This article uses E. P. Thompson's last book – Witness against the Beast (1993) – as an occasion to claim oddity, peculiarity, and nonconformity as subjects of African history. Africa's historians have been engaged in an earnest effort to locate contemporary cultural life within the longue durée, but in fact there was much that was strange and eccentric. Here I focus on the reading habits and interpretive strategies that inspired nonconformity. Nonconformists read the Bible idiosyncratically, snipping bits of text out of the fabric of the book and using these slogans to launch heretical and odd ways of living. Over time, some of them sought to position themselves in narrative structures that could authenticate and legitimate their dissident religious activity. That entailed experimentation with voice, positionality, and addressivity.
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