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Author: Karin Barber
Title: The secretion of oríkì in the material world
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: The secretion of oríkì in the material world
Karin Barber

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 7, pp. 10-13, 1994
Issue title: Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Texts in Objects
Author Biography: Karin Barber is the 1993-94 Preceptor of the Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities, Northwestern University.

The secretion of oríkì in the material world


It is not only to people that historical memory attaches. Places, also, have marked historical associations, and some places have names derived from these associations. Other places have no such names but are noted as, for instance, the place where Twite crossed the river Luapula; or as the old highway between the royal graves and the original Lunda capital, although no trace of human activity remains. Yet other places abide as monuments; trees are planted over the graves of certain famous men and remembered; ditches were dug around all the former capitals and each is now associated in people's minds with a certain Kazembe; an anthill is remembered as the one upon which the Shila chief Katere stood to keep a look out for the approaching army. Other places, merely by their presence, awaken associations with a man or with a whole series of historical events.... In travel, places and events are a recurrent source of comment and conversation. I have never yet passed Chalalankuba on the Luapula, a stream which takes its name directly from the fact that Nkuba is said to have lain in hiding there, without the whole tale of the adventure being told by my companions (Cunnison 1951:3).

Human habitats are inscribed with social memory. In the Luapula Valley in what is now Zambia, places, according to Cunnison, functioned as reminders of a collective past. People were literally surrounded by the history with which the landscape was imbued. "Les lieux de mémoire" are ubiquitous. [1] In Òkukù, the small northern Yorùbá town on which I focus this discussion, the environment is suffused with stories of the past. What seemed at first a nondescript little place took on, for me, a shimmering overlay of nostalgia as the memory inscribed in river, market, and palace became apparent to me.

What I want to suggest in this paper is that the "memory" or "meaning" so thickly inscribed in the environment is often textual memory or meaning. That is, it occurs in discourses which display an internal connectivity produced by specific generic conventions. The form of these texts does not derive from the place to which the memory or meaning adheres, but from principles governing the type of discourse it belongs to. To understand the significance of "les lieux de mémoire," then, it is necessary to grasp the character of the texts: how they are constituted and how they interact. Because of the textuality of memory, the relationship between "memory" and "environment" can go both ways; just as the landscape may be felt to embody texts, so texts may be felt to embody landscape. In the case which I explore, this two-way relationship between text and place seems to me to have implications for the way political scientists have talked about Yorùbá social and political identity.

In the Luapula valley, Cunnison goes on to show, the historical memories attached to the landscape take the form of ilyashi, a particular type of narrative which—though he does not focus on this—often seems to emerge from or revolve around a key phrase or utterance. In Òkukù, the two principal genres requiring consideration were ìtàn and oríkì, which exist in a symbiotic relationship.

The word ìtàn, usually translated as "history" or "narrative that is held to be true," reveals that memory and place are considered to be mutually constitutive, for it has an inherent implication of spatial extension. Tàn, the verbal root of the noun, means "to spread out." Ìtàn are stories about events: internally coherent accounts of connected, sequential actions usually performed by notable human or spiritual protagonists. They exhibit structural closure, and a tendency to achieve a definite "point," often aetiological. Everyone tells ìtàn, but highly valued ìtàn pertaining to family or town histories tend to be regarded as the preserve of the relevant male elders.

Oríkì, by contrast, are collections or strings of name-like attributive epithets ("praises") which are neither narrative nor descriptive, but vocative. They are addressed to their subject or "owner" and are felt to encapsulate and evoke in some way that subject's essential powers and qualities. In Òkukù they are performed mainly by women. Everything has or could have oríkì—gods, animals, abstract concepts, palm wine, the Peugeot 504—but the most important and elaborated bodies of oríkì belong to individuals, lineages, and deities. A subject accumulates oríkì over time, and the epithets often have no intrinsic connection to each other beyond the fact that all "belong" to the same subject. Oríkì are essentially autonomous nuggets of text, and performances of oríkì are therefore often highly disjunctive, fluid, and fragmented. Oríkì are pervasive, rendered in many different performance modes—chanted, recited, sung—and on many different occasions, from solemn ceremonials to jocular conversation. They are also deeply treasured by their owners. People feel an emotional attachment to their oríkì so strong that they may be moved to tears by a recitation; it is held that babies are soothed by their oríkì, masquerades empowered, men and women enhanced so that they fill out and become what they have it in them to be. There is a sense in which oríkì are felt to be inherent in the subject, animating it and speaking from within. [2]

Many oríkì are compact, allusive, and obscure. Often, their meaning is not apparent until it is explained in a separate narrative which is not part of the performance of the oríkì. Conversely, many tellers of ìtàn weave their narratives around oríkì, using them as springboards, stepping stones, or destinations, so that expounding the meaning of the oríkì is often the "point" of the tale. The interplay between these two textual forms is the key to decoding how "memory" is inscribed in place.

Texts in landscape

In the Luapula valley, Cunnison suggests, the objects around people instigate recollection. People see features of their surroundings and draw histories out of them:

The speaker when reciting a history may actually point with his finger for much of the time in the appropriate direction ... It is very clear, in the history of Nachituti for instance, how each episode is presented spatially; the Shila in the swamps; the saying "We are in the sudd, how can the lion reach us?"; the crossing to Shabo; the meeting with the Lunda at Chilange; the return to Chisenga, and the lying up of Nkuba at Chalalankuba. These places are known to everyone who hears the story today, and clearly vivify, quite as much as the presence of the name and the relationships, the events recounted. This is a common and emphatic feature of all histories.

Similarly, the actual, concrete environment of Òkukù brought stories to mind. Places in Òkukù—rivers, particular trees, features of the market and palace—could evoke ìtàn and oríkì.

For example, when the main river of the area, the Otìn, was in flood in the rainy season, this would sometimes inspire people to talk about the foundation of their community. It is well known in the town that there used to be a forerunner to Òkukù, a great city called Kookin, at a site about two miles from the centre of the present town, and closer to the banks of the Otìn. Its establishment was ascribed to a direct intervention by the deity of the river. It is said that there was a prince from the Èkìtì town of ArámOkO who set out after a chieftaincy dispute to establish a new town of his own. When he and his followers reached the heart of a dense forest, they came upon a great river. The deity of the river appeared to him and told him that if he settled there he would be prosperous. He was to name his first son after the river, which he did: the son, who became the next Oba, was called Otínkanre (Otìn touches something good). This story, and other stories of Otìn's beneficence, are especially likely to come up during the festival dedicated to the deity, when the devotees and other participants walk in procession along narrow footpaths in the deep forest—wading through several tributaries of the river—to reach the riverside shrine.

Other things in this landscape were put there deliberately as a sign or reminder. When the great city of Kookin was sacked by the Ìjesà (which local historians say happened around 1760), it is said that only the Oba and nine of his subjects escaped the massacre. The Oba led them to a new site nearby. He brought with him a branch of the igi Odán (fig tree) that stood at the Kookin market, and planted it in the new settlement of Òkukù "to show where the new market was to be, and to remind people of where they came from." The narrator of this story, Àjàlá Oyèleye, a senior man in the royal family of Òkukù, added, "It was a sign, and it grows there to this day." The fig tree is a thus living mnemonic of the story of the foundation of the town.

Landscape in texts

When people talked about the past, however, the speaker would rarely "point with his finger ... in the appropriate direction," for in Òkukù the "reminders" in the environment were most often not actually present as they spoke. They were often out of sight, inaccessible, invisible, or impossible to locate. For example, there is a tract of forest called igbó Olúgbègbé, Olúgbègbé's forest. It is said to be the spot where an early Oba of Òkukù vanished into the earth after his magical powers—which he regularly used to turn himself into a leopard and terrorise the town—had been discovered and destroyed. On departure, he left behind him some chains, telling his followers that if they pulled on them and called his name he would return. "The chains are there to this day," I was told. "But you can only find them when you are not looking for them".

Memories, inhering in the landscape, also have another and more significant locus: oríkì themselves. It is above all in oríkì that the local rivers, the ruins of Kookin, and other significant landmarks are made present. The compact, gnomic formulations of oríkì become the enduring marks which ìtàn cluster around. The oríkì takes the place of the material object as a "reminder" to which narratives are attached.

When you recite the oríkì of the Òkukù royal family, the first words you say are likely to be:

Ará Odò Oro
Ará Kookin
Native of the River Oro ["River of Wealth"]
Native of Kookin
Place where travellers stop to drink

"Àyàbùèrò" is a peculiar-sounding expression, whose meaning is not readily deciphered. I myself heard it and repeated it for months before I was told a story explaining it. By that time it had a kind of object-like existence for me in its own right, independent of the narrative which gave it meaning. According to Ajíbóyè, one of the historians of the royal family, it alludes to the River Otìn. He quoted it as he recounted the early history of Kookin:

One of Kookin's oríkì is àyàbùèrò. This is because of a famous flood. The river Otìn flowed near the town. One year it rained and rained and the river flooded everybody's backyard and all the hen-houses, goat-pens and dovecotes were carried away. But after about twelve days, when the flood subsided, all the animals were still alive. The river was recognised as a beneficent one and was honoured with the name à yà bù èrò: strangers stoop to drink its waters [lit. "the thing-that-is-stopped-for-and-scooped belonging to travellers"].

Thus the gnomic word expands to indicate an entire scene of flood, escape, communal rejoicing. The word does not contain the narrative within it: the fact that the river was "honoured" with this epithet after she had shown her beneficence could not possibly be deduced from the word itself; and she could have been honoured with the same epithet for some quite different beneficent deed. The name thus serves as a mnemonic for the story rather than a summary of it.

Ajíbóyè used names and oríkì as mnemonics throughout his long narration of the history of Òkukù. The oríkì were like landmarks in his story-telling: he seemed always to be working his way towards one, or taking his departure from one, in his narrative journey. But each one yielded its own separate and coherent story, the condensed formulation sometimes opening up into an extensive tale. His narrative looped back and forth in chronology as different oríkì occured to him—for oríkì, as we have seen, are inherently non-chronological, being performed in any order the singer chooses, just as other more concrete mnemonics such as features of the landscape are simultaneously visible, spread out over space and not over time.

In a sense, then, oríkì are like objects—signifying objects which exist in their own right, and to which narrative explanations are attached, as it were, externally. This feeling is increased when two different, alternative narratives are attached to the same oríkì. There is a passage in the royal family's corpus of oríkì which contains the significant phrase ope derè, "the palm-tree became a boa":

Odún tí Ojúróngbé Àlàó tó wáá jOlókukù
Ope wáá derè lójú Apárá
Apárá odò ilé Oba ni tí won bá wOn mu ní Kookin
In the year that Ojúróngbé Àlàó became the Olókukù
A palm tree turned into a boa at the source of the Apárá
The Apárá, a river of the royal family that people joined them in drinking from at Kookin

When Àjàlà Oyèleye was recounting the origins of Òkukù, he used this oríkì as the key to a significant episode in the town's foundation. He explained how the Oba Àlàó Olúrónke led his fellow townspeople to a new site after Kookin had been sacked in a surprise raid by the Ìjesà. The new town, Òkukù, was close to Kookin, but the settlers found that the river Otìn was no longer close enough. Àlàó Olúrónke made a powerful medicine using a boa constrictor's head, potash, ebòlò vegetable, and salt. He took this medicine outside the town, dug a hole, put it in and covered it with a pot. The medicine changed into a boa, and water spouted from the place. The boa climbed a palm tree and watched the women coming to the stream. This frightened them, but Àlàó told them the snake would do them no harm. The stream became one of Òkukù's principal domestic water sources. (Oyèleye named it as the river Obukú, whereas the the version of the oríkì I quote above gives the name Apárá, another important water source in the present-day town.) But Ajíbóyè explained the same oríkì with an entirely different narrative. According to him, the magical power of transformation exhibited by the Oba Olúgbègbé, who used to change into a leopard, was shared by his younger brother, Ope. Ope used to turn himself into a boa constrictor and terrify the townspeople. The chiefs drove him out into the bush "at ilé Odofin's farm at Òkè Apárá," where he became a small river, which is called Opederè (Ope becomes a boa) to this day.

When they were telling these stories, Oyèleye and Ajíbóyè were not walking on the banks of the river Obukú or the river Apárá, nor did they gesture in the direction of either of these rivers as they talked. It was the oríkì—a consolidated and memorable phrase associated with Òkukù's past—which provided the reminder and the starting point for their narrations. The fact that each told a different story highlights the self-contained memorability of the phrase, independently of its interpretation. The autonomy, compactness and obscurity of many oríkì enhance their capacity to act as the grit in the oyster of narration.

It is these words, then—frequently cited in performances of oríkì addressed to members of the royal family—that instigate the telling of the story, rather than the legendary palm tree or the real river. And rather than the landscape inciting the stories, it is the stories which create the landscape—a landscape marked by tokens of significant presences.

The inscription of this landscape is an inscription of royal power. "Memory" in the form of oríkì and ìtàn is not equally the property of everyone, nor is it evenly distributed over the environment of Òkukù. It reflects and upholds those political forces which are perceived as locally generated. Thus, no ìtàn or oríkì, to my knowledge, accrue around some of the most salient buildings in the town: the railway station, the Grammar School, the Post Office, the Local Government Secretariat, the Police Station, the Magistrate's Court, or the two big churches and the mosque. These buildings were all constructed during the colonial period, and are the locus of colonial power and influence which has its sources in institutions outside Òkukù. The Obas Oyèkúnlé (1916-34) and OyinlOlá (1934-60) are praised for having "brought" most of these modern institutions to Òkukù, but the buildings themselves do not habitually evoke narratives. People do not point at the Post Office and cite an oríkì or begin to tell a story.

The stories and oríkì that are attached to the environment are stories of a royal history which can only be told by members of the royal lineage. Their identity was imprinted on the whole River Otìn area over which Kookin, and later Òkukù, held sway before the ÌlOrin wars destabilised the region in the second half of the nineteenth century. The foundation of Kookin, the beneficence of Otìn, the attack by the Ìjesà, the founding of Òkukù, the diversion of the river, the exploits of the early, magical Obas—these are all histories which members of non-royal lineages deny knowledge of. They say that stories belong to ilé Oba, not to them. "Go and ask the Oba, he is the one who has that story," Their own histories begin elsewhere, and recount how their own ancestors brought them from some other town to join the Oba at Kookin or Òkukù. The Oba is not only the "owner of the land" and the head of the town, he is the owner of the memories and stories that inscribe that land and town. Other people are aware of them, but do not take it upon themselves to reproduce them. [3]

It is only in the oríkì of ilé Oba that landscape of Kookin and Òkukù is alluded to. In all these allusions, a metaphysical idea of location is overlaid upon that of a real, known place. Kookin and the river Otìn represent origin, eternal authority and final resting place. When an enthusiastic performer urges her listeners to plunge right into the river Otìn, she does not mean it literally. She is reaffirming the notion that members of ilé Oba enjoy the privilege of "owning" the river because they "own" the kingdom:

Let's go to the indigo pool, let's go to the indigo pool
You swimmers who know how to swim in the Otìn
Let's go to the indigo pool
Àkànjí Ajíbóyè my father, let me go home with you, native of Kookin

Going to the indigo pool (the name of a deep, very dark pool in the river) means celebrating the prestige of those who claim the locality as their own. Kookin is a name that confers the authority of origin. Thus, one performer hails a nineteenth-century Oba with the words "Òun náà páà lOlókukù ni Kookin": He too was the Olókukù [Oba of Òkukù] in Kookin. Clearly, by the time there was an Olókukù, Kookin no longer existed; when she says "in Kookin" she is evoking not the historical town that was destroyed in the eighteenth century, but a perpetual emblem of royal continuity and authority. If the royal lineage founded Kookin, they can also be pictured as returning there on death. Kookin becomes a metaphor for the other world. A performer refers to the royal dead as follows:

All of them entered the earth
They went home to Kookin.

Places of origin

So what about the other ilé ("lineages," compounds [4]) in the town? In narratives of the past, they all trace their origin to another city. They tell of the reason for their departure, their journey—often with intermediate stops on the way—and their arrival in Kookin or Òkukù to join the Oba, who allocated land to them. They often say that they "brought with them" their own chieftaincy title, religious cult, and taboos. These are the insignia that mark them out as a constituent political unit in the town. Every present day Yorùbá town is made up of a cluster of ilé (houses, lineages), each of which claims separate origins in a different ancient town. Their identity vis-à-vis their fellow-townspeople is established through allusion to this origin. The "ancient towns" from which they say they came are widely scattered around northern and eastern Yorùbáland: Ofà, Oyo, Ìkòyí, Erìn, Àrán-Orin, Ìwàtá, Ìrè, Òmù. Some of these cities were destroyed in the 19th century wars or in earlier conflicts. Others were destroyed and rebuilt on new sites (one town history of Ofà recounts nine different Ofàs before the present one).

The "ancient place of origin" is called the oríle, and it is a highly potent source of identity. Groups of people from the same oríle are scattered across many present-day towns. They continue to recognise each other as "one people." They often share the same facial markings. However distant they become, they are forbidden to intermarry; they often observe certain ritual obligations, for instance at funerals, to each other. But what keeps this identity alive is not the existence of the actual, ancient town. Even if it is still standing, people do not try to go back there to worship their remote ancestors or bury their dead. As a physical location, the oríle has little significance. It is—like the royal lineage's notion of Kookin—a metaphysical concept of place. Where this place exists, above all, is in oríkì oríle: the oríkì of the place of origin. These oríkì are almost wholly devoted to presenting and elaborating the theme of the distinctive characteristics of the ancient city and its inhabitants. It is evoked as a cluster of concrete landmarks and hallmarks. Each oríle is evoked in terms of its physical properties—trees, rivers, rocks—and the characteristics of its population—their skills, occupational specialisation, taboos, cults, facial markings. The physical features are those that can be seen as saturated with the distinctive qualities of the inhabitants.

Oríkì oríle are the most potent of all oríkì, the most deeply cherished, and the most capable of empowering and enhancing people when they are addressed to them. It is oríkì oríle which move and gratify people so much that they give the praise singer all their money, or tear off their gown and give that instead.

But it is not actual consociation in the town of origin that gives rise to this strong identification. Indeed, it could be said that absence is the condition of its possibility. Oríkì oríle are performed in genres which are "wept" (sun), "called" (pè), "cried out" (ké). They seem to be a lamentation for loss and departure as well as an affirmation of the continuity of identity. This suggests that it was when people were away from their place of origin, moving amongst people of other origins, that they evolved the oríkì of origin as a full-blown affirmation of identity. The landmarks of the city of origin, named and concretely established in the text, are only significant insofar as they are hallmarks of a group of people: marks that distinguish them from other groups. They are often celebrated precisely for their exclusivity:

How many rivers are there that no-one can share with me,
In the place where my mother was born?
There are three rivers that no-one can share with me there.
Who would dare draw water from River Òre with me?
Who would dare rinse their feet in the Awe with me?
Laughing-face Àlàke, who would dare wash their face with water from the Àdálá with me?
Only someone who has been to the cult place can do it.
That person,indeed, can drink from the Òre ...

These names indicate rivers which "belong" to the people claiming common origin in the ancient polity of Òkò, and they are presented as a challenge and assertion of privilege: outsiders who do not share this oríle warned not to attempt to drink from the rivers.

If oríkì are felt to inhere within their subjects, then the emblematic landscapes of oríkì oríle—the towns, rivers, trees that they revolve around and elaborate—animate the people who claim common descent from there, so that place becomes an inner property of a person.

"Ancestral cities" and local identities

An understanding of the attachment, through texts, to absent other places complicates David Laitin's picture of Yorùbá, local identities (Laitin 1986). Laitin seeks to explain why Yorùbás do not mobilise for political competition along a Muslim-Christian divide, even though the population of Western Nigeria is evenly split between the two faiths. The reason, he suggests, is that there was another and more potent form of allegiance in place: the allegiance to an "ancestral city." This allegiance derived from the precolonial system of city-states, which were culturally and politically distinct, not even recognising a common identity as "Yorùbá" until some time in the nineteenth century. He argues that British indirect rule gave the "ancestral city" a new lease of life as a cultural identity, after its primacy as a form of political organisation had declined with the 19th century wars and the rise of a new kind of polity.

"Ancestral city," then, in Laitin's usage in the first instance refers to what is often described as a Yorùbá "sub-tribe" or "sub-group": groups like the Ìjesà, Èkìtì, Egbá, Ìjebú, and Oyo. He is right to prefer a term which powerfully evokes a concept of town, rather than one which privileges the idea of the segmentary lineage system. But though his whole point is that such identities are not "given" but made—and made in particular historical circumstances—"ancestral city" in Laitin's usage turns out to be very "tribey" in its general implications. What he does is forge a monolithic, singular entity out of several types of reference of very different scope. What is an "ancestral city"? At some points in Laitin's description it just means a person's home town, that is, the place where they were born and grew up. At other points it can mean a broad regional-cultural identity. At one point he suggests that it is a place associated with ancient origins (so that even individuals or whole lineages who have been away from the ancestral city for generations still hark back to it); at another point he suggests that it does not have to be very old: farm villages built outside towns may become ancestral cities as they acquire institutions and a permanent population of their own. People of the same "ancestral city" in his account share an actual place of residence, an ancient localised origin, a distinctive set of religious practices, a dialect, facial markings, old political boundaries remembered from the past; more than once Laitin even suggests that these boundaries also at one time demarcated a single kin group! All these references—which actually demarcate disparate, overlapping, and crosscutting categories people of widely different range and scope—are assumed to be coterminous in Laitin's model. It conflates past towns, present towns, towns of residence, towns of origin, clusters of contiguous settlements, and huge cultural-dialectal areas which may have encompassed numerous "kingdoms" in the past. This is a simple reduction of what is always a relational sense of identity which expands, contracts, and shifts its reference according to context. But the important point, for the purposes of this argument, is that every present-day town, in the northern and central Yorùbá areas, is made up of numerous ilé—"lineages" or "compounds"—which, with the partial exception of the ilé of the Oba, identify themselves in terms of an origin outside the town they live in. As we have seen, when it comes to origin they disown the town they live in and appeal to a distant and often no longer existent place—a place which exists in texts, which in turn are felt to exist within their owners, as an animating principle. People's most profound sense of themselves and their place in the world, inculcated from babyhood and evoking deep emotional responses, is based on attachment to an absent, other place which joins them with huge swathes of "kin" they have never met, but whom they recognise through cherished emblems of identity which often include taboos, facial markings, and religious practices, and which always include oríkì oríle. This is not to deny the power of the many forms of attachment people have to their actual "home town"—the town they and probably their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers were born in. Laitin is quite right when he speaks of the strength of people's bond with their home area, and its significance in political mobilisation. But this identity is never monolithic. Laitin describes the joys of returning to one's "ancestral city" after making good in the big world outside:

Yorubas who live in anomic cosmopolitan centres such as Ibadan or Lagos derive great pleasure on return to their ancestral city to see people bowing to them, and to have praise singers follow them through the town extolling their origins and worldly successes (Laitin 1986:120).

No doubt. But what are the "praise singers," who follow the successful returness through the town "extolling their origins," actually saying? They are almost certain to be evoking the returnee's oríle, and thus uniting him to the people with whom he shares it: his ancestors, his ilé, and beyond that, swathes of scattered, unknown "kin" who share with him a sense of common place of origin. This identity is important precisely because it divides those people who live together in one town; not only does it differentiate them, it also holds open the possibility of other solidarities, other groupings, and allegiances. The determination to preserve alternatives—whether they are taken up or not—is the key to identity and to political and social action in general in western Nigeria. The extraordinary persistence of the idea of the oríle, and the central place it is given in people's conceptions of themselves, suggests that a certain kind of "otherness" is an asset.


Amalvi, Christian (1987) Review of Tome II of Les Lieux de Mémoire, La Revue Historique, 1987, vol. CCLXXVIII (171-2).

Barber, Karin (1991) I Could Speak Until Tomorrow: Oríkì, Women and the Past in a Yorùbá Town. Edinburgh University Press.

Beier, Ulli (1982) Yorùbá Beaded Crowns. London: Ethnographica.

Cunnison, Ian (1951) 'History on the Luapula: an Essay on the Historical Notions of a Central African Tribe.' Rhodes-Livingstone Papers, 21.

Eades, J.S. (1980) The Yoruba Today. Cambridge University Press.

Gbadamosi, Bakare (1965) Oro pelú àwOn ìdí re.

Laitin, David (1986) Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change among the Yoruba. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nora, Pierre (dir.) Les Lieux de Mémoire: Tome I: La République (1984); Tome II: La Nation (3 vols. 1986); Tome III: Les France (3 vols. 1993). Gallimard.

Yates, Frances (1966) The Art of Memory. Chicago University Press.

1. "Les lieux de mémoire" was a phrase originally used to describe only imagined, mnemonic places. Classical, medieval and Renaissance rhetoricians and orators mentally ordered and disposed their material by placing each topic or sub-topic in an imagined structured space—often a "room" in a "house" through which they would mentally walk in the course of delivering their oration (Yates 1966). But Pierre Nora and his associates have recently extended this specialised concept. They have treated "les lieux de m,moire" as a continuum of actual places—buildings, monuments, territorial boundaries, landscapes - and represented and imagined places, along with all kinds of other loci of memory, both material and immaterial (Nora, 1984, 1986, 1993; Amalvi 1987). In them are inscribed larger notions of ideological "place": "La Republique", "La Nation", "Les France".

2. A beautiful story in GbadamOsi (1965) illustrates what I mean by this. There was a man called Alátise: in full, his name was an oríkì: Alátise-níi-màtise-araa-re, meaning "The person with a problem to be solved is the one who knows how to solve it for himself". He was rich, with many wives, but then things began to go wrong; he became impotent after having only one child, and he also went blind. One day a dove, fleeing from a hawk, took refuge with him and promised to restore his eyesight if he saved her. The hawk, ravenously hungry, offered to restore his potency if he would give up the dove. His wives gave him conflicting advice, and Alátise did not know what to do, until he suddenly "saluted himself with his oríkì—'The one with a problem is the one who knows how to solve it', whereupon a scheme popped into his mind". He sent the junior wife to buy a domestic pigeon in the market, and gave this to the hawk, who was too hungry to notice the difference. Thus he satisfied both hawk and dove, and got both his eyesight and his potency back. From the beginning of the story, his oríkì encapsulate his potential ability to work things out for himself. But it is only when he "salutes himself" with the oríkì that he becomes what the oríkì say he is, a self-reliant problem-solver. Thus, when he calls his own oríkì within him, it responds and he is able to become what his name suggests he is.

If oríkì function as the core or seed of many narratives, then, they are also seen as the core of the subjects to which or to whom they belong and are addressed. That is, they are not seen as "epithets" [Greek epí (upon, onto) + títhenaí (to put)], added on externally to objects and people, or "inscribed" upon them as the language of this year's Institute has it. Rather, they are felt to be inherent, in some way constitutive of the character of the subject, encapsulating the subject's potentiality, which is activated when the oríkì are uttered.

3. Of course, this is not to say that non-royal inhabitants of the town attached no memories to their surroundings. When storeyed buildings of cement were built, from the 1950s on, they were often constructed in the middle of the old, courtyard-style mud compounds, which were sometimes partly demolished to make room. Remnants of old compounds dotted the town, living witness to the "great round houses" of "the old days", which old men and women could describe in detail. They remembered which great men of the previous generation lived in which or¡gun ("corner") of the compound, and would go on to tell stories of their significant deeds or recite their oríkì. My point here is that the extensive, elaborated narrations of Òkukù's past and the oríkì which are their mnemonics do belong exclusively to the Oba's lineage.

4. See Eades (1980) and Barber (1991) for a discussion of these terms, neither of which does justice to the complexity of the Yorùbá concept of ilé, which combines notions of kinship and of locality at a profound level.

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