Yoruba Identity and Power Politics

Article excerpt

Yoruba Identity and Power Politics. Edited by Toyin Falola and Ann Geneva. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2006. Pp. x, 370; 29 illustrations, tables, maps. $75.00.

In this volume on current trends in Yoruba historiography, the editors, Toyin Falola and Ann Genova, take the work of the Yoruba historian, S.O. Biobaku, as their inspiration. Biobaku made use of contemporary oral texts as well as archaeological and interdisciplinary sources in his approach to Yoruba historiography. Just as Biobaku's work on the Yoruba Historical Research Scheme represented a shift in the foci and methods of Yoruba historical studies in the 1950s, the essays in this volume represent yet another transition from these earlier historical methods. Specifically, the volume's authors are concerned with historical processes that have helped to shape contemporary Yoruba identities and positions of political power, not only within southwestern Nigeria, but also nationally, regionally, and internationally. Indeed one of the strengths of this volume is its focus on Yoruba societies outside of the areas often studied in earlier Yoruba historical research, with chapters on Yoruba communities in Northern (Usman) and Northeastern (O'Hear) Yorubaland, on the Nigerian-Benin border (Akinyele), in Northern Nigeria (Olaniyi), and in Toronto, Canada (Adeyanju).

Another strength of this volume is the use of unusual source material to elucidate the details of changing cultural identities and political affiliations. Examples of this are found in chapters on the transformation of Yoruba dress, based on evidence in Ifa divination verses (odu) and in oriki praise poetry (Akinwumi), and on the diaries of three late nineteenth-early twentieth-century CMS-trained Yoruba men, members of the Egbe-Agba-O-Tan ("Elders Still Exist Society"), all early cultural nationalists, but whose distinctive personalities are revealed in their writings (Adeboye). These two fine-grained studies, presented in Part I, "Writing Yoruba," are followed by chapters in Part II, on "Chiefs and Tradition," and in Part III, on "Identity and Modern Politics."

One interesting theme emerges from Olufemi Vaughan's chapter on the relations between traditional chiefs and the educated elite during the transitional period of decolonization in the 1950s. …