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Fusions: Masquerades and thought style east of the Niger-Benue confluence, West Africa

9781872843605 Fusions: Masquerades and thought style east of the Niger-Benue confluence, West Africa, by Richard Fardon takes the masks of West Africa’s Upper Benue River region out of the museums and private collections, where many accumulated in the twentieth century, and restores their cultural and social contexts. Buy this book

The book argues that Benue masquerades deserve appreciation as the materialized forms taken by the thought styles of their original creators and users. Masquerades are ‘theranthropic’: they fuse characteristics of animals with those of living and dead human beings to create entities to perform the powers and dangers inherent in people’s lives.

The subtle variety of the ways that different masquerades, and other performances, achieve this, reveals facets of an understanding of the human condition: of relations between the genders, the living and the dead, animals and people, kings and commoners … . By demonstrating the similarities in both their conceptions and uses, Fusions will change the way readers look at, and understand, the masquerades of the entire Benue River. Longer blurb: Fusions takes the masks of West Africa’s Upper Benue River region out of the museums and private collections, where many accumulated in the twentieth century, and restores their cultural and social contexts.

The book argues that Benue masquerades deserve appreciation as the materialized forms taken by the thought styles of their original creators and users. Masquerades are ‘theranthropic’: they fuse characteristics of animals with those of living and dead human beings to create entities to perform the powers and dangers inherent in people’s lives. The subtle variety of the ways that different masquerades, and other performances, achieve this, reveals facets of an understanding of the human condition: of relations between the genders, the living and the dead, animals and people, kings and commoners, colours, seasons and so forth, shared by the peoples of the Benue.

Part One provides an intensive analysis of Chamba masquerade (of the Cameroon/Nigeria border area), based in fieldwork experience stretching over three decades, as well as accounts both of the history of collection of Chamba masquerades from the earliest colonial times, and of their local formal variation, based on research in museums, private collections and archives.
Attention moves westwards in Part Two to an analysis of Mumuye masquerade, and a bold revisionist reading of the many forms of Jukun masks, before surveying the significance of the now-defunct masquerade traditions of the Jos Plateau of Nigeria.

Part Three moves eastward from the Chamba to demonstrate that peoples who had no masquerades in the strict sense, nonetheless materialized a similar thought style through their use of actual skulls and animals. By showing the similarities in both their conceptions and uses, Fusions will change the way readers look at, and understand, the masquerades of the Benue River region.

Profusely illustrated, and with numerous tables and diagrams, the account guides the reader through what is, in art-historical terms, one of the most celebrated of West Africa’s style regions. Like its companion volume on statuary (Column to Volume, Afriscopes, 2005), Fusions demonstrates the scholarly dividends that come from blending long-term ethnographic familiarity with particular cultures, research in museums and archives, and anthropological comparison based upon a critical rereading of previous writers. The subject and method of this inter-disciplinary endeavour will interest social anthropologists, art historians and collectors, as well as providing the state-of-the-art account of Upper Benue masquerades. Buy this book

Author: Editor

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