ELITE IDENTITY AND POWER: A STUDY OF SOCIAL CHANGE AND LEADERSHIP AMONG THE EGBA OF WESTERN NIGERIA 1860-1950
Oduntan, Oluwatoyin Babatunde
MetadataShow full item record
By separating the local from the global, extant historiography fails to capture a total sense of how Africans engaged with change in the 19th and 20th centuries. Existing approaches are Eurocentric in assuming that global forces like colonialism, racism, nationalism and capitalism were the only issues that Africans confronted and thought about. A more complete history of social change is one which integrates local concerns and ideas, expressed in local languages and cosmologies, with Atlantic discourses. The history of Abeokuta in Western Nigeria had been written in a modernization model which interprets the Egba past as how a modern missionary-created elite tried to transform the society from a traditional one. By focusing on elite discourses in a wider scope than the modernization premise, a more complex history emerges in which European influence and colonial power were only part of many forces and resources which the Egba struggled over, modulated and coped with. Power in 19th century Abeokuta was invented by the construction of a national identity, history and traditions to legitimize a central monarchy. The interests of ruling elites converged with those of colonial power towards consolidating these innovations and political centralization. However, other displaced elites always contested such constructions. The crises and violence of the early 20th century were therefore not simply anti-colonial resistance. They were complicated expressions of political dissent against local, colonial and global forces of domination, and reactions to socio-economic challenges. Public health discourse reveals that the Egba did not conceive of European medicine as a dichotomous binary to local medical practices. Rather, it represented an addition of choices to a corpus of medical options. Similarly, Atlantic ideas like democracy and modernization were reduced to local understanding such that they correlated to local knowledge. Modernity for the Egba was therefore not about becoming like Europe; but about pursuing life‘s best-options in the variety of free and forceful influences. Egba society was shaped in the multiple struggles among elites advancing various claims and deploying instruments of power. This history transcends the colonial and renders Africans much more fully as actors in the making of their lives and society.