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Discourse and its disclosures: Yoruba women and the sanctity of abuse

  • Andrew Apter
Extract

If ritual songs of obscenity and abuse have become a familiar topic in Africanist ethnography since Evans-Pritchard's first discussion of their ‘canalising’ functions in 1929, few studies have paid sufficient attention to the socio-political and discursive contexts of the song texts themselves. The present article moves in that direction by relocating abusive songs of the Oroyeye festival in an Ekiti Yoruba town within the local forms of history and knowledge that motivate their interpretation and performative power. After reviewing the cult's historical interventions in local political affairs, the article examines the repressed historical memory of a displaced ruling dynasty and its associated line of civil chiefs as invoked by the song texts in two festival contexts. In the first—the Àjàkadì wrestling match—which occurs at night, male age mates from different ‘sides’ of the town fight to stand their ground and topple their opponents while young women praise the winners and abuse the losers with sexual obscenities. In the second festival context, during the day, the elder ‘grandmothers’ of Oroyeye target malefactors and scoundrels by highlighting their misdeeds against a discursive background of homage and praise. In this fashion the female custodians of a displaced ruling line bring repressed sexual and political sub-texts to bear on male power competition, lineage fission, and antisocial behaviour. More generally, they mobilise the fertility and witchcraft of all Yoruba women to disclose hidden crimes and speak out with impunity.

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Africa
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