The Horse and Slave trade between the Wester Sahara and Senegambia (1993) James L.A. Webb Jr. argues “that the horse and slave trades fed upon one another and reinforced the cycle of political violence.” and that this process had a strong effect “throughout the eighteenth century and into the second half of the nineteenth century.” He details that horses were imported from northern Africa and western Sahara to Senegambia because breeds in the latter were smaller and less efficient. These breeds were not as resistant to local environmental conditions and were crossbreed with local stock. Webb offers a really detailed description on how people were captured as slaves using horses. The text has a bad stench.

Their greater weight [of bigger horse breeds] meant that they were capable of carrying greater burdens over longer distances. Their larger overall size projected more fearsome power. All were important for the smaller cavalry-based states of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the slave- raiding of entire villages, mounted warriors typically surrounded a settlement, then burned it, and during the attack ran down on horseback those who sought to escape.

Horse were traded for humans and “[…] the link between imported horses and exported slaves was direct.” The import horses were used for warfare, which produced prisoners who were sold into the slave markets and for “predatory pillaging”. Webb explains that the “The indigenous Senegambian pony was small, between 0-95 meter […]” and that “the indigenous pony was established long before the introduction of the Arabian and Barbary horses […]”.

In the Malian savanna the terms for horse have local language roots perhaps suggesting a longer-established pattern of horse imports, perhaps before the establishment of Arabo-Berber influence in the Adrar.

The article goes into detail of the effects of buildup of the Jolof cavalry. “It transformed the political geography of the western savanna; other polities struggling against the dominance of the center were obliged to follow suit.” This processes lead to the adaptation of the Arab stirrup both in Western Sahara and Senegambia & Mali.

[Arab stirrup] allowed the warrior to manipulate weaponry such as pikes and spears with greater force, using leg and upper torso strength more efficiently than a bareback rider. With the adoption of the stirrup the horse came to be more fully exploited as an animal of war and predation. It allowed for the elite of sedentary states to exercise the same kind of dominance over agricultural communities in the savanna and at the forestedge that horse- or camelriding nomads could exercise at the desert edge.

The River Horse breed in defined as a “spin-off of the desert horse trade known as the cheval du fleuve.” This breed was referred by desert hearers as “haratin” meaning “freed slaves” which I think signifies horses which had successfully escaped human captivity. These breeds were also used by colonial French forces who needed resilient breeds for operations in French Sudan (~1880). If the account of an eighteenth-century traveler Francis Moore is to be believed horse trade with colonial forces was a site of biopolitical combat. He observed that the Wolof only sold studs, the meres were kept and the maneuver allowed them to control the prices and supply of the animal. The Portuguese horses yielded a lower price because their life expectancy was lower not because of the import volume.

At least by the 1670s, the military use of horses along the desert frontier of the western Sahara was well-established. A fragment of Trarza oral data relates that at the time of the jihad of Nasir al-Din ‘every man had a horse’.

Horses were traded for slaves and different breed yielded different prices (Webb cities to testimonies of a price ratio of as high as 1 for 25). Interestingly this means that the current genetic makeup of horse populations in the area of Senegambia could be read as a sort of “receipt” which testifies to the volumes of slave trade geopolitical superpowers were engaged in. The genetic makeup of present day horses in Senegambia region is influenced by slave trade between forces from north (Barb horse), east (Arab horses), trough the ports which Portuguese build and the different kingdoms in the region. Breeds are a historical document.


Reading The Horse in the Fifteenth-Century Senegambia (1991) Ivana Elbl. During the period the Jolof empire begun to disintegrate and Elbl is trying to identify the extent of impacts horses had in the process or more specifically “the modalities of access to horses” and horse trade facilitated the Portuguese impacted the process. Horses were present in Senegambia before the arrival of the Portuguese and Arab sources mention in horses as “important status symbols in ancient Ghana”. The word “horse” in Wolof and other major Senegalese languages is derived from an Arabic root (Wolof: Fars, Arabic: Faras).

The local breeds were small and the build-up of cavalry in Mali has been pinned to the import of horses. Elbl underlines that there were important breeds such as Sahel (as referred to by al-Bakrī in 1068), the River Horse of Senegal, the Foutanké and Bélédougou already in the region. These smaller breed (which Western scholars cited in the article define as “inferior”) were used extensively by Mossi raiders. Interestingly al-ʿUmarī (c.1337-1338) in “Masalik al-absar”mentions that Mali cavalry troops (10,000 of a 100,000 strong force) rode Arab saddles but mounted their horses with the right foot. This has an odd link to a question concerning posthumanist performativity asked earlier: What will happen if we mount the animal from the right? Are we mounting a horse or an other beast?

Access to horses could have played a major socio-political role if a rise can be documented in the importance of horses in the social or military sphere, if this rise was directly related to major historical processes of the time, and if the supply of horses was unevenly distributed.

She brings forth research and oral histories which highlight the influence horses have had in West African social and political processes. “[…] both as an instrument of mobility for troops and as symbols of political and military power”. In short supply of horses the Portuguese had access to had made them powerful. Local communities could not breed horses easily due to harsh environmental conditions (tse-tse fly). Which made horse trade important.

Contacts with both Mauritania and Mali would suggest that military applications of horsemanship were known in Senegambia well before the opening of the Atlantic trade. Yet it seems that in Senegal […] horses were rather symbols of power and prestige then effective implements of warfare. […] The ceremonial and prestige-enhancing functions of horses was documented already in ancient Ghana by al-Bakrī (c.1068). […] Horses were an integer feature of ceremonies at the court of Mali.

Offering horses as gifts was a tradition which strengthened social ties and distinguished guests could also be provided temporary mounts. Horse tails were kept in houses and presented for guests as evidence of past horse ownership. Among the “Nyancho” elites in some Senegambian states “horsemanship constituted an integral part of the concept of keya (manliness) and a prerequisite for political and military leadership.” But due to scarcity, horses were not frequently used in warfare, this led early Portuguese observers to assume that horse use was uncommon.

The political and social process that , according to [Jack] Goody, were determined by control over the “means of destruction” (in this case horses) appear to have been in operation […] well before the arrival of the Portuguese.

Elbl believes that horses were used in events she calls “hit-and-run slave raids, which represented both a major source of income and favorite dry-season activity of Senegambian nobility”. A gruesome account is that the price of a horse in Fuuta Tooro was 14 to 15 slaves and by 1460 Portuguese horse trade dropped the price to 6-8. These numbers have a weird link to the Mounted Police forces in Finland who have specified that in crowd control situations a horse equals to 10 ground troops in efficiency. The Portuguese traders were in a competition with the Sanhaja, who imported well-rested and seasoned horses from Mauritania. The Spanish horses brought from Europe were “poor specimens” and often damaged by the sea journey.

“The volume of the Portuguese horse trade is often strongly exaggerated.” Elbl explains that European sources have credited the volume of cavalry units in Senegambia to the supply they provided but the numbers don’t add up. Portuguese ships seldom carried more then seven to ten horses and the documented 8000 Jolof horses would have required a much larger volume of slaves to be traded then documents show. Also, horses imported to the Gulf of Guinea had a low life expectancy.

Elbl argues that “The geographical distribution of the Portuguese horse supply thus could not have been a force affecting fundamental political developments in Senegambia, or more specifically, the downfall of Jolof.” She is clear that cavalry units were a vital factor and that trade made horse use more common. But he credits the decline of the Jolof to to internal problems and the general negative influence of the Portuguese.

The rise of Fuuta and Kaabu, the tho events primarily responsible for the redrawing of the political map of Senegambia and the decline of Jolof in the sixteenth century, had its ultimate roots in the changing situation within the western Sudan, marked by the rivalry between the weakening Mali and the waxing power of Songhay. Factors such as these can hardly be connected with the presence of the Europeans off the coast, or to the European horse supply. In the final measure, however, they were responsible vor the changes in the role of horse in Senegambia from mostly a status symbol to an important instrument of war.


Reread Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter (2013) Karen Barad for inspiration on my Kone foundation artistic research grant application. Getting a better grip of her approach to representationalism. The target of her critique is not the accuracy of representations which are used for conveying knowledge but that representationalist assume and advocate that entities can detach themselves from the phenomena they are making sense of. Barad reaches out to Butler who provides a practical example (using Foucault) of the effects these dynamics have on folk: “juridical systems of power produce the subjects they subsequently come to represent”.

The idea that beings exist as individuals with inherent attributes, anterior to their representation, is a metaphysical presupposition that underlies the belief in political, linguistic, and epistemological forms of representationalism. […] representationalism is the belief in the ontological distinction between representations and that which they purport to represent; in particular, that which is represented is held to be independent of all practices of representing.

Barad argues that representationalism is fueled by a Cartesian belief in the division between “internal” and “external”. She continues that folk often neglected to mention that in this division representations are “external” sources as well. I see her call for “discursive practices” (focus on performativity) as an attempt to reach past representations (because we should acknowledge that words have an impact) and to focus on the relation with the subjects we are addressing.

For all Foucault’s emphasis on the political anatomy of disciplinary power, he too fails to offer an account of the body’s historicity in which its very materiality plays an active role in the workings of power. This implicit reinscription of matter’s passivity is a mark of extant elements of representationalism that haunt his largely postrepresentationalist account.

I thinking her explanation of the “primary epistemological unit” or phenomena could be well explained with an example of the clock. A clock does not measure the progress of time, it performs the construction of the clock. More importantly the clock is a technological assembly which manifest a particular worldview. In this frame it’s interesting to think about popularity of health-monitor-smart-watches which measure the performance of the body. I believe they enforce a mechanical reading of the bodies inner workings.

I find it more easy to understand “intra-action” in Finnish then in English. In Finnish people can be said to be on the same “taajuus” (~frequency) and as I understand “intra-actions” are processes were we can witness the emergence of differences in phenomena which habit the same “taajuus”. The entire radio domain consists of simultaneously transmissions on all possible frequencies. All transmissions interfere with each other, all the time. Broadcasts cannot occur outside of the radio domain but broadcast are all different, they could be explained as folds of the same. Tuning to a fold (aka. listening to a broadcast) could be explained an “agential cut”. Yet an other cool link Tetsuo Kogawa/mini-FM transmitter stuff.

[…] the agential cut enacts a local resolution within the phenomenon of the inherent ontological indeterminacy.

Intra-actions could be useful for explaining the interconnectivity of horse-human practices. There are similarities in practices I have witnessed at different horses tables over the years but the reasoning justifying the practices are always explained differently. Each horse stable could be seen as a pocket or fold of the cultural history horses and humans share. “Agential cuts” could be used explain the anecdotal notes horse hobbyists and professionals share during horse grooming and maintenance chores. The notes stop the flow of horse-human cultural history to pin particular horses into particular relations which are performed at the particular stable.

A practical question which arises from thinking about performative posthumanism is a questioning of the common practice of mounting a horse from its left flank. Horse-skill teachers may explain that this practice is linked to chivalry traditions. Knights wore their swords on their left flank and allegedly the weight and dimensions of swords makes mounting from the left more practical. Why do we still mount the horse from the left flank? The horses are accustomed to this tradition and possibly teach people of this preference (an “agential cut” by the horse?). What will happen if we mount the animal from the right? Are we mounting a horse when we do so or an other beast?

In the first phase of my research I’m attempting to map the contradictory figure of the contemporary horse. With this I mean a snapshot of the array of performances which people execute when explaining the animals behavior and nature. My aim is to outline the model of agency which these performance inscribe to the animal and to ask for the horses feedback on it.

In summary, the universe is agential intra-activity in its becoming.

I think Barads writing manifest a hopeful view of the future, where stuff constantly emerges (there is only progress). I’m looking for the void. I feel that trauma caused by encounters with abrahamic-believe-systems which emphasize text, letters and symbols as keys by which we can reach truths, cause me to read thinkers like Barad as an authority. I can feel my artistic thinking complying to her writing. Theory seduces me into becoming an illustrator instead of an artist. Bless dyslexia, natures remedy to determinism. #ॐ


  • Encountering taste for ANTI Festival 28.10-1.11
  • Our Great Culinary Survival –simulator for esitys_nyt (Kiasma) 14.10
  • Water Bar for Mad House Helsinki 25.9
  • Amos Keidas Garden installation decommission 7.-8.9
  • Our Great Culinary Survival Expedition for NPTurku 5.9
  • Wild Herb Tours with Joel Rosenberg (Kaupunkiruokaa) 24.-25.8
  • Horse & Performance -course for TeaK 10.-21.8


Someone called our Speaking Clock -service last evening. I stuttered and begun installing an atomic time clock app on my phone. While it was installing I whistled the Wind of Change, My Heart Will Go On and some improvised tunes. The posse on the other end of the phone kept giggling and a man explained my actions out loud for their group. It took a while but I did eventually announce the time correctly: 19:17:21.

The Instrumentalisation of Horses in Nineteenth-Century Paris (2011) Peter Soppelsa. The article recognizes horses as “urban infrastructure” (of nineteenth-century Europe) and acknowledges the animals importance for transportation of information and as a force for “driving urban economy”. Soppelsa explains that horse-activities saturated nineteenth-century Paris and formed the “primary site for negotiating human-animal relationships and the place of ‘nature’ in the city”. In 1900 the city was a home to 98,000 horses. The shift towards a mechanized urban landscape had started already in 1870 when campaigns on urban hygiene, mechanical power and animal welfare were actively re-evaluating the horses role.

… how were horses constructed as a technology? Horse use was supported by what I call ‘instrumentalisation’ the transformation of horses into tool. To ‘instrumentalise’ means to objectify and evaluate, to assign value and a normal or standard social use. Instrumentalisation constructs subjects and objects, calibrates means to ends, and scripts relationships between humans, technology and nature.

He links the theory of instrumentalisation to the Frankfurt School (leaning to Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt and others).

Driving this dialogue [of instrumentalisation] is the familiar humanist critique of instrumental rationality as a reversal and perversion of means and ends. Contrary to Kantian ethics, which value humans as ends in themselves, industrial, capitalist and bureaucratic modernity makes humans a means to uphold a fundamentally inhuman system, in which workers are enslaved, by their machines, bureaucrats by their offices, and humanity enslaved by tools, institutions and the environments of our own creation.

Soppelsa claims that “The line between nature and society is irrelevant for horses born in captivity and bread for work”. I understand but don’t agree. Jason Hribal identifies that animals are constantly protesting against their treatment and escaping captivity to establish striving communities. But Soppelsas intents are good, he is aiming to “green” the urban history of the city and to show how dependent our understanding of modern cities is on horses. Similar to Hribals article (mentioned earlier), Soppelsa goes into detail explain the thoroughness which horses were utilized: Every segment and feature of their existence was used. They were used as labor-power and their corpses would be used as material resources (gelatine etc.).

The text focuses on horse-drawn omnibuses which made the foul treatment of horses a common site on the streets of ~1900 Paris. The French Society of the Protection of Animals (est. 1845) was active in campaigning for their well-being. Working for their rights was problematic because of long standing Cartesian views which deemed animals as non-sentient machines. Soppelsa argues that the sole reason the treatment of horses was pulled to a focus was because well treated horses would perform better. Machines and harnesses which caused less stress were developed to keep them in good working condition: “Cartesian animal mechanism was not always incompatible with animal welfare”. Their docility was maintained by organizing the animals into teams.

Omnibus horses […] were stabled in pairs, hitched to the same vehicles and driven by the same coachmen each day. The omnibus liked drivers, horses and vehicle in a consistent unity of human, animal and machine: the team. The team was technologically necessary, because ‘A horse, however willing cannot be used to work without being attached to another device’.

The divers were the center of the “team” Soppelsa continues. The animals could also be drugged to perform as desired: “‘A drunken horse is never meager’, Parisian slang called these drunken horses bohémes […]”.

The principal reasons for treating horses properly were upholding one’s own humanity and extracting the greatest possible value and work.

Early modern Parisians were advocating the well-being of urban horses because they didn’t want to be seen as savages. Not because they cared for the animals! Soppelsa offers interesting quotes by contemporary activist (who referred to horses as our “interior brothers”) who argued that good treatment of animals made their work more ‘profitable’. Visible animal cruelty made people look bad.

This process, combined with early bacteriology, which deemed close animal contacts “unhygienic”, lead to an new understanding that horses didn’t belong to the city. Interestingly horses were linked to the old European (fading) aristocracy, which lead the horse to be seen as a “chic novelty”. In short working with animals as machines was troublesome, their performance was difficult to manage. But working with actual machines, fitted Cartesian-worldviews (meaning a desire to see the world as a design) flawlessly and their performance could be optimized indefinitely. This process can be summarized by saying that the work of working animals was deemed inhumane, because working with actual machines was the endgame of modern humanity.

The horse’s incompatibility from the city shows how porous are the boundaries of the category of ‘urban’ […] horses were gradually constructed as non-urban after 1870. This narrative helps us historicise the relationships between humans, our tools and nature, thus greening urban history and the history of technology.

To preserve the city as a humanised space of artifice, and to soften the instrumentalisation of humans, Parisians estranged ‘nature’ and enlisted machines to replace animals.

Looking at the world as a design is an attempt to see the intent of a planner in a from. #ॐ