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Negotiating gender, power, and spaces in masquerade performances in Nigeria

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Egungun is a Yoruba ancestral masquerade ritual that has been practiced for centuries. Shifting coalitions of individuals and factions have vied for social and political influence through this practice. In the nineteenth century, when western missionaries, explorers, and colonial officials first documented this phenomenon, any individual who could sponsor an Egungun performance was a force to be reckoned with in Yoruba society. To this day, Egungun masquerades are understood as vehicles through which individuals and groups can assert influence in their communities. Western scholars have portrayed Egungun as a hegemonic masculine performance space through which men assert their dominance over women. In privileging the writings of English missionaries, explorers, and colonial officials, we have tended to neglect the oral traditions and histories of specific Egungun masquerades in which women feature prominently. I argue that scholars have oversimplified and misrepresented the complex ways in which these performances are gendered as well as the ways in which they offer women opportunities to shape the identities of the places they inhabit.
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Keywords: Egungun; Egúngún; Otta; Yoruba; gender in Africa; género en África; mascaradas; masquerades; mujeres en África; women in Africa

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of History, Carleton College, One North College Street, Northfield, MN, 55057, USA

Publication date: March 16, 2014

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