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119 “A Recurrence of Structures” in Collapsing Nigeria Victor Manfredi From Tambiah to Nigeria According to a leading school of anthropological thought, LéviStrauss (1945) deployed Jakobsonian structuralism to split the “atom of kinship”—an emic node of “arbitrary” mental representations organizing small human groups. Then Leach (1954) adapted this idea to analyze four centuries of “structural variability” among part-time kingdoms in Burma’s Kachin Hills, and Tambiah (1976) further expanded the view, positing a Maussian “totalization” of “dialectical tensions” through two millennia, from Aśokan India to Southeast Asian Buddhist states. In shifting the visual metaphor from microscopy to astronomy, Tambiah also updated the implied linguistic analog of social relations, from a phonological feature grid to a syntax of recursive rules (“transformation yet felt continuity”; 1976, p. 527) generating infinite outputs (“the set or family of occurrences . . . that particular Southeast Asian religio-political systems [as indeed individual actors] portray in varying mixes and strengths”; 1976, p. 516).1 These innovations notwithstanding, Tambiah’s treatment of politics remains Lévi-Straussian in other respects: diachrony is intrinsic to F5920.indb 119 F5920.indb 119 12/17/12 3:00:41 PM 12/17/12 3:00:41 PM 120 Victor Manfredi the model, and the proper object of analysis is internal to the mind (“La parenté . . . n’existe que pour se perpétuer. . . . [N]ous sommes en plein symbolisme”; Lévi-Strauss 1945, pp. 49, 53). There is also carryover of ethnographic substance (“the production of wider systems of social solidarity and political integration” involves “[m]arriage or unions . . .as has been demonstrated by Lévi-Strauss, Leach and Needham ”; Tambiah 1976, p. 117 n. 13), and even an echo of the maestro’s Olympian style (“[M]yth and reality are closer than we think”; Tambiah 1977, p. 74). Having already met these themes in Tambi’s classroom thirtysomething years ago,I should have immediately perceived the significance of a typewritten history of Ágbọ̀ (“Agbor” in colonial spelling) which was handed to me in September 1976 by the anthropologist M. A. Ọ́nwụejìó ̣gwù ̣ (“Onwuejeogwu”) when he introduced me to the author, Chief A. E. Ìdúùwe ̣. Ó ̣nwụejìó ̣gwù ̣ had written a preface highlighting Ágbò ̣’s multimodal politics and noting that the phenomenon is not rare. Nearby examples include the Ìgbo-speaking Óru (“alluvial ”) mini-states (€zímìro1972);Okpe ̣,the Ùrhobo (“Sobo”)-speaking kingdom of which Otite drily says that its “political system cannot be regarded as being in equilibrium” (1971, p. 56); Iṣe ̣kiri (“Jekri”), the Yorùbá-related enclave which went from having “[i]n 1800 ...a highly centralized government” (Lloyd 1963, p. 207) through an 88-year interregnum before the crown was revived in 1936 in the multi-ethnic crossroads of “Warri” (Ikime ̣ 1969, pp. 253–70; cf. Moore 1936, 1970; Edevbie 2004, p. 265f.; Imobighe et al. 2002; Eke[h] 2007); and È ̣dó (known to Europeans as Benin and to Ìgbos as Ìdúù), the antique and pluridynastic imperial capital that the British pillaged in 1897 before restoring its monarchy in 1963 (Bradbury 1967,1968). This cluster of political ambivalence in the Atlantic trade zone of southern Nigeria, cutting across linguistic and ecological lines,attests to the overlap of two larger subregional patterns: i) crowned priests of tutelary divinities in È ̣dó- and Yorùbá-speaking walled market towns (Fádìpẹ̀ 1940, 1970), and ii) gerontocratic lineages in Ìgbo-speaking and Cross River horticultural villages practicing the “occasional state”—a temporary union of autonomous communities facing external threat (Áfiìgbo 2006, p. 40). The empirical blurring of these divergent types was noted by the government folklorist N. W. Thomas (1910, and later amplified in Bradbury 1969), although Thomas was sacked when his grassroots research threatened to undermine the conceptual footings of Indirect Rule (Lackner 1971). Saving the diF5920 .indb 120 F5920.indb 120 12/17/12 3:00:41 PM 12/17/12 3:00:41 PM “A Recurrence of Structures” in Collapsing Nigeria 121 chotomy of “centralized authority” versus “stateless societies” (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1940, p. 5; cf. Meek 1937, pp. 3, 185) needed studies like Forde and Jones 1950—a classic of the trend to lump protostates together with “tribal” organization (Fried 1957; Sahlins 1961). Thanks to official groupthink, Lugard’s 1914 contraption called Nigeria stayed stuck in an orientalist “kingdom- and empire-oriented . . . straitjacket” (Áfiìgbo 1996, p. 3f.), and, eventually rebranded as a sovereign state, it failed to attain the “amalgamation in . . . culture . . . and even cosmology...


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