of any attempt at restoration, along with the images are transferred the inscriptions of time, neglect, war, decomposition, corrosion, mold, vinegar syndrome, and projection scratches on the animal gelatin of the celluloid. Now pixelated and projected again—can fireflies heal scars?

In 2011, before seeing any of the content of the archive, we had titled the first project proposal addressed to institutions and possible funders, “Animated Archive,” a name with a premonition of what would unfold—the return of a body, the return of a cinema, the return to a soil, the animation of an archive and the chemistry of shadows; continuous erosion resisting erasure. Everything was trying to recover and reclaim something on the verge of disappearance. “An object dies when the living glance trained upon it disappears.”[7]

The digital transfer was just one of the various transfers that have already enchanted The Return of Amílcar Cabral, and those that are being called upon. Cabral’s body returns, and his body and spirit can “fertilize the land” as Sekou Touré declares in his obituary speech in the film. Death is no end, but rather a means for collectivizing existence and continuing the struggle beyond concepts of finitude. The humus is the metabolization of the commons through earthing and soil reclamation. As an agronomist, Amílcar Cabral had a privileged relation with soil sciences, conceptualizing environmental phenomena agency as witness of mercantile extractivist accumulation (César 2018).

This humus of the film’s posthumous state of decay makes film an agent capable of different understandings of time and presence. Sana na N’hada explained that the film was made to document the return of Cabral’s body—to re-member Cabral (to bring him back into body parts “members,” limbs, meaning arms and legs, in Romance languages) and to send a message to the Guinean diaspora—we can bury our dead in our soil so we can also return to inhabit it. Sana na N’hada wanted to present the Guineans with the presence of the spirit of liberation Cabral embodied in his metamorphosis. The chosen medium to operate all these complex communing agencies is cinema. Let us never freeze history in this archive, instead let’s allow it to decompose and recompose, so we can understand the fertile potentiality of the active involvement of cinema and death in life.

Cabral’s body grounded on his own soil by plane, film-body line-of-flight, Conakry-Bissau. The body of the plane becomes strangely reminiscent of a womb as the coffin emerges from a cargo door in a clumsy, unrehearsed, unrehearsable maneuver marking the birth of Cabral’s death. The ritual not only shows the burial of the leader on his own land; it is not about bringing the body to rest in peace, but about allowing death to operate in the living world. In a piece of unedited footage that Swedish filmmaker Lennart Malmer shot of this very occasion, a person dressed in a sky-at-night fabric enters the plane/womb. Speaking in Guimarães in 2015 at a conference dedicated to the reemerged archive from Bissau, artist and curator Ala Younis described this image as follows: “Universe stretches its head into the basin of the airplane, and prepares itself to step into its darkness. When the coffin comes out, we know it is not that of the universe, but we do not see the universe come out either. The images are cut, we follow the coffin, people march behind it, gather around it. Salute the image. Drop their tears at it … .”[8]

[Fig. 3] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N'hada)

[Fig. 3] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

Lion, Abel Djassi, Cabral

Wake: … it is the air currents behind a body in flight; a region of disturbed flow.
Christina Sharpe (2016, 3)

When the coffin has finally found its place on top of a military tank, the griot is interrupted by an animated Cabral. As the first moving image completing the spiral of time-travel to the living dead, we are presented with Cabral addressing a large group of teachers in military uniform. The scene is black-and-white and was filmed by Swedish journalist Rudi Spee in 1969 in a forest setting during the liberation struggle:

Comrades … weapons are not sufficient to liberate a country. It is not only military or political work that frees a land. The greatest battle we must engage in is against ignorance. Only when men and women understand this can they overcome their fear:

Fear of the flooded and fast-running river,

fear of the thunderstorms,

fear of the lightning,

fear of the thunderbolt,

fear of the kapok tree,

fear of the dark path,

fear of the Cobiana bushland,

fear of the Quinera bushland,

fear of the fortune-tellers,

fear of the sorcerers,

fear of the healers,

fear of the cipaio [sipahi],[9] or the police,

fear of any political leader,

fear of the armed men,

fear of the forces that lie ahead

… To liberate our people from fear, we must liberate them from ignorance. … That is why the teacher’s work is the frontline of our struggle, the vanguard. Its outcomes might not be visible immediately, but it brings great consequences for the future of our land. (my translation)

These declensions of fear convoke the entities at stake in the African liberation struggle then and now. The struggle for education and the acquiring of the tools for emancipation. Using an auto-critical device that he also employs in “The Weapon of Theory” (Cabral 1966), Cabral searches for strategies of liberation in the freedom of one’s own self in the first place: self-liberation through class suicide. The focus is not on an external enemy, but on the enemy we carry within ourselves.

The coffin, mobilized by the military tank, makes a stop at the Presidential Palace. The procession of cars is led by a Volvo driving towards the camera. The streets are crowded, and the griot continues with his strings at a trance-inducing rhythmic speed:

Ah! Demba lion.

Lion, lying down.

Hear the lion on the ground.

Ah, lion overthrown.

A great leader, a great man,

is lying dead.

The lion is lying down.

I swear the lion is overthrown.

Do you hear how we grieve the lion?

The country that defended itself.

The lion is dead but his spirit lives.

Don’t you know

Abel Djassi is lying down?

So, don’t you know

Abel Djassi is down?

No wonder I’m not afraid of anything.

No wonder he is not afraid of anything.

Our militants won.

Our militants won.

I ask myself who revolted?

They say our great Cabral.

The lion is lying down.

(my translation)

Those who know the tale and the cipher can decode “Abel Djassi” as Cabral’s nom de guerre and the shapeshifting tool. Cabral, an agronomist working overseas for a Portuguese ministry who became a leader of the liberation struggle and of various subversive agencies, has given up his human shape to become the lion that is the embodied fearless force managing the jungle war. The lion is down but its spirit continues to struggle. As Denise Ferreira da Silva notes in “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics” addressing Octavia Butler’s time travel and shapeshifting tools as forms to “traverse the linear time, efficient causality imposes onto our connections of Time, the one that remains in the historical materialist categories, which prevent us from appreciating how slave labor and native lands live in capital” (2014, 93). While the jeopardizing of linear time brings politics to the present, the “metamorphic abilities,” more than a mere shift in form, are “one of substance through which she changes both form and content, as when returning to her own shape, or after curing someone, she holds in her flesh/body what/how the other person or animal also is” (Ferreira da Silva 2014, 94). Writing about metamorphosis in Amerindian cosmologies, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro describes “[t]he animal clothes that shamans use to travel the cosmos” as “not fantasies but instruments: they are akin to diving equipment, or space suits, and not to carnival masks.” (1998, 482). In the same flow, Cabral’s embodiment of the lion is an operation that unlocks the lion’s powers eminent in the jungle rather than a comparison or metaphor.

[Fig. 4] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N'hada)

[Fig. 4] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

Women’s Gaze: A Premonition Portal

Frankly, have you ever heard of anything stupider than to say to people, as they teach in film schools, not to look at the camera?

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, 1983

Tugas n’barka ê bai, tugas di terra fika, ê na soronda, imperialismo na regua..![10]

Super Mama Djombo

The lion song is accompanied by a series of close-ups of faces of women gazing directly into the camera. They just look sovereignly into the lens, creating an intriguing distance-dissolving uncanniness. Rather than grieving or sadness, their steady expressions are curious, inquiring between skepticism and unrevealing wisdom. Sana na N’hada told me that these women, aligning with the crowd along a road of the procession, were either from Bissau (a place that experienced little direct contact with the war) or had recently arrived from war zones in the jungle and did not know much about Amílcar Cabral beyond the myth or a voice on Rádio Libertação. Their reaction contrasts with that of the political and international elites moved to tears at the airport ceremony.

Chris Marker was invited to Bissau in 1979 to work with and “evaluate” the skills of the young Guinean filmmakers instructed in Cuba. Sometimes they spent entire nights looking at images they had shot during the war and discussed montage. Cine-kin Diana McCarty speculated later that among these were those shots of women looking serenely into the camera and that they inspired Chris Marker’s cinematic reflection on women gazing directly at the camera in the film Sans Soleil, made a few years later: “And at the end, the real glance, straightforward … that lasted a twenty-fourth of a second, the length of a film frame” (Sans Soleil, 1983). Then Marker reflects on the complexity of the strength, wisdom, and oppression of women: “All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility. And men’s task has always been to make them realize it as late as possible.”

The medium of these women’s gazes knows more than what the filmmakers themselves could intend. Their skeptical gazes and film agency is both the announcement of womens’ matriarchal power and the premonition of the violent oppression against African women in the aftermath of liberation. Their gazes predict the unfolding of the post-colonial expression of hegemonic masculinity, based on the complicity between three theoretical domains—gender, violence, and political instability—Joacine Katar Moreira conceptualized this as Matchuandadi culture in order to study this specific form of patriarchal masculinity and its role in the engineering of conflict and instabilities that have plagued the formation of the Guinean state (Katar Moreira 2017).

The awareness of the gaze of the women inscribed on film also allows the prosopographic ability of the celluloid material to show the timeless perspective of feminine materiality:[11] the film looking back at us with the knowledge of collapsed time, as women carry with them the burden of oppression beyond their bodies’ mortality. The film perspectivism goes beyond what it is exposed to and what is projected onto it, complicating notions of future remains, as if a present tense is producing a multiplicity of pasts for the future.

Sonically, the sequence of close-ups of women coincides with the moment in the film when the griots and the koras are substituted by the military snare drum, thus image and sound both announcing the looming descent to transcolonial assimilation into patriarchy. The militarized patriarchy is already lurking between photograms betraying Cabral’s vision of a struggle of armed militants (non-soldiers) who upon decolonization would replace their weapons with construction and farming tools. The military in these images, parading in synchrony with the sharp, strident sound of the snare drum and an out-of-tune trumpet, have not laid down their arms. The agnostic ritual, the presence of the Catholic church and the military parade are all witnessed by women’s timeless gaze (Mbembe 2001).[12] This is also the premonition of the brutal repression of the Kiyang Yang, a women’s socio-religious post-war movement, evolving from Balante culture, as a healing response to the social ostracization of the guerrilla women traumatized in the war.

The women’s gaze is a portal returning to the place of trauma and from there accessing pain and collectively caring for it. The absence of healing or intention of healing creates the monstrosity chain for the violence to flow on and transmutate bodies, and the women knew this. This gaze disrupts that flow, fearlessly defying the objectifying camera shutter and its mutations and splits (see Azoulay 2019).[14] The gaze, the mourning, the sonic, and the mourning film are tools for reorganizing pain and putting it in the place of inquiry, research, and awareness. Before becoming a filmmaker, Sana na N’hada had served as a nurse in the guerrilla war and was to become a doctor. Through his films he found other ways of healing.

[Fig. 5] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N'hada)

[Fig. 5] Still from O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (Source: 1976 © Sana na N’hada)

Mediality Otherwise

Even the Cobiana bush, we have been inhabiting it safely, especially since the “iran” (guinean sacred entity) is as well a nationalist, it “said” clearly that the “tugas” (the Portuguese colonialists) have to go away, that they have nothing to do in our land.
Amílcar Cabral (1979, 59)

The cinema seems poised to leave behind its function as ‘a medium’ (for the representation of reality) in order to become a ‘life form’ (and thus a reality in its own right).
Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener (2012, 12)

While the griot was singing the lion, the film has followed the coffin to the presidential palace where guests queue for the last mourning vigil. Between spectacle and spectator the film comes in and out of itself. Cabral’s spirit not only lives but also speaks—on the soundtrack is his last recorded radio speech, the New Year’s address of December 31, 1972, three weeks before his assassination:

The new state will be legitimized by our people. … This will be the most important act of our people’s lives: the affirmation to the world that our African nation, forged in struggle, is irreversibly determined to march to Independence, without waiting for the consent of the Portuguese colonialists.[15]

Spectators of the film become wake attendees and radio listeners in their own and in Cabral’s present. Anticipating the liberation of the country in 1974, this speech has become something of Cabral’s testament—he bequeathed freedom to the country, as a first step, to be followed by the healing process and then re-construction. In that spirit of patience, Sana na N’hada made this “slow film” become a place for reflection and awareness: “The idea [of the film] was that the Guinean militants should think about the past, … to give people time to think about it” (na N’Hada 2017, 230). A film ritual as an environment for reflection, healing, and mourning.

Towards the end of the film, the griots repeat oral history over the images of the vigil: “In ‘56 you went to Angola. When you came back you founded the Party … In ‘59 the Portuguese killed them: 50 brothers in Pidjiguiti … Amílcar Cabral: you left early, you died early” (my translation). At last, freedom fighter Carmen Pereira is shown paying her tribute to Cabral, standing on ground covered with the traditional fabric, panu di pinti, comb cloth (Semedo 2019). The weaves are part of the life of Guinean communities, in the many ceremonies of life and in death. The doings of this collective film go beyond what would be expected from an anti-colonial propaganda film; it is as if its agency were not fully controlled by its producers and actors.

Walter Benjamin has recognized the significance of “an artwork’s auratic mode of existence [as] never entirely severed from its ritual function” (Benjamin 2008, 22). The ritual aspect of performance comes into play when considering the collective dimension of the film’s dissemination and projection. Turning on a projector has actualized the kaleidoscopic potential of this film in specific and unique temporal and spatial set-ups, summoning the medium for the medicine to do, to act on bodies. The rhythmic and machinic unfolding of the film—the space hold, the expanded time span, the care given to a setting for awakening—perform what Christina Sharpe placed “in the wake, the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present” (2016, 7). The film becomes a ritual of convoking, transferring, transmitting continuity and sociality.

The anti-colonial film is the animist-medium that jeopardizes the linearity of the colonial timeline, reminding us of the algorithms of violence embedded in the Aristotelian linear tragic plot of past (blame), present (value) and future (choice). When according to this logic what is in the past is not present, what is dead is not here—what then is cinema? How account for its visitations? What are the doings, undoings, and services of cine-animism? Like Mortu Nega, a Creole expression for “those whom death denied,” cine-animism channels a rift in perspective where death is the vantage point from where life is a survivance stratum (Vizenor 2008).[16]

I’m not sure if there is such thing as an animist film being able to access this other ontological conjuration and presence-making predispositions of freedom, but perhaps, while projected, this film opens a seance to allow what cannot be represented to be present otherwise. Cine-animism drifts through cinema to hint at the traversing capacities of matter, tangling sonic waves with photons, swapping time with rhythm, to convoke ancestral and living entities to breathe the same air and share temporalities. It is a lab of medialities that look at us with disarming feminine healing knowledge of communing.


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 Benjamin, Walter. 2003. “On the Concept of History.” In Selected Writings, Vol. 4, 1938–1940, edited by Michael W. Jennings and Howard Eiland, 389-400. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

———. 2008. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version.” Translated by Edmund Jephcott and Harry Zohn. In The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, 19–55. Cambridge: Harvard University.

Cabral, Amílcar. 2012 [1972]. “‘The Cancer of Betrayal’ by Amilcar Cabral.” Translated from French by Dr. Y. afrolegends, October 12, 2012. Accessed June 9, 2023.

———. 1979. “To Start Out From the Reality of Our Land—to Be Realists.” In Unity and Struggle: Speeches and Writings of Amilcar Cabral, translated by Michael Wolfers, edited by PAIGC, 44–64. New York/London: Monthly Review Press.

———. [1966]. “The Weapon of Theory: Address Delivered to the First Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America Held in Havana in January, 1966.” Accessed May 25, 2023.

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César, Filipa. 2018. “Meteorisation: Amílcar Cabral’s Agronomy of Liberation.” Third Text 32 (2-3): 254–72.

César, Filipa, Tobias Hering, and Carolina Rito, eds. 2017. Luta Ca Caba Inda: Time, Place, Matter, Voice, 1967-2017. Berlin: Archive Books.

da Costa Soares Semedo, Maria Odete. 2010. As Mandjuandadi: cantigas de mulher na Guiné-Bissau: da tradição oral à literatura. PhD dissertation. Belo Horizonte: Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais.

de Barros, Miguel, and Mónica Sofia Vaz. 2020. “Viver A Morte: Separação Entre Os Vivos E Os Mortos Ou Início De Uma Nova vida?” April 5. Accessed June 9, 2023.

de Jong, Joop T., and Ria Reis. 2010. “Kiyang-Yang, a West-African Postwar Idiom of Distress.” Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 34 (2): 301–21.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Spectres of Marx, The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. New York/London: Routledge.

Elsaesser, Thomas, and Malte Hagener. 2012. Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses. London: Routledge.

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[1] Guinean cinema evolved within the 11-year-long war for independence from Portugal (1963–74), when Amílcar Cabral, the leader of PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), sent four young Guineans—Flora Gomes, Sana na N’hada, Josefina Crato, and José Bolama Cobumba—to the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) to learn how to make film. Cabral and the movement’s propagandist vision was to make his people and the world aware of the ongoing struggle, and to build their own national imaginary. Amílcar Cabral was murdered on 20th of January 1973 and did not live to witness either the Proclamation of the Independence in September 1973, which was envisioned and prepared for over two decades of struggle, nor its visionary film documentation. Guinean film production had begun during the last phase of the liberation war and was subsequently aided by the active solidarity of filmmakers like Sarah Maldoror, Lennart Malmer, Ingela Romera, Chris Marker, Anita Fernandez, and others. The founding of the National Institute for Cinema and the Audiovisual (INCA) in Bissau took place under the patronage of Angolan poet and liberation fighter Mario Pinto de Andrade, then Commissioner for Culture of Guinea-Bissau. Cinema, along with the Creole language and militant education, were tools of political imagination. They were the means to establish the pillar of a collective memory and unity to promote the rise up of the newly liberated Guinea. For some years, cinematic practices thrived in Guinea-Bissau, but with the coup d’état ignited by Nino (Bernardo) Vieira in 1980, cinema stopped being a governmental priority and production decreased. Two, now classic, fiction films—Mortu Nega by Flora Gomes in 1988, and Xime by Sana na N’hada in 1994—were precious exceptions. In 2012, all the fragmentary remains of the INCA archive, including the film O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral, were experimentally digitized by the Arsenal—Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin in the context of the accompanying research project, Luta ca caba inda, led by Filipa César, Sana na N’hada, Tobias Hering, and many others. This collaborative and ongoing project, named after an unfinished film in the archive, focuses on experimental ways of keeping the archive open, giving access to its kaleidoscopic imaginary and refracted potencies.

[2] Until today, the orchestration of Amílcar Cabral’s assassination remains unrevealed; although the de facto murders are known, there are controversial theories about the authors of the plan that led to his death. On the 13th and 14th of January 2023, the Colloquium Amílcar Cabral the History of the Future was organized at the Auditorium of the Portuguese Parliament to commemorate 50 years of Cabral’s death. As part of the speakers, I was witness to contradictory positions, on one side from Portuguese journalist José Pedro Castanheira denying any Portuguese involvement based on his decade-long field and archival Cape Verdean research, and on the other from theorist Angela Coutinho, claiming that she herself observed that the absence of archival material in Portuguese archives about the subject continues to be an indicator of Portuguese involvement in the plan. Interesting enough, just a few days after the conference, on January 26, 2023, the Portuguese Parliament rejected the left-wing proposal to declassify Colonial War documents with the argument that “one cannot dismantle myths like the imperial myth at the expense of creating contemporary myths,” while on the other side the extreme right wing argued against any “attempt to denigrate and vilify the Armed Forces … opening the wounds of the [Colonial] War that Mozambique and Portugal would rather see healed” (Bacelar Begonha 2023, my translation).

[3] Kora is a string instrument used extensively in West Africa, often accompanying the griot’s tales. Its harmonious resonance is believed to promote harmony and unity.

[4] PAIGC: African Party for the Liberation of Guinea and Cape Verde.

[5] Seku Toure’s obituary speech for Amílcar Cabral, in O Regresso de Amilcar Cabral, INCA, 1976.

[6] See footnote 2.

[7] Ghislain Cloquet, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Les Statues Meurent Aussi, 30mins, 1953.

[8] Lennart Malmer is a Swedish filmmaker who collaborated with Ingela Romare in documenting Guinea Bissau between 1972 and 1980. Ala Younis used this image in her contribution for the Guimarães conference Encounters Beyond History, 2015. In the same session, Jean Pierre Bekolo noted in a conversation with Sana na N’hada (on an experiment he did taking Sana’s images of Cabral’s burial and sonorizing them with Cabral’s obituary speech at the Kwame Nkruman funeral): “A film is shot against the script, and a film is edited against the shooting.”

[9] Native person recruited by the imperial forces.

[10] Super Mama Djombo, in Ramédi Cu Kata Cura, album Na Cambança, 1980. “Portuguese colonialist left, the native colonists stayed, in our tree stump imperialism is being watered (to re-flourish).”

[11] I’m using here a derivation of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro prosopomorphic agency—from the Greek prosopopoiia, “the putting of speeches into the mouths of others” or “an imaginary or absent person is made to speak or act” (Viveiros de Castro 1998, 469).

[12] The Mbembe idea of colonial phallocentric modes prevailing in post-colonial Africa.

[13] “In 1984, a healing cult for young barren women in southern Guinea Bissau developed into a movement, Kiyang-yang, that shook society to its foundations and had national repercussions. ‘Idiom of distress’ is used here as a heuristic tool to understand how Kiyang-yang was able to link war and post-war-related traumatic stress and suffering on both individual and group levels” (de Jong and Reis 2010).

[14] The concept of the camera shutter as cinema as the objectifying media of the imperialism enacts a series of temporal, spatial, and differential splits—present/past, here/there, citizen/non-citizen, perpetrator/victim.

[15]    Amílcar Cabral’s New Year’s address in Conakry, December 31, 1972, Rádio Libertação as shown in O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral (my translation).

[16] “Mortu Nega” is a Creole expression derived from balante language that means: those whom death refused or those whose death is denied by death itself, and also the title of the first film of Flora Gomes from 1988. As if death would be a condition one has to deserve in order to be taken by it.