Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Our mysterious mothers: The primordial feminine power of àjé in the cosmology, mythology, and historical reality of the West African Yoruba
by Williams, Annette Lyn, Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, 2014, 586; 3643206
Abstract (Summary)

Among the Yoruba àjé is the primordial force of causation and creation. Àjé is the power of the feminine, of female divinity and women, and àjé is the women themselves who wield this power. Unfortunately, àjé has been translated witch/witchcraft with attendant malevolent connotations. Though the fearsome nature of àjé cannot be denied, àjé is a richly nuanced term. Examination of Yoruba sacred text, Odu Ifa, reveals àjé to be an endowment gifted to female divinity from the Source of Creation. Female divinity empowered their mortal daughters with àjé—spiritual and temporal power exercised in religious, judicial, political, and economic domains throughout Yoruba history. However, in contemporary times àjé have been negatively branded as witches and attacked.

The dissertation investigates factors contributing to the duality in attitude towards àjé and factors that contributed to the intensified representation of their fearsome aspects to the virtual disavowal of their positive dimensions. Employing transdisciplinary methodology and using multiple lenses, including hermeneutics, historiography, and critical theory, the place of àjé within Yoruba cosmology and historical reality is presented to broaden understanding and appreciation of the power and role of àjé as well as to elucidate challenges to àjé. Personal experiences of àjé are spoken to within the qualitative interviews. Individuals with knowledge of àjé were interviewed in Yorubaland and within the United States.

Culture is not static. A critical reading of Odu Ifa reveals the infiltration of patriarchal influence. The research uncovered that patriarchal evolution within Yoruba society buttressed and augmented by the patriarchy of British imperialism as well as the economic and social transformations wrought by colonialism coalesced to undermine àjé power and function.

In our out-of-balance world, there might be wisdom to be gleaned from beings that were given the charge of maintaining cosmic balance. Giving proper respect and honor to "our mothers" (awon iya wa) who own and control àjé, individuals are called to exercise their àjé in the world in the cause of social justice, to be the guardians of a just society.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chiavola Birnbaum, Lucia
Commitee: Royal, Cathy L., Shaver, Elizabeth
School: California Institute of Integral Studies
Department: Philosophy and Religion with a concentration on Women.s Spirituality
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 76/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African Studies, Religion, Womens studies, Spirituality
Keywords: African traditional religion, Aje, Iyami, Primordial feminine, Witch, Yoruba cosmology
Publication Number: 3643206
ISBN: 9781321305111
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