On the Subject of Kings and Queens: “Traditional” African Leadership And The Diasporal Imagination


  • Al-Yasha Ilhaam Williams


Cameroonian playwright Bole Butake’s And Palm Wine Will Flow presents a dramatic representation of women who challenge a corrupt leadership and rethink the distribution of authority, while German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s essay “A Short Organum for the Theater” suggests that power in societal institutions is maintained or changed by its citizens. Drawing illustrations from Cameroon’s history especially its colonization by Germany, the following discussion of “kings and queens” explores some of the conventions (of what I interchangeably call) “traditional”, “pre-colonial” and/or “hereditary” African leadership and authority systems and its influence on the construction of a Diasporal “imagination”.  I use the term “traditional” not to invoke a philosophical binary with “modern” or “modernism” but to denote indigenous forms of African cultural group identity formation and nation-state governance that predate substantial European colonial influence, which is to say, pre- late 18th and early 20thcentury. This is then contrasted with the “modern” African nation-state which retains vestiges of European colonialism in land redistribution, amalgamated cultural/linguistic groupings and, as I argue, political structure.  For example, on this account, the cultural groupings and leadership of the “traditional” nation-state of Yoruba had a different arrangement than the “modern” nation-state of Nigeria, which fuses Yoruba with other “traditional” nation-states by retaining British land delineations and governmental procedures.