“Own the Mask, Own the Town: Contesting Yoruba History, Memory, and Identity” examines a 1996 court case between two families whose claims to power and authority within their community were made through their claims to control over specific masquerade performers in their community's festival. These families vied not only for prestige in the festival, but made claims deeply rooted in the identity of Yoruba people. This presentation demonstrates how this court case draws on claims to ancestral towns. Through this approach, the deeper histories and political functions of Yoruba masking traditions are explored, and the political ramifications of rivalries between peoples deemed the descendants of "royal" or "warriors", "indigenes" or "strangers" in post-colonial Nigeria are revealed.
Thabiti Willis is an Assistant Professor of History at Carelton College. He received his Ph.D. from Emory University in 2008. He spent two years conducting research on the masquerades of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, serving as a Fulbright scholar in 2006. He has participated in international faculty seminars in Cape Town, South Africa. His courses cover the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-independence periods and include such topics as the slave trade, gender and ethnicity, nationalism, expressive culture and performance, and religion as well as the African Diaspora in the Arab world.