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Yoruba Ritual

Performers, Play, Agency

Margaret Thompson Drewal

Publication Year: 1992

Yoruba peoples of southwestern Nigeria conceive of rituals as journeys -- sometimes actual, sometimes virtual. Performed as a parade or a procession, a pilgrimage, a masking display, or possession trance, the journey evokes the reflexive, progressive, transformative experience of ritual participation. Yoruba Ritual is an original and provocative study of these practices. Using a performance paradigm, Margaret Thompson Drewal forges a new theoretical and methodological approach to the study of ritual that is thoroughly grounded in close analysis of the thoughts and actions of the participants. Challenging traditional notions of ritual as rigid, stereotypic, and invariant, Drewal reveals ritual to be progressive, transformative, generative, and reflexive and replete with simultaneity, multifocality, contingency, indeterminacy, and intertextuality.

Throughout the book prominence is given to the intentionality of actors as knowledgeable agents who transform ritual itself through play and improvisation. Integral to the narrative are interpolations about performances and their meanings by Kolawole Ositola, a scholar of Yoruba oral tradition, ritual practitioner, diviner, and master performer. Rich descriptions of rituals relating to birth, death, reincarnation, divination, and constructions of gender are rendered all the more vivid by a generous selection of field photos of actual performances.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Systems of Thought

TItle page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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Yoruba Ritual: A Companion Video

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pp. xi

Written accounts cannot fully convey the sounds, colors, energy, contingency, physicality, and playfulness embodied in the Yoruba ritual performances de... scribed in this book. In part to capture more permanently their vitality, in part...

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Reader's Road Map

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pp. xiii-xix

Yoruba peoples of southwestern Nigeria conceive of rituals as journeys-sometimes actual, sometimes virtual. In elaborate funeral rituals, the elders transfer the deceased's spirit to its otherworldly domain, while in rituals performed after..

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pp. xxi-xxii

I take this opportunity to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for their continued confidence and institutional support in the form of research grants for fieldwork in both 1982 (#RO..20072..81 ..2184) and 1986...

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1. Theory and Method in the Study of Ritual Performance

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pp. 1-11

A program announced for the 1977 anniversary celebration of the Oje Improvement Society, Lagos, which sponsors masked performances called Egungun honoring the ancestors: "BUSH GROOVE [sic] PROCESSION & PARADE of...

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2. Yoruba Play and the Transformation of Ritual

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pp. 12-28

Yoruba...speaking peoples number approximately twenty five million, constituting Nigeria's second largest language group (Abiodun 1990:64) (Map 1). Composed of some twenty-five distinct subgroups, which extend approximately three hundred kilometers in from the Atlantic coast, the Yoruba have a certain...

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3. The Ontological Journey

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pp. 29-50

"In a muddy land, a person slips and falls easily. Those who follow behind beware." These were the words of wisdom spoken to Orunmila when he was traveling in a strange land called Ejibonmefon. Before he set out, his diviners warned him to perform a sacrifice...

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4. New Beginnings

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pp. 51-62

Just as a funeral is a rite of separation for the community, but is also conceived as a new spiritual beginning for the individual, the first rituals performed for a newborn infant are incorporations into the material world. Like funerals, these...

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5. Establishing the Self

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pp. 63-88

Many types of ritual focus on the individual as their central concern. In the fourteen day long series of rituals known as Itefa, "The Establishment of the Self," diviners set out to interpret the precise nature of the individual's inner...

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6. Ritual Play about Play: Performing Miracles in Honor of the Ancestors

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pp. 89-112

In Yoruba ritual, the whole workshop/rehearsal/finished performance complex to which Schechner refers is compressed into one event. The improvised ritual is workshop, rehearsal, and finished performance all at the same time. It is the...

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7. The Collective in Conflict, or, the Play of Personalities

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pp. 113-134

This popular expression highlights the trickster like behavior participants shift into when experiencing Agemo- another masked performance with a very different style and flavor from Egungun. Announced publicly in the news media...

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8. From Militarism to Dandyism: The Shaping of Performance

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pp. 135-159

Performers not only invoke, and perhaps on occasion enact, fragments of myth in their rituals, but raconteurs represent performance in their telling of tales. The tale above was deployed to argue for "a separate State for the Ijebus" (p. 3)...

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9. Reinventing Ritual: The Imewuro Annual Rally

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pp. 160-171

In the last chapter, I examined how individual interests gave rise to and shaped performance practices among Muslim Yoruba, and I contrasted the internal dynamics of the spectacle with its surface appearance as a unified whole. In this...

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10. Gender Play

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pp. 172-196

The issues of sex and gender are deeply embedded in all of the rituals I have considered thus far. In funerals, in Ifa divination rituals, and in the various types of spectacles, including masking, men have formally dominated. It is they who...


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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-204


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pp. 205-220

Sources Cited

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pp. 221-234


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pp. 235-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112736
E-ISBN-10: 0253112737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253318176

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 73 b&w photos
Publication Year: 1992

Series Title: African Systems of Thought