Cambridge-Africa

Dr Dominica Dipio

Dr Dominica Dipio (Makerere University)

Research title: Mother-centered Africa through the Lens of Folktales

Research project: In this research, I examine gender relations in the context of the family, paying attention to motherhood role in African folktales. I scrutinize the thesis of scholars like Cheick Anta Diop, Ifi Amadiume, Oyeronke Oyewumi and Nkiru Nzegwu that Africa is a matrifocal society whereas Europe is patrifocal. Matrifocal societies are characterized by non-linear and non-hierarchical gender relations, where power is diffused, not centered in one gender. These scholars explain that in pre-colonial African epistemology centres of authority were distributed between the genders which balanced each other without hierarchy. Although many African communities are patrilineal, and contemporary society has centered power in men, I argue that in the internal logic (paradigmatic structure) of the stories, the woman, as mother, remains at the centre of the story; and the relationship between man and woman is characterized by co-responsibility and reciprocity. I use folktales as rich tapestry and store of a community’s tested wisdom to examine the argument of Africa’s matrifocality. Because folktales are as old as its community, and they are performed mainly for transmitting values, I consider them valid cultural repositories to return to in order to appreciate a community’s worldview. My analysis will be informed by the thoughts of the mentioned scholars who interrogate uncritical application of western theories to analyze African experiences. This hindsight is paradoxically meant to be a leap into the future of gender relations in Africa.

Collaborator: Dr Georgina Horrell, Education Faculty