Africa's Ogun: Old World and New

Africa's Ogun: Old World and New

Africa's Ogun: Old World and New

Africa's Ogun: Old World and New


The second edition of this landmark work is enhanced by new chapters on Ogun worship in the New World. From reviews of the first edition:

“ . . . an ethnographically rich contribution to the historical understanding of West African culture, as well as an exploration of the continued vitality of that culture in the changing environments of the Americas.” —African Studies Review

“ . . . leav[es] the reader with a sense of the vitality, dynamism, and complexity of Ogun and the cultural contexts in which he thrives. . . . magnificent contribution to the literature on Ogun, Yoruba culture, African religions, and the African diaspora.” —International Journal of Historical Studies


This enlarged version of Africa’s Ogun comes at a special moment—a time when the flow of ideas and peoples from one continent to another is producing a crescendo of reinvented traditions, novel representations, and fresh ideas about how the world has been and, perhaps more important, should be making itself. the second edition captures the spirit of these accelerated processes with five new essays and a new introduction—all centered on Ogun, and for the most part written to portray his new meanings and expressions at their creative peak.

The impetus for a larger volume emerged from the pleas of critics and readers for more descriptions and analyses of Ogun’s late-twentieth-century florescence and for more insights into Ogun’s nineteenth-century manifestations in West Africa. Originally, the ideas in this volume began to take shape in 1971 when I first began field research in Lagos, Nigeria, and they were periodically reinforced during subsequent research periods in the 1970s and 1980s. Each time I was struck by the vitality of certain religious ideas and practices and their adaptation to contemporary African life. Ogun, the ancient god of iron, warfare, and hunting, stood out in this respect, for his cult and the ideas espoused in it were alive, expanding, and flourishing. in present-day Nigeria his realm had extended to embrace everything from modern technology to highway safety— anything, in fact, that involved metal, danger, or, not incompatibly, political resistance.

In searching for an explanation for Ogun’s vitality, I was led to his past, which, upon investigation, and certainly not surprisingly, revealed that Ogun embodied a core of Pan-African themes about human nature, conflict, and change that were basic to the construction of the world view of many peoples. in the Guinea Coast region of West Africa these ancient ideas remained as mere concepts in some societies whereas in others they eventually crystallized in the god Ogun and his cult. Later, as a result of the slave diaspora, some of these ideas were given a place in the reconstructed traditions of African descendants in the New World and, in time, in the lives of the peoples with whom they were coming in contact.

Ogun thus presented a challenging vehicle for examining issues that are categorized under the heading of continuity and change. Given the overwhelming dominance of global religions such as Islam and Christianity, how does a deity such as Ogun survive? How is it that he can appeal to an expanding audience? What does he mean to his followers? Is he the same in all contexts and at all time periods, or does he mean different things to different peoples?

These were the guiding questions in an earlier study, Ogun: An Old God for a New Age (Philadelphia, 1980), and at an Ogun colloquium held at the annual . . .

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