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


Visited the Kurängen spring area (~60.2885,25.2120) and collected a few liters of water. We couldn’t locate a wooden edge-structure mentioned in the Helsingin … julkaisuja 17/2013 survey (pg.8) but there were a lot of clean ponds and some build structures in the area we explored. A knee high π shaped marker stood still in a dry pond. It had been assembled using Torx screws which dates the structure to later then ~2010 . A big pond close by offered the cleanest water we could find. It was odorless and had a yellowish hue. In a taste test (compared to Faux S.Pellegrino & tap water) the Kurängen water had a mellow tone which is possibly due to iron in the soil (alkaline?). Comparing the color of tap water with a glass of Kurängen is like comparing a 5000k lamp to 2700k lamp. Tap water looks sterile. I’m hoping to use the Kurängen water in upcoming mineral water performances in Helsinki (Mad House & Kiasma esitys_nyt). The https://kartta.hel.fi/ city map service service shows multiple “water holes” and “basins” in the region. The service uses ┴ symbol for water holes (Ascii code 193). There are two interesting sites to explore further 60.286063, 25.206394  and the other is deeper in the forest 60.287891, 25.204271 (I think this is the area we visited).