Power and Performance: Ethnographic Explorations Through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba, Zaire

Power is eaten whole ( Le pouvoir se mange entier ). In 1985 the distinguished anthropologist Johannes Fabian, engaged in fieldwork in the Shaba province of Zaire, first encountered this saying about power. Its implications - for the charismatic religious movements Fabian was examining, for the highly charged political atomosphere of Zaire, and for the culture of the Lub peoples - continued to intrigue him, but its meaning remained elusive. On a later visit, he mentioned the saying to a company of popular actors, and triggered an ethnographic brainstorm. They decided it would be just the right topic for their next play. This book examines traditional proverbs about power. Above all, it relates how the performance of Le pouvoir se mange entier was created, rehearsed, and performed by the Troupe Mufwankolo. The play deals with the issue of power through a series of conflicts between villages and their chief. Both rehearsal and performance versions of the text of this drama are included, in Swahili and in English translation. Observation, to Fabian, is itself a social process so throughout, he and the actors worked together to enact, analyze, interpret, and concretely unpack the meanings of the saying. The result is a book containing reflections, asides, evocative descriptions of settings and events, yet with a continuing concern for the limitations of the ethnographer's perspective and of the power relations that are never absent from ethnographic works. Much of what ethnographers study as culture is performance, says Fabian, and his work is an attempt to redirect the anthropologist's work from informative to peformative ethnography. His discussions of collaborative strategy of performance vs text as goals, of translation, and of a host of other issues will enrich current theoretical debates about power, representation and the dialogues of ethnography that go well beyond the immediate African context.