- Mapping Yorùbá Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities by Kamari Maxine Clarke
Mapping Yorùbá Networks begins with incident that frames the subsequent issues examined in this complex and stimulating text. A group from Òyótúnjí Village—a community established in 1970 by African-Americans who have created a deterritorialized Yorùbá village, geographically located in South Carolina—had traveled to Nigeria in 1995 to visit their ancestral homeland, conceptualized as the Old Òyó Empire. On entering the airport at Lagos, one of their leaders, dressed as a Yorùbá chief, was approached by a young Nigerian girl who asked where he was from. “I’m from here,” he replied. The girl looked at him skeptically, claiming her own African Ègbá Yorùbá ethnic identity as distinct from what she saw as an American one.
This interaction raises many questions. How are such identities framed and situated in a time of dual-citizenship and transnational community? What are the consequences when “blackness” and culture—in this case, “Yorùbá culture”—are conflated, when the “sameness” of skin color becomes the basis for inclusion while others hold different criteria of cultural identity—which may include religious beliefs and historical experiences? These questions, which relate to issues such as black nationalism, Pan Africanism, and Yorùbá religious revivalism, are also related to questions about anthropological research, which has tended to focus on studies of communities or groups within single nations, hence perpetuating classifications of people by ethnicity and geography which are the historical legacy of colonial cataloging. What are the appropriate methods for the study of cultural globalization and how does one go about doing multi-sited, transnational anthropological fieldwork that would decenter research configured by boundaries of the state? Òyótúnjí Village (literally, Òyó re-awakens), where the author lived for fifteen months, is an excellent ethnographic “site” for considering these questions, and for providing direction for further investigations of how communities are “mapped” and who has the knowledge and power to determine how they are conceptualized and authenticated.
After a preface and introduction which discusses these issues, the book is divided into two sections that consider how ideologies of Yorùbá identity have been shaped through time and in different places, including West Africa and the Americas. The first section introduces the reader to the historical and political context of Yorùbá transnational networks, beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Black Nationalist and Pan-African movements in the Americas. The subsequent efforts of African Americans to reinterpret the onus of slavery through the production of knowledge about cultural heritage, exemplified by Roots as well as through the reclamation of Yorùbá religious rituals, are also examined. In Chapter 1, the cultural and political aspects Òyótúnjí Village life are described and are related to the movements of enslaved Yorùbá captives taken to Cuba, who brought with them religious practices known as Santería which have become the basis of a revived Yorùbá identity and of Òrìsà (Yorùbá deity) worship in the Americas today. Chapter 2 focuses on cultural heritage travel, including the visit of Òyótúnjí villagers to Nigeria, and on the politics surrounding the historical processes associated with the constitution of pan-African identities and black cultural pride which provides an alternative to other ways that Africa and its Diaspora have been represented. In the book’s second section, the specifics of how these transnational networks have been institutionalized in the twentieth century—through the cultural production of knowledge about Yorùbá society, represented by Samuel Johnson’s colonial text, The History of the Yorubas (Chapter 3), through ritual performance and the Yorùbá language use as they have been developed in Òyótúnjí Village (Chapter 4), and through religious practices—specifically Ifá divination (Chapter 5), which are used to legitimate claims of Yorùbá descent, subvert racial hierarchies based on monotheistic religious beliefs, and concretize Yorùbá transnational networks, through divination readings performed in Òy...