New Directions with John Thabiti Willis
Tuesday, June 12, 2018  6:00 PM
Copeland Room, Delaware History Museum - Wilmington
New Directions in African American Heritage


John Thabiti Willis, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carleton College and Associate Editor of the Journal of West African History, will speak on his book, Masquerading Politics: Kinship, Gender, and Ethnicity in a Yoruba Town (2017).

John Thabiti Willis_ Masquerading Politics: Kinship, Gender, and Ethnicity in a Yoruba TownIn West Africa, especially among Yoruba people, masquerades have the power to kill enemies, appoint kings, and grant fertility.  John Thabiti Willis takes a close look at masquerade traditions in the Yoruba town of Otta, exploring transformations in performers, performances, and the institutional structures in which masquerade was used to reveal ongoing changes in notions of gender, kinship, and ethnic identity.  As Willis focuses on performers and spectators, he reveals a history of masquerade that is rich and complex.  His research offers a more nuanced understanding of performance practices in Africa and their role in forging alliances, consolidating state power, incorporating immigrants, executing criminals, and projecting individual and group power on both sides of the Afro-Atlantic world.

Professor Willis invites audiences to approach African history as a journey in collective self-discovery. He and his readers explore names, places, events, and practices that may initially seem foreign and tend to carry a stigma of backwardness.  As a step toward overturning the sense of Africa as a foreign or backward place, he introduces the historical origins and politics of this perspective.  He incorporates secondary literature that identifies it as a consequence of the biases, misconceptions, and exploitations of the continent, whether by westerners, easterners, or segments in African societies for their own parochial interests.

Drawing inspiration from humanistic values in many African societies, e.g. "ubuntu" (which means "I am because we are") in South Africa, he cultivates an informal learning environment in which audiences may come to see themselves as co-participants in reconstructing the African past.  He bridges interactive teaching and international sharing using global web-dialogues with foreign institutions and students to help to cultivate a respectful appreciation of differences and perspectives across cultures.

Thabiti Willis 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.  One of his future projects focuses on how British Victorian values influenced how nineteenth-century Yoruba missionaries viewed the relationship between art and religion.

The presentation will be followed by a book signing, and the book will be available for purchase in the museum gift store.

Reservations requested; click here to reserve.

FREE parking available at 6th and Shipley Street courtesy of Colonial Parking.


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