A mask of calm: Emotion and founding the kingdom of Bunyoro in the sixteenth century

David Schoenbrun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Rich vernacular traditions about the aftermaths of the social trauma of a major famine, sometime in sixteenth-century eastern Africa, narrate the founding of a new dynasty in Bunyoro, one of the region's oldest monarchies. Scholars often understand such traditions about the founding of new dynasties as chartering the new political order. Whether traditions credit that order with the aura of antiquity or strengthen it by excluding social elements discordant with the new orchestrations of power, they are exercises in legitimation. When scholars recognize that such traditions were set in the aftermath of widespread violence, a spirit of mourning emerges in them. Spirits of mourning, joined to those of legitimation, shape traditions about the founding of a new dynasty by deftly inflecting the problem of accountability. In Bunyoro, traditions about its founder depict him as a barbarian cultural neophyte, of fluctuating emotional stability, improvising a new political order. These unflattering, realistic representations of the founding dynast's affective comportment were designed to appeal to emotional repertoires in the different life experiences of audience members, enlisting their participation in the project of reviving sovereignty in the aftermaths of traumatic violence. Mourning and legitimation run through historical narratives initiating an aftermath to structural violence, and reveal that loss and worry shape narratives of transformed sovereign authority, and revive it in the aftermaths of structural violence. Mourning lends emotional depth and counterpoint to matters of bureaucracy, economy, gender, and so forth, in crafting satisfying accounts of transformation and accountability in political life. That emotional depth, in turn, helps explain the durability of traditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)634-664
Number of pages31
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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