Taylor & Francis online, 04/12/2021
Islamic discourses in West Africa that use Hausa as lingua franca commonly designate ‘African Traditional Religion’ as bōkā. I consider bōkā as ethnographic theory, i.e., as means to contemplate and make sense of the forms of life that it is embedded in and that it articulates. Accordingly, translating bōkā is anything but straightforward. I trace the various meanings of this term in Hausa ethnographies, dictionaries, and summarize an extensive conversation I had on this concept with a Hausa native speaker. I show how bōkā articulates and participates in a whole tradition and lifeworld. Having delineated the semantic field of bōkā in Hausa, I present the divergent and contested uses of the term in Islamic discourses in Asante in which various actors negotiate their conceptions of and relations to ‘traditional’ religion. To conclude, I reflect on how considering bōkā as ethnographic theory impacts academic translations and the work of theory.