- Yorùbá Identity and Power Politics
Without Toyin Falola, the state of Nigerian and especially Yoruba studies would not be what it is. Publishing at least a book per year and usually more, Falola is of fabled productivity. Recently, the first volume of Falola's autobiography, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt (2004), was critically acclaimed and it is, along with Wole Soyinka's Aké, one of the most appealing books on a Yoruba childhood I have read. As most of Falola's books are edited volumes, his contribution to the subject goes beyond his own person and often involves the promotion of the academic careers of younger scholars, both from Nigeria and beyond. His co-editor Ann Genova, currently a PhD student at the University of Texas, has already collaborated with Falola on two books in 2005.
This book is timely and reflects the variety of new and exciting work on Yoruba history and culture that has been carried out in recent years. It is divided into three parts, and the first section, 'Writing Yoruba', is devoted to the production of Yoruba history. Confirming Falola's evocation of the importance of the Nigerian state for Yoruba political and cultural [End Page 309] dynamics, R. T. Akinyele's overview of the historiography of the western Yoruba communities along and beyond the Benin border suggests that the division of the border, and especially of administrative languages and styles, subverted the typically Yoruba urban civilization that elsewhere encouraged the thriving of local intellectuals and historians. As a result, Nigerian historians and politicians have long underestimated not only the contemporary importance but also the historical relevance of the francophone communities for a Yoruba national project.
Other studies of Yoruba-speaking communities beyond the immediate influence of Ile-Ife and Oyo (Ibadan) in this section also point beyond the state to the importance of local history and politics. Ann O'Hear's excellent chapter on the Okun communities slightly further eastwards illustrates the multiplicity of local accommodations to the Nupe and Fulani expansion during the nineteenth century and argues that despite the fact that these communities speak a dialect of the Yoruba language, the groups' Yoruba identity was disputed deep into the second half of the twentieth century. Examining state formation in the south-eastern Ijebu kingdom, Tunde Oduwobi also confirms the existence of pre-'Yoruba' settlers. He further suggests that some Ijebu myths of origin emerged only in response to Samuel Johnson's proto-nationalist History of the Yorubas, which ascribed slave origins to the Ijebu. These chapters suggest that relationships within the Yoruba nation continue to be characterized by a range of local historical alliances and rivalries.
The second part of the book, 'Chiefs and Tradition', examines questions of traditionally legitimized power and status in historical perspective. After a historical overview of Yoruba chieftaincy by Falola, Olufemi Vaughan examines the political strategies embraced by the traditional and modern elites in Oyo and Ibadan at the end of colonial rule. Vaughan thus illustrates and confirms the endurance of a communal politics centred on chiefly authority in many Yoruba communities. Expanding on his locally co-published monograph The History of Odogbolu (1989), Abolade Adeniji explores the internal centralization process of the town of Odogbolu, which was, like several Ijebu (and Remo) towns, created through the consensual and negotiated coming together of previously independent settlements. The struggles for state recognition by chiefs representing the constituent communities throughout the twentieth century illustrate the ongoing relevance of the state in communal politics from below.
The third part of the book is entitled 'Identity and Modern Politics' and includes two very interesting studies of modern Yoruba diasporas, by Rasheed Olaniyi and Charles Adeyanju on northern Nigeria and Toronto respectively. Olaniyi's chapter on the Yoruba in northern Nigeria is an up-to-date and detailed study of the impact of the historical and political emphasis on the principle of indigeneity on a migrant community. It also carefully describes the difficult and fluid relationship of this...