In Ohafia, Nigeria, histories are danced. John McCall's richly textured and sensuous ethnography, Dancing Histories , focuses on these performative representations of history and ethnicity to suggest new possibilities for theorizing social processes.
Tacking between ethnography and theory, McCall makes the case for heuristic research—research that treats ideas operative on-the-ground as a body of indigenous social theory with explanatory potential equivalent to ideas derived from academic knowledge. Thus, for example, the narrative of a "brave woman" of Ohafia who dresses as a man, has wives, and participates in men's initiatory rites frames the question of transgendered individuals in terms strikingly different from those determined by academic interests. Likewise, rituals that invoke the head-hunting warriors of old in celebration of Ohafia men who succeed in business and higher education challenge assumptions about modernization.
Dancing Histories confronts the intellectual apartheid that has privileged western views, opening a dance of interpretations that resist reduction to a single master narrative. Rather than merely formulating formal models of Ohafia culture, the book uses evocative prose to move the reader toward an understanding of what it is like to live in this part of Nigeria. It will be an important addition to courses on research methods and ethnographic writing as well as more general courses in African peoples and expressive culture.
"The thick description employed by McCall gives valuable insights into local concepts of history, gender, and religion."
—Axel Harneit Sievers, Anthropos, Volume 97 (2002)