Preface to the 2005 Edition of

Sex and. the Empire That Is No More

Sex is not natural. It changes historically, subject to contentious reinterpretation and, above all, to retooling as a metaphor of just about every other human activity.

For better or worse, clear reasoning about the matter requires us to speak indelicately. Anglophone North Americans generally define a person's sex according to the presence or absence of a penis. However, there is much sexual variation among the people with penises, as there is among people without them. For example, those with penises vary tremendously with respect to the size of their penises and testicles, testosterone levels, body shape, degree of hairiness, breadth of hips, muscularity, voice pitch, ability to produce sperm or achieve erections, and so forth. People without penises vary in most of these ways and

more; they also vary in their ability to produce ova. .

Despite my everyday, culturally induced habits of perception, not a week passes when I fail to see someone on the street whose place in a binary scheme of sexual anatomy is unclear to me. Such people incite lively discussion among my American countrymen, and our choice to deny them their permanent indeterminacy, even when they demand it, is evidence that our conventionally dichotomous thinking about sex is more conditioned by culture than by our senses. The visceralness of our intolerance for their indeterminacy results not from nature but from the depth of our cultural training in the importance of the dichotomy. Our reaction is akin to the Lele's reaction to the pangolin and to the Hebrews' reaction to the pig-a cloven-hoofed but non-cud-chewing animal that defied the Hebrews' dichotomous classification of legitimate animal species (Douglas 1966). Recent developments both highlight and upset dichotomous thinking about sex: some university administrations



(not including the one at my home institution) now offer such "transgender" people dormitories and bathrooms of their own (Bernstein 2004).

Since the 1950s, Americans have attempted to settle human biological ambiguity by resort to supposedly unambiguous genetic evidence. A person with a Y chromosome is almost certain to have a penis, though some have breasts or a vagina as well. By extension, everyone with a Y chromosome, or an XY pair of chromosomes, has been defined as male, while those with an XX combination have usually been defined as female. Some people therefore regard genetic evidence as definitive, and naturally binary, in its implications.

However, during spermatogenesis, the Testis-Determining Factor (TDF) gene on a Y chromosome is sometimes translocated to an X chromosome. Therefore, in one out of 20,000 live births, the ovum producing the zygote has been fertilized by a sperm bearing a Y chromosome that lacks the TDF gene, resulting in an XY fetus without male gonads (Mange and Mange 1990:135). When the ovum has been fertilized by a spenn that bears an X chromosome produced by such translocation, the happy result is an XX male (i.e., an XX with a penis). TDF gene translocation, X-linked androgen-insensitivity, genetically determined variations in internal hormone-production, and maternal hormone levels during gestation can and regularly do produce citizens, friends and neighbors possessing both male and female gonads (Ibid.:96-98, 90, 93).

Yet XX and XY are not the only possible sex chromosome combinations, or the only common ones. At any given site on the genome, most people have inherited one chromosome from the father and one from the mother, making a pair. In some cases, however, one inherits more that one chromosome at that site from one or both parents. In fact, viable variations of number and combination among sex chromosomes are more diverse and common than among any non-sex-linked chromosomes, or autosomes. In other words, fetuses with more than two autosomes at any given site on the genome are seldom viable. Children with Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 18, are among the rare exceptions. On the other hand, individuals with combinations of XO (i.e., an unaccompanied X chromosome), three or more X's, XXY, XXYY, XYYY and XXXXY tend to vary in fertility, secondary sexual characteristics (such as the presence of breasts and the pattern of pubic hair growth), height and mental competency, but most live and thrive among us, notwithstand-


ing their average phenotypical and behavioral differences from XX's and XY's.

Unbeknowst to recalcitrant binarists, such variation in the number and combination of sex chromosomes is actually common! For example, the XXY combination alone characterizes somewhere between 1 in 500 and 1 in 2000 newborn males (Mange and Mange 1990:124). One in 1,000 men is an XYY (Ibid.:126). Between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 2,000 female newborns is an XXX, and 1 in 10,000 is born with more than 3 X's (Ibid.:129-30). Between 1 in 2,800 and 1 in 10,000 newborn females is an XO (Ibid.:129fn). Moreover, some individuals are 'Ifuosaics," whose cells vary in their complement of X and Y chromosomes and whose bodies therefore reveal some male and some female characteristics. Phenotypical variation can also result from the level and timing of the fetus's exposure to sex-linked hormones in the womb, and from the fetus's level of receptivity to those hormones.

In the light of the genetic and phenotypic variation among people, it is no more natural for us to comprehend sexual variation as a dichotomy than as a continuum, or as an hourglass. Nor is it any more natural to classify the sexes according to people's chromosomal complement than according to their phenotype or, beyond that,' according to their degree of fertility. Sex is not natural.

Neither is sexual intercourse. It is no more naturally a technique of reproduction than of pleasure or service. It is no more naturally horizontal than vertical; front-to-front than front-to-back or 69; vaginal than oral, anal or epidermal. What American conservatives classify as natural, or other-than-"unnatural," sex is no more than a historical and cultural choice about what to take for granted, as opposed to forbidding or overlooking.

Therefore, the normative expectations and conduct associated with the sexes are no more naturally a pair of dichomotously opposed roles than a constellation of roles, collectively providing a model of and model for (Geertz 1973) not only sexual conduct but also U1e whole social world of any given society. These sexual dramatis personae constitute a bio-epistemological allegory of literally and metaphorically gendered social relations in any given society. A few of the characters in the U.S. allegory are the Virgin and the Whore, the Dumb Blonde, the Tragic Mulatto, the Femme Fatale, the Other Woman, the Nagging Wife, the



Teenage Mother, the Welfare Queen, the Submissive Oriental, the Jewish Mother, the Pederast Priest, the Tomboy, the Sissy, the Strong Black Woman, the W.A.S.P.lce Queen, Pat, the Prison Bitch, the Butch and the Femme, the Androgynous Musician, the Ninety-pound Weakling, the Momma's Boy, the Breadwinner, the Irish Drunk, the Pimp, the Don Juan, the Sexually Predatory Slave Master, the Jock and the Pimply Adolescent. Each figure is a palimpsest of history and a complex gender figuration that reveals a world far beyond the male-female dichotomy and, indeed, far beyond sex. A single persona can reveal a whole gendered world. Most famously in Cuba and Brazil, the Lascivious Mulata reveals not only the preeminent local image of sexual desirability but also a local history of racially unequal opportunity, national vulnerability to tourist and imperialist exploitation, and the nationalist project of blanqueamiento, or "whitening" the nation through white men's sexual dalliances.

Thus, sex is no more literal than it is natural. It is a universal allegory. For example, countless are the forms of persuasion that are compared to seduction. Countless are the forms of political, military and interpersonal aggression that peoples across the globe apprehend metaphorically as acts of rape. Equally countless are the cultures in which personal esteem is linked metaphorically to one's sexual impenetrability or metonymically to the sexual propriety of one's mother or sisters. Since feminists declared in the 1960s that "the personal is the political," some, but not all, Americans have actively sought ways of insulating sex from the inequality of the non-sexual acts so often compared to sex, or ways of altering sexual practice in the pursuit of social equality. Thus, the analysis proposed by this book also rests on the assumption that sexual practice and meaning are not settled but are constantly debated among parties with diverse interests in the political and material outcome of the metaphoric comparisons of the rest of daily life to sex. Gender, then, is a changing product of history, agency and adversarial struggle, in which the mere anatomical substrate of human biological reproduction never speaks for itself. Foucault demonstrated the need for a history of its classification and re-classification, just as Judith Butler demonstrated the need to analyze how gender comes into being through selective performance. Below, I argue for attention to the history of sex and gender's contentious metaphoric extension to the daily re-signification of all social life.

Sex is not natural, not literal, and not settled in its meaning-any more in Nigeria than it is in the U.S. Among the most emotionally evocative, viscerally debated, and historically redolent figures in the Oyo-Yoruba gender cosmos are the Witch (AN), the Kneeling Bride (lyaw6), the Revered Mother (Iyd) , the Powerful Market Woman (ly.HQja), the Barren Woman (AgQn), the Monarch (Qba), the Hunter (Qd!!), and the Horseman WI¢$in). The applicability of these personae to any given human, their moral worth, their prerogatives over others, and their obligations to other personae are continually under debate in Yoruba society. The adversarial dialogue over their meaning and acceptable referents lies at the very foundation of their meaning in this living and changing society.

Sex and the Empire That Is No More culminates in the historical, symbolic and comparative analysis of a further allegorical figure in Nigerian Yoruba sociallife---one that is both awesome to most Yoruba people and puzzling to Western observers who assume that sex is naturally dichotomous, literal, inherent and permanently fixed on each human body. The male I;.l¢gun, or cross-dressing possession priest, is a palimpsest of the political challenges facing the changing Oyo kingdom, and of the metaphorical techniques that royals and their loyalists have employed in facing down those challenges by reorienting the literal and daily socio-political relations at the source of these metaphors.

The foregoing analysis is itself an allegory of how insurgent politics are conducted by piggybacking on social and semiotic conventions (such as "sex") that are regarded as uniquely primordial, natural, meaningful, powerful, God-given or real. It borrows their semiotic fuel while simultaneously stripping them of their previously unique claim to semantic legitimacy and social efficacy. For example, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement piggybacked on the self-legitimizing ideas of the slaveholding Framers, but also transformed those ideas by denying their previously "natural" applicability to white men alone. Likewise, the "Gay Marriage" Movement appropriates the previously naturalized contractual conventions of Abraham's homophobic followers and transforms them into protections for people of several additional genders.

Thus, Sex and the Empire That Is No More concerns the gendered poetics and politics of debate in and around West African Yoruba religion, which is often regarded as the roots of the most widespread African religion in the world. Indeed, the religion of the Oyo sub-group of the



A New Politics of Ethnography

When first published in 1994, this book perhaps added some torque to what Terrence J. McDonald called the "historic tum" in the human sciences (McDonald 1996). It also rested atop a decade of reflexivity in anthropology, but rather than abandoning hope of representing a cultural formation "out there," it proposed a "new politics of ethnography," in which indigenous categories of personhood and logics of agency became organizing features of the scholarly narrative itself. This book both describes and extends the circum-Atlantic dialogue (Matory 1999)-among practitioners, colonialists and nationalists-that has continued to shape every local orisa tradition. Here, the ethnographer him- or herself is recognized as one of the numerous interlocutors in the controversy-ridden debate that has always been the dynamic essence of this religion and of every other human lifeway. This circum-Atlantic dialogue becomes the central theme of the sequel to Sex and the Empire-Black Atlantic Religion (Princeton University Press, forthcoming), which concerns the transnational forces shaping not only Afro-Brazilian Candornble but West African Yoruba identity as well.

Africanist ethnography in the 1970s put to rest any lingering supposition that the gender roles and gendered social arrangements of African societies duplicated those in the West, and established the heterogeneity of gendered social arrangements across African societies as well. Opportunities for female agency were not everywhere the same, and one could no longer posit that African women suffered in the comparison with Western ones. At the same time, anthropologists were outgrowing the notorious "ethnographic present," which represented colonized societies as though they had never been touched by a history of both pre-colonial and colonial change. By the rnid-'80s, anthropolo-

gists had recognized that African societies were as inherently dynamic as European ones and that colonialism was one among the historical transformations that had shaped African life and that deserved documentation.

Equally important to the present ethnography is the verity that Yoruba people themselves have culture-specific conceptions of causation, character and motive when they narrate history or invoke it as a model-in short, a historical consciousness and a culture-specific ontology of history's actors. Not just Yorubanist histories but also Yoruba people's historical narrations and dramatizations have to q~ taken into account if our aim is to understand Yoruba conduct and Yoruba logics of why people act as they do, how they have corne to act as they do, and why certain present-day courses of action are more legitimate than others.

Sex and the Empire explores not only the history of Oyo- Yoruba religious actors, their political projects, and the heterogeneous ritual protocols they bequeathed to contemporary priests, but also what Sahlins calls these actors' "historicity" -the local cultural construction of human agency and the culturally patterned modes of its narration (Sahlins 1985). That is, different narrators of the past will regard different events as salient, will attribute responsibility to differently conceived categories of people and differently conceived social forces (e.g., "classes," "dynasties," "genders," "races," "individuals," "technological improvement," "gods" and the "Geist," to name a few well-precedented narrative possibilities). In order to exhume an Oyo-Yoruba historicity that is often hidden by the Western logics of salience and causation that shape, for example, British historian Robin Law's excellent Oyo Empire, c.160O-c.1836 (1977), I focus on local tropes of personhood and on what might seem, from a Western point of view, the anomalous, superfluous, non sequitur or magical details of oral histories recorded by Yoruba historians Samuel Johnson (1921), Biobaku (1960, 1952), E. Adeniyi Oroge (1971), Bolanle Aw~ (1977, 1975, 1972, 1964), S.O. Babayerni (1982, 1979), and Toyin Falola (1984).

From 1988 to 1989, I heard similar details-sometimes so similar that they appeared to be lifted directly from Johnson's History of the Yorubas (1921)-in the oral histories and tendentious etymologies that the people of Igboho recounted to justify their rival positions in the local struggle for power between Muslims and non-Muslims, between rival

Yoruba has been the most fundamental single influence on the Brazilian Candomble and Xango religions, on the Cuban Ocha religion, or "Santeria," and on the Trinidadian Shango religion. While the 19thcentury slave trade planted the Yoruba gods, or orl~a, on Latin American soil, 20th-century cultural nationalism fertilized their spread, and migration transplanted them to virtually every city on the American continent (Matory forthcoming b).



factions of the priesthood of the goddess Yemoja, between husbands and wives, and between parties in the town's ongoing "chieftaincy tussle." I also had the benefit of access to the court records of a major public inquiry into that tussle. In all of the written and oral accounts that I encountered, otherwise self-explanatory military victories, defeats and changes of political regime are punctuated with unexpected details of marital loyalty or betrayal, surprising sexual acts, and the headbearing or destruction of calabashes. These signs appear side-by-side not only in 19th- and 20th-century historical narrations but also in the late-20thcentury rituals of marriage, burial, orisa spirit possession and, reputedly, money-making magic.

Hence, rather than focusing on the role of "slaves" and "slavery" in the Oyo Empire, as does Law, I focus on the role of "wives" and "marriage" in the administration of the palace. Much of the palace administrative staff undoubtedly consisted of unfree or captive workers-a fully legitimate historical category amid British and American moral concerns about slavery, the emergence of popular but racially stratified electoral democracies, and a 20th-century international regime of universal human rights. However, Oyo raconteurs have tended to emphasize not the activities of slaves per se but the ideally servile character and centrality of palace wives. Oyo histories record not just political and military events (or the role of slaves in them) but also details of dress and ritual preparation that suggest the "wifeliness" of even male palace officials, both free and unfree. "Wives" and their wifely facsimiles are historically the core of the Oyo monarch's staff and the most prominent public face of royal authority. This class of actors overlaps empirically with the category of actors identified by Law as "slaves," but the premise of this analysis is that local symbolic constructs reveal the logic of local conduct better than British-derived moral categories can.

A further premise of this analysis is that personhood and agency are evident not only in local verbal classifications but also in the ritual performances that confer rank and prerogative. Whereas Sahlins seeks the main tropes of Hawaiian and South Pacific historicity in the myths of that region, I seek an Oyo historicity primarily in the ritual terms most demonstrably mobilized in the past and present construction of leading Dye- Yoruba personae through dress, i,nitiation rites, possession rituals, and the temple iconography of the Oyo gods.

Geschiere (e.g., 1988) led a growth industry in the study of witchcraft beliefs as an African interpretation of changing, "modern" social circumstances (also Comaroff and Comaroff 1993). But the mid-1990s witnessed a return to studies of African priesthoods and their public roles in contemporary socio-politicallife. Unlike many prior studies of such indigenous African priesthoods, Sex and the Empire (orig. 1994) is set in real time and in the real-world context-recognizing not only the circumAtlantic growth of orisa religion and ongoing local chieftaincy disputes, but also 19th-century warfare, British colonialism, and Christian and Muslim dominance in the post-colonial Federal Republic of Nigeria. A series of rich studies since then-by Piot (1999)1 Rosenthal (1998), Shaw (2002) and Masquelier (2001)-has similarly located the priests of socalled" African traditional religion" at the heart of modern African life.

Part of this real-world context is the reality that Yoruba priests have, over the past century and a half, been talking across national boundaries (see Matory forthcoming b). For a century, priests, nationalist activists, politicians and scholars have also collaborated in selectively canonizing and therefore re-shaping orisa-worship-all amid a circumAtlantic circulation of ideas among Nigeria, Benin Republic, Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and the U.S. In Sex and the Empire, as in my forthcoming Black Atlantic Religion, the similarities and differences among nationspecific traditions of orisa-worship are read for evidence of the semantic schemes, political projects and cultural history unique to each ethnic or national tradition.

Yet I do not assume the homogeneity of belief, opinion or intention within any given ethnic or national tradition. Statements beginning with such phrases as "The Yoruba believe that" efface not only regional diversity within ethnic and national traditions but also the heterogeneity of material and status interests (and the competing goals) that the diverse ritual actors bring to the performance of any given ritual. I assume that the intentions behind any given ritual procedure change with the historical circumstances and that, within the same time frame, different classes of actor (such as royalists and republicans, men and women, husbands and wives, scholars and priests, officials and supplicants) can appropriate the same ritual procedure to project very different meanings upon the social world and, thereby, advance very different projects. Here again, the articulations of and disagreements among schol-


ars are themselves part of the ethnographic scene. Scholars have influenced bourgeois nationalist appropriations of these traditions". which have, in tum, changed the course of cultural reproduction in these religions. Integrating this model of Yoruba religion, therefore, is not the premise of local cultural closure or the ethnographic present but a Bakhtinian notion of the "dialogic" (Bakhtin 1981)-the notion that any given novel, or ritual, is penetrated by the multiple languages, intentions and projects of a circum-Atlantic array of actors.


An account of Yoruba religion as the local inflection of a translocal dialogue also requires an account of history. Here, the symbolic language or languages of ritual action are understood as a palimpsest of signs generated and modified by centuries of prior tendentious ritual projects. The most multilayered and central signs accreted in the Oyo- Yoruba religions of spirit possession are the signs of wifeliness and of horsemanship, which the Oyo royal empire of the 16th to the early 19th century appears to have made into important signs and means of political delegation. The possession priesthood of Sango is not only the preeminent priesthood of the Oyo kingdom but also the priesthood richest in the symbolism of wifeliness and horsemanship. By contrast, the symbolism of guns, iron and men's hunting and warfare predominates in the non-possession priesthood of Ogun, at the expense of wifely and equestrian symbolism. Despite the politically central contrast between them, or perhaps because of it, Sango and Ogun are the two most popular orisa in all of circum-Atlantic Yoruba religion. This book begins with a historical account of the conflicting uses of their gendered religious symbolisms.

In a manner reflecting the periodization of Yoruba historians Samuel Johnson, Babayemi, Atanda and Akintoye, I identify a number of key transitions in the history of Oyo-Yoruba politics, as well as the forms of politico-ritual authority that have risen with each such transition. That is, after the fall of the Oyo royal empire around 1830, a series of nonroyal republics rose over the Oyo-Yoruba. They then gave way to the British colony, which resurrected the Oyo kingdom as its political surrogate. Decolonization restored non-royals to power. Oyo religious his-


tory parallels Oyo political history. Thus, Sango and the wifely, equestrian symbolism of political delegation prevailed in the Oyo kingdom. Then, the non-royal military republics of the mid- and late 19th century marginalized this symbolism and dispensed with the ritual and political logic that wives are the ideal delegates of the sovereign power. The Ogun shrine came to sit at the center of the republican military camps. With the colonial resurrection of the Oyo kingdom, the wifely delegates of the kingdom too recovered their prominence in public life, both in the delegation of power and in the imaginative popular critiques of royalism. Finally, the most popular and widespread orisa of Nigeria's postcolonial period has been Ogun, a fact fully consistent with the marked marginalization of women by the state and the centrality of male-controlled, iron-machine technology in the new economy.

Thus, I have named these political eras the "Age of San go," "the Age of Ogun," the "Oyo Renaissance" and the "0gun Restoration," or the "Age of Abiola" -not because any of those periods is purely bereft of the others' chief symbolism of power but because the predominant symbolism of political power has changed over time in a way that parallels the present-day ritual contrast between Sango and Ogun. The contrasting gendered logics of today's Sango and Ogun cults are employed to illuminate past changes in the Oyo polity. Conversely, past changes in the Oyo polity are used to illuminate the thematic preoccupations of contemporary Yoruba historians, as well as the contrasting projects best served by these two ritual formations today.

One historian has urged caution in calling the mid- to late 19th century the" Age of Ogun." Invoking the work of historian Oguntomisin, Robin Law suggests that the importance of Sango-worship in the briefly vibrant Ijaye military republic was more significant than the apparent marginalization of Sango in the far stronger and longer-lasting Ibadan military empire.' As Law is aware, Ibadan was the preeminent Oyo polity throughout this era, having thoroughly defeated Ijaye by 1860. Among the weaknesses of Law's critique is its implication that an exception disproves a pattern. Law also misinterprets the contrasting gendered structures of authority that I attribute to Oyo and the 19th-century military republics. Nonetheless, his error is instructive. Law writes:

The ideology of the Sango cult stressed female subordination to a male king .... the 'Age of Ogun' stressed autonomous male power (1995:147).


Indeed, 1 argue that both the dominant politics of the Age of Ogun and the historicity, or narrative models, by which later Yoruba historians describe it emphasize the autonomous power of plebeian men in groups, but I show that the Age of Sango, the Sango priesthood and the Yoruba historical perception of the former stress not the subordination of females to males but of horses to riders and of wives to husbands, including the monarch. The difference is important, because many of the palace's most important delegates were cross-dressing men classified as "wives" of the god or ritually prepared as though they were wives of the monarch. Indeed, according to the current king of Oyo. a male Oyo monarch is himself regarded as a "wife" of Sango. Marriage, and not the dichotomous male-female contrast, appears to have been the root metaphor of political delegation in the late-18th-century Oyo Empire and in the earIy-20thcentury Oyo monarchy that was resurrected under British Indirect Rule.

1 describe the intervening period as the Age of Ogun not simply because the iron instruments sacred to Ogun had displaced dynastic heredity as the sine qua non of authority, but also because, even where Sango endured as a key sign in the legitimation of power, the associated symbolism of horses and of the priests' and political delegates' wifeliness had virtually disappeared. The military republics of Ibadan and Ijaye also abandoned the cavalries that had brought the Oyo Empire to its height. Indeed, as the ruler of Ijaye came to contest the power of the Oyo palace during the 1850s, his disputes with the palace are often remembered specifically as moments of his undermining the Oyo king's, his chiefs' and his subjects' authority over their wives (Oguntornisin 1986:50,54,79; Johnson 1921:288). Moreover, the Ibadan counterparts to the male transvestite and wifely delegates of the Oyo royal palace were the nontransvestite aNi?, who were warriors rather than Sango priests (Awe 1964:288). Kurunmi, sovereign of Ijaye, legitimized his authority by fashioning himself not a "wife" of Sango but a "son" of the god (Peel 2000:84). Yoruba chroniclers recall Kurunmi not as the lord of numerous loyal wives, but as a brutish cuckold, who, "after the guilty wife was killed, ... 'split the woman's belly and took out the heart and liver and ate it raw in the open street before a very large assembly of his town people. This was performed in front of his own house before his Ogu[n], his god of iron" (Peel 2000:82, quoting the 19thcentury Yoruba missionary Rev. Charles Phillips).


As the reader will later see, Yoruba historians recall another heroic figure of the Age of Ogun-Madam Tinubu-for similarly audacious, anti-marital and anti-reproductive acts. Thus, the gendered symbolism of 20th-century Sango- and Ogun-worship illuminate the forms of personhood and power that have prevailed amid parallel changes in the Oyo polity. They also illuminate the culture-specific narrative and analytical concerns of Yoruba chroniclers and historians.

Law is correct that this book would have been enriched by a careful review of the 19th-century missionary archives, but, as Law well knows, the 19th-century history that most interests him was and is not the focus of this book. Moreover, the inferences I %ake about 19th-century changes in the gendered structure of Oyo politics and historical narration are borne out in the works of numerous Yoruba historians, including Oguntomisin. Perhaps Law is justifiably annoyed at the "somewhat selective" nature of my "engagement with earlier work on Yoruba history" (Law 1995:147)-1 fail to cite his work. Law's own historical work is prodigious and directly relevant to a broad range of arguments about Yoruba history. Yet he must have his own reasons for selectively failing to cite the works of Yoruba historians Babayemi (1971) and especially Oroge (1971), who wrote on topics central to the subject of Law's The Oyo Empire (1977). What is evident is that our scholarly inferences and goals are very different. Whereas Law sees the Oyo Mesi council of chiefs as the major threat to the Oyo monarch's authority, 1 follow Yoruba historians Johnson and Babayemi in perceiving a greater threat from the royal kinsmen themselves, and in inferring that the palace's empowerment of "wives" was a strategic solution coded in locally significant and culture-specific terms. And, whereas Law seeks to construct an objectivist history in which a slave is a slave, 1 seek to exhume the symbolic logic of Oyo-Yoruba people's own dialogue with their past.

Also worthy of reply is this eminent historian's question about my observation that the preeminent motifs of personhood and power in the early 20th century Oyo Renaissance echo those of the early 18thand 19th-century Age of Sango and that the preeminent motifs of the late-20th-century Age of Abiola echo those of the 19th-century Age of Ogun. Yet J.D.Y. Peel's recent publication of 19th-century Yoruba missionary records bears out my argument. Nineteenth-century Yoruba observers of these transitions were reporting ritual gestures highly similar



to the ones that later Yoruba historians gleaned from 20th-century oral accounts.

For example, Yoruba historian J.A. Atanda clearly saw the parallel when he described the resurrection of the Oyo Empire in the project of British Indirect Rule as "the New Oyo Empire." I devote an entire chapter (Chapter Two) to this parallel. In the early 20th century, in both the exercise and the criticism of the Oyo monarchy's role in Indirect Rule, the trope of marriage again became central, just as it had been in the staffing of the early19th-century palace. Yet that trope became subject to the constraints that the British placed upon marriage in daily life.

I was the first to report the parallels between the 19th-century Age of Ogun and the postcolonial period of plebeian military dictatorship, vast commerce, massively popular steel-dependent vehicular transportation, and canine sacrifice (see Matory 1994:57-58). Ogun is the god of warfare, technology, iron and mobility, and his favorite food is dog. In 1980s Nigeria, no orisa rivaled him in popularity. His eminence in the mid-19th and the mid- to late 20th centuries is a parallel worth highlighting and clarifying, as I have done in Chapters One and Three. Chapter Three specifically concerns the Oyo North region-the most royalist corner of the "Empire That Is No More"-in an age when non-hereditary military and commercial might are elsewhere the reigning powers. It is an age when women are deliberately marginalized from the sovereign, national government and are deeply suspected of marital disloyalty.

Law is also concerned about the apparent inconsistency of identifying the beginning of the Age of Ogun as "Oyo's fall, around 1830" (Matory 1994:13) and citing the observations of Clapperton and the Landers between 1825 and 1830 for evidence of royal wives' changing role during the Age of Ogun. Had Law paid attention to my description of the circumstances leading up to Oyo's fall-that is, the appointment of a series of weak kings and the progressive decline in the power of those kings over the councils of chiefs (Matory 1994:13)-and had he noted the view of Yoruba historian Bolanle Awe that the mobility of literal royal wives outside the palace walls was at that time a novel development-perhaps he would have better appreciated the logic of my periodization. Mine is not an account of sea changes, whereby everything old stops and everything new begins at some precise calendrical date. Indeed, the section that evoked Law's concern about the consis-

tency of my periodization expressly concerned the seemingly small precursors to major change, the hybridity of historical eras, and the adaptation of old orders to any emergent Zeitgeist (Matory 1994:20-2). If I had not explicitly indicated that this periodization traces a "historical dialectic" (Matory 1994:8), then Law's misreading would not be so surprising. The nature of dialectics is hybridity, reaction and response, not purity of contrast.


Owe l' esin ¢r¢, reports a common Yoruba proverb-"Proverbs are the horses of discussion." Yoruba daily speech is full of proverbs and a11usions, whose persuasive power derives from the tendentious but implicitly self-evident analogies posited through simile and metaphor, from the essences posited through synecdoche, and from the connections posited through metonymy. Sex and the Empire is inspired by James Fernandez's argument that ritual metaphors clarify vague, abstract and impalpable, or "inchoate," experiences by analogizing them to clearer, more concrete and more palpable realities. It is also inspired by Lakoff and Johnson's 1980 argument that virtually all language is metaphorical, analogizing a wide range of experience to people's universal bodily experience of the world.

However, as Terence Turner later points out, not all terminology is equally metaphorical, or tropic. Rather, anaphor (or "literal" language) and metaphor are on a continuum of relative semantic conventionality or "entrenchedness" (Turner 1991). Indeed, it might be argued that, to one degree or another, all verbal reference, like every other type of signification, entails creativity and the dislocation of meaning from its prior moorings. Moreover, while some tropic, or non-r'literal." assertions depend on sources as concrete as "horses," many other tropes depend on daily social relationships-such as "husband-wife," "parent-child" and "rider-horse" -to illuminate other, less concretely experienced target relationships, such as "god-possession priest."

The term "ritual" begs many questions that this book is intended to pose and to unsettle the conventional answers about. Are the actions of orisa priests mere repetitions of gesture and rehearsals of expressions whose meaning is already settled? Or are priests, like artists, ever



arti~ulating new ~nd contestatory meanings, whose unique potency derives not from timeless consensus about meaning but from the eagern~~s of so many p~rties. to rearrange the meaning of time-honored signifiers under changmg CIrcumstances? Thus, Sex and the Empire represents the occasions of orisa worship not as moments of consensus but as a "struggle for the possession of the sign" (Hebdige 1979), in which actors with diverse interests attempt to predicate different meanings on the shared substance of daily life.

The further concern of Sex and the Empire isto demonstrate that metaphors (and other tropes) predicate new understandings not only upon the target of a tropic reference, such as the "god-possession priest" relationship, but also upon its source, such as the "husband-wife" relationship. In an analogous case, when, in "21 Questions," hiphop artist 50 Cent si~gs, "I love you like a fat kid loves cake," the rapper not only declares hl~ lo:e for the addressee and induces her to act accordingly, but he also Insinuates that fat kids love cake in an extreme way. He conveys his etiology of childhood obesity under the listeners' intellectual radar and memorably alters our perceptions of fat kids and of the implications of our own love (or dislike) of cake. By employing this dubious postulate about fat kids as a tropic source, rather than a target, 50 Cent in fact makes a more convincing statement about fat kids than about the sincerity of his love for his female interlocutor. His postulate is convincing because, as an aside, it has been removed from scrutiny. I call this tropic phenomenon "feedback"-the tendency of tropes to project new meanings upon their sources as well. Therein lies much of the socially transformative efficacy of ritual. The mixed metaphors at the heart of, for example, Oyo-Yoruba orisa initiations, project new and powerful meanings not only upon the new possession priests but also upon the ordinary Yoruba social relationships, such as marriage, over which these priests will eventually be accorded some authority and of which the priests themselves have become walking models. Therefore, I argue, understanding Oyo ritual (and any religion) depends on a historical and sociological understanding of the sources invoked in sacred tropes, as well as the differential interests of contemporary actors in defining and changing the quotidian social relationships at the source of these tropes. Thus, religious ritual is seen here not as the projection of

an ideal of social life but as a battle among contrary projections of the social ideal through the selective and tendentious application of tropes.

For the same reason, it is impossible to understand Oyo religion (or, for that matter, any central process in the negotiation of social membership and hierarchy) without recognizing that all assertions of meaning vary on a continuum of "entrenchedness"; the substance of much ritual transformation and historical change is the tropic extension of old entrenched signs to new, unentrenched projects. Moreover, ritual transformations and historical changes are created, and limited, by which social groups will and which social groups will not embrace cer-


tain tropes as conventional, entrenched or entrenchable statements of

fact. Thus, ritual tropes are neither mere repetitions of the conventional nor mere acts of poesis or creativity. They are competitive struggles to postulate the truth. Some analysts, however, are deaf to metaphor and the politics of its variable acceptance as truth.

A "Genderless" Society?

Yoruba people and their ancestors have always had multiple and rival choices of how to represent their histories, and of how to debate them: historical narration is politically motivated, and debate must be regarded as an essential element of such narration. This ethnography has now become part of the debate, with ongoing consequences for how Yoruba people continue to re-narrate their history and coordinate their present-day lives.

The most frontal challenge to my argument in Sex and the Empire comes from Yoruba-American sociologist Oyeronke Oyewumi, who, in an incendiary critique of Western racism and sexism, offers Oyo- Yoruba society as proof that a society can be free of both. She thus confronts Western chauvinists, including the feminists who condescendingly preach reform to Africa, and takes them down a peg. Under the radar, Oyewumi provides a mythic charter for the transformation of the patently sexist lifeway that prevails in today's Yorubaland and its U.S. diaspora, This metaphoric argument for reform depends for its credibility on the nationalist conviction that all of this modern sexism originated from European colonialism. Thus, in Oyewumi's text, insiders who question



the historical accuracy or ethnographic balance of her views are garrotted for their treason. Outsiders who might doubt her truthfulness or question her authority to excommunicate Yoruba dissenters are preempted with autobiography-Oyewumi is a princess, and the daughter of a very important monarch. We are not expected to wonder how this privileged status might have exempted her from some forms of sexist oppression, or to infer that a black immigrant who occupied such a high status in her homeland might be expected to demand respect from her shockingly racist North American audience by idealizing her culture of origin.

Oyewumi asserts, "Yoruba society did not make gender distinctions and instead made age distinctions" (1997:157). She offers as proof the report that, unlike their English counterparts, the Yoruba words for "child" (QmQ), "monarch" (Qba), "junior sibling (or cousin)" (aMra) and "senior sibling (or cousin)" (egbon), as well as the Yoruba personal pronouns, fail to distinguish male from female referents.

Contrary to Oyewumi's assertion, Yoruba language is rich in other gender distinctions, such as "man" (Qkunrin), "woman" (obznrin), "mother" (lya), "father" (baM), professional titles (e.g.. lya OI6tfj?, ["female foodseller"] and BaM ~lfran ["male butcher")), and titles of authority (e.g., baaI~ ["(explicitly male) non-royal quarter or town chief'], baaIe ["(explicitly male) head of household"], iyale ["senior wife"], and iyal6de ["(explicitly female) chief of the market"]). In Yoruba society, leviratic marriage was common well into the 20th century, and bridewealthpayment, polygyny and viri-patrilocal post-marital residence remain normative Gust as polyandry remains unthinkable). The husband's family home becomes the primary residence of almost every married woman, who enters the marital home as a de jure minor relative to every person who had been born or married into the household before her arrival. Men normally experience no such mid-life demotion in sociopolitical status.

Oyewumi shows herself deaf to metaphor and to the continuum of "entrenchedness" with the opening assertion that "sex" and "gender" are identical in Western studies of gender (1997:xii). Oyewumi is correct (though unoriginal) in observing that "sex" too is a culture-specific symbolic construct (see, e.g., Rubin 1976; Ortner and Whitehead 1981; Matory 1994), but she exceeds logic by denying that the relatively entrenched

concept of "sex" can become a tropic foundation of the less entrenched categories and behaviore+-i.e., the metonyms and metaphors-that we call "gender." For example, in U.S. society, an anatomical male's conduct or clothing might be characterized as feminine or an anatomical female's conduct or clothing described as masculine. Without a conception of the difference between sex and gender, such a description of sartorial style would be nonsensical.

Thus, the normative behaviors and accoutrements of each sex-that is, the metonymic aspect of "gender" -arc associated metonymically with the more entrenched anatomical categories of "male" and "female." "Sex" is the source and "gender" the target of this metonvm. Similarly, in Yoruba society, when a man wears clothing, jewelry, cosmetics and hairstyles otherwise worn only by women, and is described as a "wife" of the god (in a society in which the only other "wives" arc females married to worldly husbands), the better-known and more "entrenched" characteristics of worldly marriage are clearly being used to illuminate the expected characteristics of the more "inchoate" relationship between priests (of either sex) and the gods who possess them. Thus, anatomical females are the source of a metonymic predication and worldly "wives" are the source of a metaphoric predication about possession


On the contrary, in the service of the argument that Yoruba society is "gender-free," Oyewumi prefers to regard the existence of male "wives" of the gods as evidence that all uses of the term "wife" are equally entrenched and that the term is therefore both detached from any particular anatomical sex and completely "ungendered." Likewise, the fact that a Yoruba wife uses the term QkQ (normally translated by bilingual Yoruba-English-speakers as "husband") to describe both her male connubial partner and his relatives of either sex is taken to mean that QkQ too is a gender-free term, despite the fact that the male connubial partner (the QkQ gidi) is clearly regarded as the paradigm of the category and a wife's relationship with her other affines are defined by her partnership with this anatomically male connubial partner.

It is this same deafness to metaphor that leads Oyewumi to misrepresent my description of male Yoruba priests as "transvestites" as equivalent to my calling them "drag queens" (a term I never used) who practice "symbolic if not actual homosexuality" (Oyewumi 1997:117).

xxviii PREFACE


This manner of reductio ad absurdum argument is clearly more motivated by a homophobic, nationalist political agenda than by scholarship. However, Oyewumi's reasoning deserves a response for two reasons. First, if she is correct in implying that "homosexuality" (her term) is foreign to Yoruba culture, then she has provided prima facie evidence of metonymic gender in that culture. That is, people are restricted in their choice of sexual partners in ways specific to the chooser's anatomical sex. Oyewumi's own evident distaste for any association between her culture and what she calls "homosexuality" is further evidence of gender in her "Yoruba conception."

The less important reason for my response is that even the most transparent misquotations require correction when they enter the public record. In both my dissertation and the first edition of this book, the term "transvestism" is used only to denote its etymological referent-"crossdressing." Most scholars who employ this term know that transvestites can be homosexual or heterosexual. Neither as a scholarly reference nor as a sartorial practice does transvestism denote any particular sexual object choice. In the West African Oyo-Yoruba priesthood, male novices of the orisa possession priesthood conventionally wear clothing, hairstyles and cosmetics otherwise worn normally by women and only by women. I explain this phenomenon not as "symbolic if not actual homosexuality" but in terms of the metaphor-laden terms that describe their role in Yoruba-"wife" (iyawo) and "to mount" (gun). I argue that such cross-dressing affirms the likeness among (1) the husband-wife relationship, (2) the rider-horse relationship, and (3) the god-possession priest relationship. This homology is far-removed from the cultural logic of performances by "drag queens," and nothing in my analysis even hints at such a comparison. Indeed, in the 1994 publication (as in the second edition that follows), I expressly deny any likeness between them.

What I do argue is that, in Brazilian Candomble, the West African homology between wives and possession priests of either sex has been extended to incorporate specifically Brazilian cultural categories of sociosexual conduct. That is, Brazilians have, at least since the 1930s, reasoned that the relationship between a god and his or her possession priest is so similar to the relationship between the active and the passive partners in sexual intercourse that all male possession priests are

suspected of being "passive" homosexuals, or bichas-also known as ades. Instead of evaluating my own Brazilian research findings and the extensive Brazilianist literature that my argument examines, Oyewumi implies that my discussion of homosexuality in the Brazilian orixa priesthood refers to the Nigerian case and declares it the product of my own personal "imposition of ". a foreign model [upon] the Yoruba conception" (Oyewumi 1997:117). Oyewumi thus builds her case for nationalist particularism: neither a foreigner nor the many brainwashed Yoruba scholars who observe gender or gender inequality in Yoruba society, she asserts, are capable of perceiving authentically Yojuba culture as deeply as she does. With regard to the facts of the Brazilian case and its historical connection to the West African orisa symbolism of marriage and "mounting," Oyewumi's approach is to prohibit analysis by hurling insults rather than offering alternative explanations equally attentive to the evidence. This case of nationalist gender politics in the academy is further discussed in my Black Atlantic Religion.

Yet the most important implication of this debate must not be lost: that local ritual actors are not the only ones who choose and selectively highlight or suppress the metaphorical meanings of the past and of present-day ritual action. Scholars do too. Whereas Oyewumi favors a pattern of "highlighting and hiding" (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) that dignifies Yoruba culture according to the homophobic standards of a wide range of nationalisms (Mosse 1985), I seek to understand the cultural history that unites and divides a circum-Atlantic array of orisa traditions. I am less concerned to separate the legitimate insiders from the illegitimate outsiders than to evaluate the semiotic grounds of historical transformations and the ongoing, mutually transformative dialogue among diverse classes of religious interlocutors-some in the same town priesthood and some an ocean apart.

Our hermeneutics, in sum, reflect our respective agendas. In my model of the transnational "struggle for the possession of the sign" that constitutes culture, Oyewumi's long-distance nationalism is hardly an oddity. Moreover, the foreign observer and the local traitor, who must be de-legitimized to preserve the official truths of the in-group, are critical interlocutors in the creation of arguments like Oyewumi's and in the self-legitimation of their spokespersons (see Matory 2004). This book centrally examines the royalist highlighting of marital and equestrian


metaphors in the Oyo- Yoruba possession religions, particularly as they draw upon and influence the quotidian gender arrangements of this Yoruba sub-group. This Oyo royalist strategy is contrasted with the rival Oyo republican highlighting of the equally gendered symbolism of iron-based hunting, warfare and transportation technology. In keeping with my central argument, these long-running models in no way exhaust Yoruba people's options for the use of sex and procreation as tropes-whether as metaphors or litotic anti-types-to describe and prescribe social order.

The disagreement between Oyewumi and me affirms a further useful point: not all social categories and struggles that appear to speak the language of gender are mainly about differences of opportunity between men and women; sometimes they concern the relations between husbands and wives; and sometimes they serve primarily as metonyms in the struggle for in-group solidarity, authority and monopoly over profitable areas of professional (and, in this case, scholarly) endeavor. Sometimes the concealment of an ethnic or national group's gender matters, and the flagging of outsiders' inability to understand these innermost parts of in-group identity, are in effect demands for respect and authority long denied (see Sommer 1999). Unfortunately, certain parties' demands for respect and recognition come at the expense of others' equal right to the same.

Since 1994

This book was originally completed in August 1993. When I returned to Igboho in 1995, several of the leading actors in He Orugboho=including Titilayo, the proprietor of Ol6w6 Bar-were abroad conducting trade. By 1995, the elderly priestesses who led in the worship of Yemoja in Oke Igboho and served as my chief instructors in this rich traditionthe two arumi Yemoja (possession priestesses) and the MQgba Yemoja (non-possession priestess)-had died, and the Onigboho throne remained unoccupied due to an unresolved "chieftaincy tussle." Hence the priestesses could not, in principle, be replaced.

Elsewhere in Nigeria, 1 heard stories of monarchs who had refused to undergo orisa-related elements of their coronations, out of respect for Abrahamic religions that had been embraced more and more fervently,


and violently, in the Nigeria of the 1990s. Some Nigerian scholars therefore wondered out loud if orisa religion was breathing its last breath, to be replaced by Islam and a new brand of passionate Pentecostalism. The death of the orisa in Nigeria seemed as inexorable and as massive as their popularization in Latin America and its North American diaspora.

However, my return to Nigeria in 2003 was also the occasion of an enormously well-attended annual festival in the town of Osogbo for the orl$a Osun, The festival hosted tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Nigerian orisa priests, as well as a stream of Odudua People's Congress (O.P.c.) members converging from cities-all over the southwestern Nigeria. This major nationalist organization had been founded in the 1990s in reaction to what was perceived as the Hausa-Fulani persecution of the Yoruba and as a breakdown in urban law and order. Whereas the orisa had long served as emblems of town affiliation in a sort of "civil religion" (as Robert Bellah and Jacob Olupona put it), the massive presence of the O.P.c. at the August festival in Osogbo suggests that the orisa have resumed their place as major emblems of Yoruba nationalism.

A de-ritualized representation of Odudua, orisa and mythic forefather of the Yoruba kingdoms, had long served this function for Christian Yoruba, just as the orisa generally served the cultural nationalists of the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance in the 1890s (Matory 1999). However, the O.P.c. has now brought an orisa ritual of blood sacrifice and spirit possession to center-stage in the articulation of Yoruba national identity.

My 2003 visit also coincided with a rare but much-celebrated i;:y<) masquerade festival in Lagos, occasioned by the coronation of that new Yoruba capital's latest monarch. And my visit followed the election of the country's first Yoruba president to his second term, which many Yoruba people regarded as a mixed blessing, because President Obasanjo appeared to have tolerated the annulment of the 1993 elections that would actually have placed Moshood Abiola, another Yoruba man, in office. Once elected, Abiola had been placed in prison, where he died under mysterious circumstances.

However, eleven years later, President Obasanjo called Yoruba Ifa diviner Wande Abimbola back from the United States (where he had become a professor of African studies at Boston University and a leading priest) to take a Nigerian cabinet post-Special Presidential Adviser


PREFACE xxxiii

on Traditional Affairs. The appointment received nationwide media attention in Nigeria. Abimbola's federal appointment advances a general trend-one that first took hold in Benin Republic even before it reached Nigeria. Of course, there are internally African reasons for these developments. In the Beninese case, the official resurrection of the vodun gods accompanied the general rejection of Kerekou's Marxist authoritarian government, but it also became an intentional means of drawing New-World religious tourists and of demonstrating Benin's centrality to a sacred transnational network incorporating Haiti, Brazil and the United States as well. In recent years, Nigeria has been victimized repeatedly by violent Muslim-Christian clashes. Some Yoruba intellectuals regard respect for indigenously Yoruba culture as a singular remedy to both cultural imperialism and the deadly social divisions that the Abrahamic religions have brought to the doorstep of Yoruba society (O.E. Fatoye-Matory, personal communication, 6/11/04). On the other hand, the flow of New-World religious pilgrims, filmmakers, and liturgical objects through Nigerian airports is unmistakable, and the traveling Nigerian bourgeoisie is increasingly aware of the esteem that its ancestral religions enjoy overseas. We find telling evidence of NewWorld influence in the fact that the first appointee to the post Special Presidential Adviser on Traditional Affairs was called back from overseas, where he has become the foremost figure in the building of an international consortium of orisa-worshipers. Thus, Abimbola is both a symbol and a medium of a new sort of metaphoric "feedback"; the celebration of the African gods in the New World has now apparently echoed back to the Old, and inspired some leading West African Christians and Muslims to embrace and elevate traditions that, only a decade earlier, had appeared moribund.

Finally, my mother died in 1995, followed by my Uncle Badejo in 1996. Not only had Uncle Badejo introduced my parents to each other some four decades earlier at Howard University, making my existence possible, but he had also shepherded me through my first fourteen years of research on Nigeria and acted on my blood parents' behalf in my marriage to his countrywoman, my wife Bunmi. This second edition of Sex and the Empire is therefore dedicated not only to my wife but also to my beloved and heroic mother, Deborah Love Matory, and to my third parent and guide Oluremi Olubade]o Adebonojo, M.D.


1. Also, Peel writes, "Daniel Olubi, the Egba pastor of Ibadan for over thirty years, wrote there were three principal gods with rites in which 'the whole town' was engaged: ... Orisa Oko (god of the farm), ... Ogiyan ... and ... Oke'badan ('Ibadan Hill')" (Peel 2000:109). Peel second-guesses Olubi's failure to mention Sango, because the Oyo people are so famous for worshiping Sango (Peel 2000:11D). But, after 3D years of experience, Olubi just might have been right.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful