In this erudite and gracefully written ethnography, Mariane Ferme explores the links between a violent historical and political legacy, and the production of secrecy in everyday material culture. The focus is on Mende-speaking southeastern Sierra Leone and the surrounding region. Since 1990, this area has been ravaged by a civil war that produced population displacements and regional instability. The Underneath of Things documents the rural impact of the progressive collapse of the Sierra Leonean state in the past several decades, and seeks to understand how an even earlier history is re-inscribed in the present.
The world is currently quite aware of Sierra Leone and its predicament, and it needs this well-informed and beautifully written account of what makes the country so wonderful despite its woes. Ferme's work is truly transcendent, capturing magnificently well some of the most important aspects of an otherwise 'difficult' ethnographic case. It is a truthful and honest piece of work, based on a deep grasp of the ethnographer's craft." - Paul Richards, author of Fighting for the Rain Forest.