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Ritual Performance in Africa Today Author(s): Margaret Thompson Drewal Source: TDR (1988-), Vol. 32, No.

2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 25-30 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1145849 . Accessed: 27/09/2013 09:38
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Ritual Performance inAfrica Today


Drewal Thompson Margaret

Ritual hasfor toolongbeenconsidered themost conservative andrepetitivekindof performance, In 1968,VictorTurner in Africa. especially wrote that wherever and change rituals individualism, novelty, develop, within a short time(1968:22-23). He believed that perish onlyin stable societies with a strong life-those least influenced bytechnologicorporate calchange-isritual abletomaintain itsfunction andthat with stabilionly zation woulda widespread revival of ritual be possible. Evenin hislater Turner ritual in Africa believed that writings (1982:85) liminality largely meant themaintenance ofan existing socialorder. in My ownexperience southern else-thatrapid Nigeria, Togo, andGhanasuggests something socialchangestimulates in whichrituals a traditionalizing and process ritual their symbols proliferate, constructing pastsat thesametimethat construct themselves (seeKirshenblatt-Gimblett they ). Thestud1983:21 ies which follow indicate a morefar-reaching basisfor this claim. The contributors here viewritual notas a relic from thepastsomehow and uncritically to generation. mindlessly passedon fromgeneration examine ritual as a vital, In gathering the Rather, they ongoing process. for I made this no attempt tocover allofAfrica issue, essays geographically arefocused on WestandCentral and,as it turned out,mostoftheessays I alsowanted Africa. on entire as opposed events to integrated perspectives studies ofparticular media-likedanceor music. What me mostwas thewidespectrum interested ofritual performances in Africa and thedifferent these have today, relationships performances to different kinds ofsocialorders. The contributors wrote on rites essays of passage-marriage and bothmaleand female initiations-divination, andpuppet as wellas possession trance prophecy, masking performance, Thesearenotparallel indeed rituals comperformance. categories; many bine different suchas initiation and typesand modesof performance, or divination or divination andpossession andinitiation. trance, masking, alloftheessays What demonstrate is that, African ritual broadly speaking, is dialogicin form, of competition, and alwaysa process negotiation, neversimply a matter of repeating argumentation, (see Bloch correctly I974). The first a practitioner's viewof essay, byKolawoleOsitola, represents therituals he conducts. He doesnottalkaboutritual in thesamewaythat academics a detailed andanalysis ofhis do,nordoesheprovide description
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26 Margaret Drewal Thompson MOROCCO WESTERN SAHARA I ALGERIA TUNISIA

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he is concerned he establishes at thebeginning that Rather performances. with he expresses "thevalue"ofwhathe does.In theprocess, conveying hisintentionality inperforming ritual sametime a gloss andatthe provides of particular of his performances. Ositolahas a visionof the segments he operates worldin which andsomeofitsproblems, andhe sees larger ofpassage-as "progressive" in that rites estabthey ritual-particularly lishfor inlife. theindividual course ofaction a productive ritual, Through ofthought Thesethemes comeout andreflection." people"gainthesense in one wayor another in nearly all oftheessays that follow. is so much There inwhat Ositolasays.He indicates embedded explicitly that ritual is representation andthat to perform itis to that heis conscious beand reality. Hence,"we makeevery manipulate symbols participant lievethat fora purpose; to be progressive; we we aregoing we aregoing shall In one'slife in theItefa there are be successful. as ithappens [rituals], ofconstructing obstacles. builds [. . .] A challenge youup." His awareness in his description of "theholylandIgcomesout mostclearly reality at your for bodu,"a "prepared yourself "youcanprepare" place,"which own place.He also touches exon themeaning of sacrifice as practice,

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Ritual inAfrica Today 27 itinterms ofanideology ofreciprocity between hosts andguests. plaining Ositola'sessayintersects in significant wayswiththeother essaysand serves hereas a kindoforientation forthereader. Nextis SimonOttenberg's ofa secular examination rite ofpassage-a theLimba ofnorthern Sierra Leone.Ottenberg sets outto wedding among determine whatpurposes in ritual serve. theatricality performance might He suggests that theactof transformation itself demands theatrical treat"a closeplaying ofreality andfiction." He proposes further ment, that the anddeterminancy ofthese kinds ofrituals redundancy provide participants todisengage andreflect onthecore opportunities issue-marriage-which reconstitutes socialrelationships. Like therituals Ositolaperforms, the Limbawedding is constructed as a journey, andit entails hardship along theroute. andI wouldadd too,Ottenberg reflection, Similarly emphasizes theability to pullbackand monitor theflowof one's own reflexivity, behavior andexperience. The reflexive of performance is a key monitoring by theperformers and rivalry in Bamana topicin MaryJo Amrnoldi's pieceon innovation inMali. Usingcuing theatre theperformers make internal devices, puppet theperformance basedupontheir moment-to-moment adjustments during of theaudience's of thedrama. The puppet theatre is readings reception twiceeachyear-priorto harvest and planting-by thelocal performed in whichmembership is mandatory. It thusexhibits youthassociation characteristics withritual, associated butliketheLimbarite of ordinarily it is secular. and Arnoldi's passagedescribed by Ottenberg Ottenberg's observations on reflection and reflexivity as integral to theritual experiwith Ositola's insider's ofview,suggest ence, that thetopic together point warrants further exploration. In "An OperaoftheWestAfrican Bondo,"Frederick Lamplooksat a ritual Like metamorphosing by whichyounggirlspassintoadulthood. Limbaweddings andBamanapuppet thisrite of passage, performances, which TemnepeopleofSierra Leonecalla "play,"is theatrical-made up of music,song,and dance.As Lampargues, theritual drama does not butis itself theinstrument transformation, merely symbolize performing thetransformation. is an issuehereas it is in Ositola'srituals, Secrecy for similar reasons. Ositolathus a fear ofthetrivializaperhaps expresses tion ofritual, oritsbastardization (inhiswords) through exposure. Exposwouldmakeit susceptible to appropriation, that the ing ritual implying surface structure and visualsymbols couldthenbe stripped from their valueandintent, thus theritual ineffective. underlying rendering Ositola also stresses the attraction of the Apartfromthisconcern, unknown for theuninitiated andtheexperiential ofacquiring esoprocess teric visualsymbols-areimpoThus,material knowledge. things-the it is knowledge that is power,knowledge tent; that canonlybe attained Part oftheessence ofthetransformation, through experience. particularly in initiations, is themovement from that is unknown, which an absence ofknowledge, toa heightened awareness-and even a experiential perhaps realization that caneverbe known Movement andtransnothing totally. formation arekeyproperties ofrites ofpassage as seenbyOsitola, OttenandLamp. berg, Thenext four dealrespectively with therevitalization ofan older essays ritual andwith invented newer, In each ones;allhavedocumentable pasts. arecombinations ofwhatRaymond case,therituals Williams (I982:203andemergent forms. 204) callsresidual ones Thus,theinvented dynamic showsomeresidue, orcontinuity with thepast, while therevitalized oneis innovative andever-emerging anew.As Bennetta bythesametoken Jules-

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28 Margaret Drewal Thompson Rosette haspointed on African outelsewhere "muchresearch (I979:219), makestoo radical a dichotomy between traditional in religion religions rural areasandnew religious on theurban scene."Not only movements butas thefollowing is infact therevitalized tradition that, indicate, essays whiletheinvented andrural. onesarebothurban urban, in Freetown, societies Sierra JohnNunley'sessayon urbanmasking their to therepatriation ofYorubaslaves inthe Leone,traces development first halfof the 19thcentury and thesubsequent formation of an elite Creoleclass.Basedon themorphology ofandperformances with Yoruba newpopversions havebeen created urban masks, hunting bytough youth, whotake their masks tothestreets such as "Banga militantly dancing steps vehicles headon. By comparing successful Banga" to confront moving andfailed shows howitis critical for themaskers to performances, Nunley riskpollution in thestreets confrontation andpotential through fighting with other andthepolicein order for masks to achieve their ritual groups A successful inthis purity. performance wayis onelong,continuous processofnegotiation, often as themasking societies secure the culminating release oftheir cohorts from their inthenewsjail andreadabout exploits papers. In thefirst oftheessays on invented AllenF. Roberts examines rituals, howdiviners the Tabwa of southeastern Zairenegotiate the among people their thebamboothicket" ofpresent, pastto find way"through personal He maintains that as a result ofmissionary education andcoloexperience. nialcapitalism, Tabwa beganto shift in theI880sfrom communal rituals to onesthat focus on theindividual. Edith Turner similar (1986)observed butmorerecent shifts in thefocus ofNdembu In refocusing ritual. ritual on theindividual, Tabwa historicized thenewform, itspastas inventing theneedarose.As Roberts in particular this wasgrounded argues, change historical conditions. from communal ritual as a result to individual of Thus,a movement socialchange should notbe understood as universal or rapid bythereader evenpan-African. Ositola'srituals also focus on theindividual, as clearly do theOlokuninitiation rites of Benindiscussed and by Nevadomsky Rosen.Since thedivination that forms Ositola discusses the basis of system Yorubareligious itseems that itsconcern with theindipractice, unlikely vidual couldbe very itpredates colonialism. Thesecases recent; certainly that across Africa thefocus ofritual in a continuum from suggest ranges communal to individual on whattheparticipants depending hopeto acCommunal rituals never lose sight of theindividual complish. probably that on anindividual focus areever-conscious ofthat individjustas rituals ual'srelationship to somelarger a village or city, community-a family, thesociety or thewholeworld. atlarge, Ina study oftheindigenous African Church Maranke, ofJohn Apostolic in theearlyI930s,Bennetta founded thedialogical Jules-Rosette analyzes form of prophetic scenarios that As shepoints structure interaction. out, areconscious ofdisplay, andperformance although Apostles costuming, called kerek(fromAfricaans and Scottishfor stylesin ceremonies a dramatic is muchmorethan It in"church"), prophecy representation. deedorders thereligious universe courses ofaction for andpresents achievin a continually socialreality. Ositola's rituals also ingsalvation unfolding of actionforindividuals to helpthem live progressive proposecourses lives-a kindofsalvation castin other terms. as wellas experientially understands Jules-Rosette prophecy analytically as a sociologist andmember oftheChurch. Scholars seemto haveforgot-

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Ritual inAfrica Today 29 tenthat shewas oneofthefirst to become a performer in anthropologists therituals shewas studying. is that The point ifreflection and/or reflexivofperforming-as several indicate-then ritual ityarea critical part essays likescholars, movebetween andthe participants, continually experience ofthat analysis experience. The lastoftheinvented in this forms ofritual issueis treated byHenry Drewalinhisstudy ofMamiWatapractices. MamiWata is Pidgin English forMother of Water, a spirit to be European. by herdevotees perceived MamiWata is popular allacross andEastAfrica, West, Central, turning up in thisissuein Nunley's elsewhere of Freetown briefly study masking. Drewalshowshow African use exotic them peoples images, interpreting to indigenous andinvesting them with newmeaning, according precepts inorder tore-present innewanddynamic themselves ways.After tracking thehistory ofMamiWataimagery, hesurveys of specific re-presentations belief andtheever-expanding that devocross-culturally pool ofimagery teesdrawfrom in innovative andrecombine ways. The issuecloseswith a different on ritual, that ofan Amerperspective ican initiate who becamea priest of Olokun,theBini god of thesea. writes aboutNormaRosen,interAnthropologist Joseph Nevadomsky Rosen'sown commentary on herexperience. Thereareinterestspersing withMami Wata practice, not the leastof whichis the ing parallels association theBini makebetween and thesea. By wealth, Europeans, theplaceoforigin ofOlokuncommunal is tradition, worship, Ughoton, theBini portwherethe Portuguese first landedin the 15thcenturyrendered onearly the where Euromapsas Gwatto-reportedly only place wereallowed to stay Another peans 1957:20; (Bradbury 1978:1). Izevbigie is the ideaofjourneying, which inthe parallel appears Nevadomsky/Rosen reference in thephotocaption forplate4. And a pieceonlyin a brief common to Olokunand Mami Watapractice is themirror-a symbol forthesurface of thewater, theintersection of spiritual and metaphor realms. Also common to botharedreams as indicators forritual earthly anda sanction forpersonal action; individualism; creativity. Like priests of Mami Wata as characterized by Drewal,Rosen-in words-"has a knack formanipulating thesymbols and Nevadomsky's of one domain to suitaltered or different without images circumstances, harmto themeanings in thatdomain." embedded doinganyapparent SinceRosenis working within an established tradition with itsownrules, andpractices that sanction hercreative values, andtransformanipulations mations ofsymbols, herBinimentors notonlyaccept butencourage her. as shemight to someWestern Thus,as unorthodox sheis appear purists, not-in Ositola'sterms-"bastardizing" thereligion, norwouldOsitola be likely to perceive herthat ofMamiWatabecome way.IfAfrican priests then Rosenas anOlokunmetrance, European spirits through possession dium is playing aninversion ofthat structure backintheother direction as sheadapts hernewreligion to LongBeach,California, andperhaps even adapts LongBeachto Olokun. Thepieces inthis issue a broad offorms that confound explore spectrum ourtraditional, viewsof African ritual. Takentogether, stereotypic they of binary invoked playhavocwitha wholeseries oppositions ordinarily to differentiate African ritualfromWestern forms of performancesuchas traditional versus sacred versus ritual oppositions modern, secular, versus rural versus communal versus theatre, urban, individual, cyclical versus conservative versus monolithic progressive, versus experimental, liminal versus liminoid. dialogic,

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Drewal 30 Margaret Thompson

References
Bloch,Maurice ofArticulation." 1974 "Symbols, Song,DanceandFeatures European JournalofSociology 15 (no. I):55-8I. Bradbury, R.E. The BeninKingdom and theEdo-Speaking 1957 Peoples of South-Western London: International African Institute. Nigeria. A.O. Izevbigie, "Olokun:A Focal Symbolof Religion and Artin Benin."Ph.D. 1978 ofWashington. dissertation, University Bennetta Jules-Rosette, "Conclusions: The Arcadian Wish: Towarda Theory ofContempo1979 edited raryAfrican Religion."In The New Religions ofAfrica, by B. Jules-Rosette, 219-229.Norwood, NJ:AblexPublishing Corporation. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "The Future of Folklore in America: Studies The UrbanFrontier." 1983 Folklore Forum 16 (no. 2):I75-234. Edith Turner, Ghost Doctor:The Ndembu 1986 in 1985."TheDrama Kabwita, "Philip
Review30, no. 4 (Ti12):12-35.

Victor Turner, TheDrums A Study 1968 Processes the Ndembu of Religious among ofAffliction: NY: Cornell Press. Ithaca, ofZambia. University From to Theatre: Ritual TheHuman Seriousness 1982 ofPlay.New York: Arts Publications. Performing Journal vanGennep, Arnold TheRites 1960 ofChicago Press. ofPassage. Chicago: University Williams, Raymond TheSociology New York:Schocken 1982 Books. ofCulture.

theorist whohasdone research in MargaretThompsonDrewal is a performance Nigeria,The People'sRepublic ofBenin,Togo,Ghana,Brazil,andtheUnited States.She is thecoauthor (withH.J. Drewal) of Gelede: Art and Female Power Among the Yoruba (IndianaUniversity her Press,1983). Apart from articles on Yorubaand Afro-Brazilian she has also published on performance, Isadora sheis completBalanchine, George Duncan,andtheRockettes. Currently ritual in theIjebuarea. inga study of Yoruba performance, focused primarily

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