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Oyeronke Oyewumi - Making History, Creating Gender; Some Methodological and Interpretive Questions in the Writing of Oyo Oral Traditions

Oyeronke Oyewumi - Making History, Creating Gender; Some Methodological and Interpretive Questions in the Writing of Oyo Oral Traditions

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Making History, Creating Gender: Some Methodological and Interpretive Questions in theWriting of Oyo Oral TraditionsAuthor(s): Oyeronke OyewumiSource:
History in Africa,
Vol. 25 (1998), pp. 263-305Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 06/09/2011 20:43
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MAKINGHISTORY,CREATINGGENDER: SOMEMETHODOLOGICALANDINTERPRETIVEQUESTIONSINTHEWRITING OFOYOORALTRADITIONS1
OYERONKEOYEWUMI
UCLAI
Of allthethingsthat wereproducedinAfricaduringthe colonialperiod--cash crops,states,andtribes,to name afew-historyandtradition arethe leastacknowledgedasproductsofthe colonialsituation. Thisdoes not mean thatAfricansdidnothavehistorybe-fore thewhite mancame.Rather,Iammakingdistinctionsamongthefollowing: firstly, historyaslivedexperience; secondly,historyas arecord of livedexperiencewhich iscodedinthe oraltraditions;andfinally,therecentlyconstitutedwrittenhistory.Thislastcat-egoryisverymuch tiedupwithEuropean engagementswithAfricaand theintroduction of"historywriting"as adisciplineand aspro-fession. But eventhen,it isimportanttoacknowledgethe factthatAfricanhistory,includingoraltraditions,wererecorded as aresultof theEuropeanassault.Thisunderscores the fact thatideologicalinterests were atworkinthemakingof Africanhistory,as istrue of allhistory.Assuch,tra-ditionisconstantlybeingreinvented toreflect theseinterests.A. I.Asiwaju,forexample,inapaperexaminingthepoliticalmotiva-tions andmanipulationsoforaltraditionintheconstitution ofObashipindifferentpartsof Yorubalandduringthecolonialperiodwrites: "inthe eraofEuropeanrule,particularlyBritishrule,whengovernmentoftenbased mostof itsdecisions overlocal claimsupontheevidence oftraditionalhistory,agoodproportionof thedatatendedto bemanipulateddeliberately."2Thisprocessofmanipula-tionproducedexamplesof whathewittilyrefersto as"nouveauxroisof Yorubaland."3Sincethe colonialperiod,thewayinwhichYorubahistoryisbe-ingreconstituted has been aprocessofinventing genderedtradi-
I
OneoftheearliestscholarlyengagementswithAfricanoraltradition ashistoryisSaburiBiobaku,"TheProblemofTraditionalHistorywithSpecialReferenceToYorubaTraditions,"JHSN (December1956).ThepresentpaperisbasedonachapterinmyThe InventionofWomen:MakinganAfricanSenseofWesternGenderDiscourses(Minneapolis,1997).
2
A.I.Asiwaju,"PoliticalMotivationandOral HistoricalTraditionsinAfrica:TheCase of YorubaCrowns,"Africa,46(1976),113-47.
3
Ibid.,116.HistoryinAfrica25(1998),263-305.
 
264OyeronkeOyewunmi
tions.Menand womenhave been inventedas socialcategories,andhistoryispresentedasbeingdominatedbymale actors. Female ac-torsarevirtuallyabsentand wheretheyarerecognized, theyare re-ducedtoexceptions.Bolanle Awe makesa similarobservationwhenshewrites thatpiecingtogether"women'shistory"has beendiffi-cult becauseof "the dearthof information[aboutwomen'sachieve-ments],particularlydocumentaryevidence,that someoutstandingwomeninhistoryhavebeen mistakenformen and theirachieve-ments,attributedto malerulers!"4n an earlierpaperAwe alludedto adistinctionbetweenAfricanhistoriography,withits malebiasand African oraltraditions,whichare inclusiveof allsegmentsofthepopulation.Myown concernis notwith"women'shistory," perse.Rather,thefocus,morefundamentally,is toquestionthehistoricityof thegenderedinterpretationofOyooral traditionsinthework ofmanycontemporaryhistorians.Thegoalistodraw attention tothefactthatwritingYorubahistoryhas beenaprocessofgenderattributionin whichkingsand menhave beencreatedfrom oraltraditionswhich wereoriginallyfree ofgendercategories.ElsewhereIhaveshownthatgender-basedsocialcategories,betheykinshipor occu-pationaldesignations,areabsentintheindigenousconception.'In-stead,thedifferencescodedintheYorubaframeof referencewereage-based;thusseniority,notgender,was thelanguageof status.Inorderto traceandaccountfor theprocessofgenderizingYorubahistoryandpoliticalinstitutions,Iinterrogatethework ofSamuelJohnson,thepioneeringhistorianoftheYoruba,andotherwriterswho havetouchedonthequestionofgenderinOyohistori-ography.6Issuesaboutlanguage,the collectionand culturaltransla-tionof oraltraditions,thetransmissionofknowledge,and thesocialidentityof historianswill beaddressed.Inthefirstpartof thepaper,Iinterrogatespecificallythedynasticlists ofalaafin(rulers)thathave beenpresentedbyvariouslocalandforeignrecordersof thepast.Theselistspurporttoshowthatmale rulerswere thenorm,andthatanyfemalesamongthemwereexceptions.Thequestionposedis this:giventhenon-gender-specificityofOyonames,pro-nouns,andsocialcategories,howhave historiansdecipheredthegenderofallthealaafinon thelists?
4
BolanleAwe,"Introduction"inNigerianWomenn HistoricalPerspectiveLagos,1992),7.-SeeOyeronkeOyewumi,"InventingGender:QuestioningGenderinPrecolonialYorubaland"nProblemsnAfricanHistory,ed.RobertCollins(NewYork,1993).
6
ForaspectsofhisbiographyseeJ.F.AdeAjayi,"SamuelJohnson:HistorianoftheYoruba,"NigeriaMagazine(1964)141-46,andPhillipZachernuk,"SamuelJohnsonand theVictorianImageof theYoruba,"nToyinFalola, ed.,Pioneer,Patriot,and Patri-arch:SamuelJohnsonnd theYorubaeopleMadison,1993),33-46.

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