Rethinking African Indigenous Ritual Festivals, Interrogating the Concept of African Ritual Drama

by Morufu Bukola Omigbule


The postcolonial influence on the study of indigenous African culture is overwhelming. It is one out of many Western scholarly influences that colonial rule brought about in Africa. A good example is the description and evaluation of African indigenous ritual practices in terms of Western conceptions of dramatic experience at the expense of the peculiar character of the ritual experiences. Taken together the full range of the colonial influences reveal the abetting of the subordination of African thought to that of the West; hence, African scholarship remains an appendage of the Western scholarly tradition. Lately, many African and Africanist scholars see the tendency as an anathema that a committed African scholar must treat with abhorrence. This perception is needed in the interest of a more fully centered African scholarship in general and a respectable outlook of the African scholarly tradition in particular. African indigenous ritual performances, a major discursive category in African cultural studies, which have been hazily categorized as a form of drama, thus deserves to be retheorized and recategorized in the light of emerging insights and the ongoing mutating processes of African culture. The present study therefore draws upon postcolonial discourse in identifying modernity, which has subsequently culminated in globalization and the related rather complicated postcolonial condition of Africa. Drawing generally upon ritual discourse and specifically citing the example of the Yoruba, the paper identifies certain improprieties in equating African indigenous ritual festivals with drama while proposing “performance” so as not to stall valid engagement with the cultural phenomenon of traditional African ritual practices.

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M. B. Omigbule teaches literature courses in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. His research interest cuts across oral literature, ritual studies, cultural studies and African literature. He is a fellow of the African Humanities Program (AHP) of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).