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Governance and Ritual Sovereignty at the Niger-Benue Confluence: A Political and Cultural History of Nigeria's Igala, Northern Yoruba and Nupoid-Speaking Peoples to 1900 CE

  • Author(s): Weise, Constanze
  • Advisor(s): Ehret, Christopher
  • Apter, Andrew
  • et al.

This dissertation provides a political, cultural, and social history of central Nigeria. The time frame spans from the initial arrival of hunting, farming and fishing communities in the fourth millennium BCE until the nineteenth century CE. This work differs from other histories in that it marks the first exploration of religious and political power dynamics of the early history of the Niger-Benue confluence region over the longue dur�e. The engagement of Nupe, Northern Yoruba and Igala polities with regional and global historical processes--involving the political, economic, and social transformations caused by the Trans-Saharan trade, Atlantic economy, and expansion of Islam--is of central concern. Particular attention is given to the post-1500 effects on the Nigerian hinterland brought about by West Africa's integration into the Atlantic world system and their imprint on the production and transmission of knowledge through oral traditions, rituals and festivals.

The dissertation revisits debates on state formation and religious legitimization of power. These findings posit a new approach towards understanding the roles that religious institutions and rituals played in early African history as well as their relationship to an agriculturally defined material basis. It demonstrates that the Niger-Benue states were long characterized by a political order that valued ownership and control over rituals as a source of power and a sign of legitimacy. The expressions of sovereignty changed throughout time in response to local and regional power shifts.

Ritually based authorities, as well as the relations between them and the governing institutions, constituted the critical context for political change while at the same time preserved an archive of past knowledge, which was transmitted into the present and invoked in rituals and oral traditions in two forms: as latent knowledge with hidden meanings, and as present-oriented knowledge that is reshaped according to the heterodox discourses of contemporary political-religious factors. The dissertation engages these political-religious histories from a regional and comparative perspective with the recognition that ritual authority often extended beyond certain polities' jurisdictions. This political-religious fluidity drove historical change in the polities of the Niger-Benue confluence region until the establishment of the nation-state in the twentieth century.

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