December 28, 2021

Mbembe’s Matrix & the Matri-Archive: ‘The Little Secret’ to Conjuring Away the Postcolonial Spell

The Journal of Religion in Africa published an advanced, online version of my article on the work of Achille Mbembe, the renowned Cameroonian philosopher and scholar of African history, literature, and postcolonial studies. It points to the phenomenon of “Female Genital Power” as the subjugated African archive which Mbembe only suggests may exist as a liberating force.

The print version will appear in a Special Issue on Mbembe’s impact on the study of religion in Africa. Mbembe himself will respond to the articles.


Achille Mbembe shows how the West’s denigrating projections on Africa as a chaotic void perpetrated a founding epistemic violence. The matrix of Black Reason, Blackness, and The Black worked systematically to justify colonialism and undermine African subjectivity. By maintaining its grip over the psyche, the postcolonial commandement effortlessly and indefinitely sustained subjugation. This is its ‘little secret’. Mbembe suggests that liberation may be possible by appealing to an archive from the ‘underside’ of African history to retrieve a self that is not constituted by toxic colonial projections. Drawing on my work, An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa, I argue that the traditional appeal by postmenopausal women to their ‘bottom power’ is just such a living matrix – a ‘matri-archive’. Performing this ritual in the context of public protest, the ‘Mothers’ deploy their own ‘little secret’ with the capacity to break the hold of the postcolony’s spell.

For those with access to the Journal, the link to the article is:

OR find the full text in PDF here: