Contesting Meaning and Gender: The Role of Christianity in an African Indigenous Religious Festival
The meanings attached to rituals in many African societies prior to the introduction of Christianity were in some respects fairly uniform in terms of similar worldviews especially with regards to the notion of God and the role of women in religious worship. In contemporary African societies, however, these indigenous rituals tend to evoke mixed meanings and interpretations. Using the Leboku festival in Yakurr communities, this chapter explores the changing meanings, symbolism and gender dynamics of the Yakurr rituals during the Leboku festival and argues that Christianity has strongly contributed to the meaning-making processes on the status and role of young unmarried women in the Leboku festival. ‘Leboku’ means ‘New Yam’ festival and is closely tied to the agricultural cycle of the Yakurr people, as shall be explained later in this chapter. Yam commonly refers to some species in the Dioscorea family. Yams are important starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. Dioscorea rotunda, also called white yam, (Jimoh et al. 2008) is a primary agricultural commodity in West Africa in general and for the Yakurr people in particular.