An Intimate Rebuke: Female Genital Power in Ritual and Politics in West Africa

(Duke University Press – November 2018)

Throughout West African societies, at times of social crises, postmenopausal women—the Mothers—make a ritual appeal to their innate moral authority. The seat of this power is the female genitalia. Wielding branches or pestles, they strip naked and slap their genitals and bare breasts to curse and expel the forces of evil. In An Intimate Rebuke Laura S. Grillo draws on fieldwork in Côte d’Ivoire that spans three decades to illustrate how these rituals of Female Genital Power (FGP) constitute religious and political responses to abuses of power. When deployed in secret, FGP operates as spiritual warfare against witchcraft; in public, it serves as a political activism. During Côte d’Ivoire’s civil wars FGP challenged the immoral forces of both rebels and the state. Grillo shows how the ritual potency of the Mothers’ nudity and the conjuration of their sex embodies a moral power that has been foundational to West African civilization. Highlighting the remarkable continuity of the practice across centuries while foregrounding the timeliness of FGP in contemporary political resistance, Grillo shifts perspectives on West African history, ethnography, comparative religious studies, and postcolonial studies.

Advance Reviews:

An Intimate Rebuke is strikingly original and unprecedented. Laura S. Grillo’s anthropological investigation positions Female Genital Power as a powerful reminder of the agency of African women as the bearers of moral authority and the embodiments of ancestors.” (Chantal Zabus, Professor of Postcolonial Literatures and Gender Studies at the University Paris 13 Sorbonne-Paris-Cité, France. Author of Out in Africa: Same-Sex Desire in Sub-Saharan Literatures and Cultures) “This remarkable book offers a new and insightful understanding of West African women’s rituals that feature public genital display, highlighting the central role that postmenopausal women have long played in the moral life of their communities. Presenting a complex, detailed, and revolutionary argument, An Intimate Rebuke could change the face of African studies, opening the field to a heightened sense of women’s ritual activism, critical political acumen, and resistance to male tyranny.” (Joseph Hellweg, Associate Professor of Religion & Anthropology at Florida State University. Author of Hunting the Ethical State: The Benkadi Movement of Côte d’Ivoire)

An Early Honor: Selected for KNOWLEDGE UNLATCHED

An Intimate Rebuke was selected by a panel of librarians as one of the books to be included in the 2018 offering of Knowledge Unlatched (KU). KU is an international organization supported by select universities, research institutions and academic publishers seeking to provide free open access to quality scholarly content for readers around the world.

Religions in Contemporary Africa: An Introduction

Co-authored with Hassan J. Ndzovu and Adriaan van Klinken – (Routledge Press – March 2019)

This innovative textbook offers a comparative and balanced focus on each of the three major religious traditions in Africa today, underscoring their role in contemporary society and in relation to today’s most pressing issues. The book is organized in two parts. Part I presents the “Major Religions in Africa” – Christianity, Islam, and African Indigenous Religions – in historical perspective. Part II addresses “Topical Issues of Religion in Africa,” that focus on timely developments on the continent. It includes pedagogical resources for stimulating debate and advancing further research. In so doing, this book will be unusual; it will not only inform readers of the rich history and religious complexity of Africa, but that will also “nurture a future generation of independent thinkers…who not only understand the realities of a changing world, but who also have the ability and skills to implement” that understanding. Collaborative work with co-authors Adriaan van Klinken and Hassan Ndzovu, Durham, NC (2018)