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Black Critics and Kings

The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society

How can we account for the power of ritual? This is the guiding question of Black Critics and Kings, which examines how Yoruba forms of ritual and knowledge shape politics, history, and resistance against the state. Focusing on "deep" knowledge in Yoruba cosmology as an interpretive space for configuring difference, Andrew Apter analyzes ritual empowerment as an essentially critical practice, one that revises authoritative discourses of space, time, gender, and sovereignty to promote political—-and even violent—-change.

Documenting the development of a Yoruba kingdom from its nineteenth-century genesis to Nigeria’s 1983 elections and subsequent military coup, Apter identifies the central role of ritual in reconfiguring power relations both internally and in relation to wider political arenas. What emerges is an ethnography of an interpretive vision that has broadened the horizons of local knowledge to embrace Christianity, colonialism, class formation, and the contemporary Nigerian state. In this capacity, Yoruba òrìsà worship remains a critical site of response to hegemonic interventions.

With sustained theoretical argument and empirical rigor, Apter answers critical anthropologists who interrogate the possibility of ethnography. He reveals how an indigenous hermeneutics of power is put into ritual practice—-with multiple voices, self-reflexive awareness, and concrete political results. Black Critics and Kings eloquently illustrates the ethnographic value of listening to the voice of the other, with implications extending beyond anthropology to engage leading debates in black critical theory.

298 pages | 4 maps, 8 figures, 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1992

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Culture Studies


"A welcome exposition of the discursive practices surrounding the place and significance of the supernatural force in Yoruba life."

Sandra Barnes | American Anthropologist

“Apter’s hermeneutical exegesis of Yoruba ritual is a tour de force.”

Robert Gerard Launay | Ethnohistory

Table of Contents

1. The Oyo Empire, c. 1780
2. The Ibadan Empire, 1874
3. Daniel May’s Journey Through Ayede
4. The Kingdom of Ayede, c. 1878
2.1 A Model for the Are Generation-Set System
2.2 Generational Seniority in the Are System
2.3 Centralized Recruitment to the Orisha Ojuna Cult in Ayede
2.4 Devolution of Yemoja Cult Offices
2.5 Kinship and Affinity in Ayede’s Yemoja Cult Pantheon
3.1 Dynasic Succession in Ayede
7.1 Popular Depiction of a Capricious Bush Spirit
1,2. Beaded Olukun Crowns of Ayede and Iye
3. The àta of Ayede’s Ritual Representative
4. Carrying Fire for Orisha Ojuna
5. Yemoja’s Sacred Calabash
6. iyá Sngó Predicting for the Town
7. òsun in the Yemoja Festival
8. The àta During the King’s Sacrifice
9. Yemoja Priestess Emerging from the Bush
10, 11. The àta Embodying the Powers of Yemoja’s Calabash
12. Orisha Iyagba Masqueraders from Ipao
13. A Wife of the Balógun aàfin
14. The àta Returning from Orisha Ojuna’s Shrine
15. The àwòrò of Orisha Olua
16, 17. Sacrifice to Ogun
18. Orisha Ojuna Priestesses Concluding their Festival


African Studies Association: Melville J. Herskovits Award

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