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However, it has not been satisfactorily demonstrated, in my opinion, that structuralist and deconstuctionist approaches are necessarily the most productive in rendering a proper sense of literary texts in their fullness of being, involving a proper conjoining of form and reference.
Jonathan Culler has emphasized the intellectual appeal of structuralist criticism, which opened the way to current trends, as arising from a dissatisfaction with earlier practice, considered as amounting to no more than an exercise in paraphrase, and a compelling need for a more rigorous approach, distinguished by its focus on the text as a signifying system, as a form of code Culler, However, Edward Said has deplored the absence of a sense of history or of social fact in the New New Criticism that has resulted from this exclusive preoccupation with text.
No one who has experienced the penetrating reading by F. Eliot's Four Quartets in his late work, The Living Principle, will be inclined to look down upon or speak with disdain of "Lit. In their focus upon a collective experience, they represent a continuation of the effort begun in a previous collection, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology.
While a common intent runs through the two volumes, I believe it is of some interest to point out certain developmentsPREFACE xithat have a bearing on the composition of the essays in the present volume. In contrast to the essays collected in The African Experience, those presented here, with a single exception, have been written during a period in which I have been removed from my habitual environment, a condition that has involved a physical and mental distance from the primary audience that I assumed I was addressing during an earlier phase of my professional career in Africa: That phase was marked by an effort to formulate lines of approach to what was then an entirely new academic field, so that the dominant preoccupation at the time was with the definition of African literature as a distinctive area of expression, along with its promotion not merely as an academic discipline but also as a form of cultural activity.
In this perspective, the literary criticism that developed as an extension of one's academic teaching was expected to fulfill a double function: It is not clear to what extent the assumptions and hopes I've evoked were based on an illusion, but it is now obvious to me that it is no longer possible to entertain them in a situation where the profession of scholarcritic is pursued in exile. For where before I could envisage African literature as central, or at least potentially so, to an evolving national community to which I felt bound despite the vicissitudes that attended its fortunes, I am now obliged to work with the acute awareness that this literature is largely marginal to the interests of the scholarly and intellectual community within which I presently operate.
This raises the issue of the situation of African literature in the Western academy, a situation that requires to be commented upon insofar as it has a bearing on the possible reception of these essays.
The flourishing of literature by Africans writing in the European languages is one of the significant cultural events of our time, and the African achievement in literature in the past half century or so is underscored by the emergence of African literature as an academic subject. Because the subject was at first treated as a subcategory of the general field of African Studies, it suffered a certain distortion of its true academic significance.
African literary formswhether oral or writtenwere featured in early studies more asxii PREFACEsecondary documents, providing material for other disciplines, such as linguistics and sociology, rather than as literary artifacts in their own right, and it was only gradually that they came to be approached from a proper literary perspective. Even then, African literature has hardly been accorded more than a very minor status in the curriculum of most Western institutions.
In American universities, the subject can be found distributed among various departments, according to the circumstances that have attended its introduction into each institution. This has created a somewhat ambiguous situation for African literature in the American academy. It is true that, apart from cultural and historical reasons that worked against its ready acceptance, the considerable coverage of the field embraced by the term "African literature" itself, with the internal diversity implied by its various definitions, has militated against the kind of neat departmental arrangement that has been found serviceable for the traditional areas of literary study such as those related to English and the continental European languages.
With African literature, which encompasses at least three areasthe oral tradition, written literatures in the indigenous African languages, and in the European languagesit has often been unclear whether the language of expression or the area of reference of the literature should determine the departmental affiliation of the subject. The problem is further complicated by the thematic and historical connections between literary expression in Africa, the Caribbean, and Black America.
Part of the difficulty in finding a proper home, so to speak, for African literature thus derives from the fact that the definition of its boundaries and consequently its status as a discipline have remained problematic. But while these factors have their importance, it seems fair to observe that the ambiguous institutional and academic status of African literature in the American university system has to do essentially with the marginal interest that non-Western literatures in general and African literature in particular have had for "mainstream" scholarship.
In recent years, however, this situation has begun to change, as a result of developments within the Western academy itself that may well turn out to have positive implications for these literatures, including the African. In the past few years we have witnessed a profound transformation of literary studies in the West, with unsettling effects on the traditional conception of literature and the academic organization of its study.
It is hardly a simplification to observe that literature has come toPREFACE xiiibe regarded less as a purely aesthetic phenomenon, enjoying an ideal status in an autonomous realm, than as essentially a mode of discourse that, for all its particular character, shares with other modes of discourse a common ground in social experience and cultural practice Hodge, Moreover, the explosion of theory that has marked literary scholarship in recent times has been closely related to a reappraisal of the entire field of literary creation and has thus provoked a challenge of the established canon.
A concomitant of this process has been the effort of revaluation of what has been called "minority discourses," especially with regard to their literary aspects, which derive from particular forms of experience related to issues of race, ethnicity, and gender.
What is more, at the moment, there is a noticeable trend toward establishing a connection between poststructuralist "deconstruction" of Western systems of thought and institutions as reflected in their dominant discourses and the postcolonial emergence of an expanding and vibrant Third World literature Ashcroft et al.
The result of these developments can be described as a widening of the horizons of literary studies in a process that is bringing these literatures into clearer view, if not into a new prominence, with consequences for literary theory and criticism.
As Said has formulated the matter, "In a sense. For, indeed, the new comparative style is metacritical, transnational, intertextual" Said,viii. I believe I can claim to have worked instinctively, as it were, with the conception of literature and criticism enunciated by Said's remarks. This book will probably be ranged under the rubric of "postcolonial studies," but I hope this convenient label will not obscure its wider connections.
For example, I have not hesitated, where necessary, to stress the dynamic imparted by Western texts to our literatures, an important factor in the historical circumstances of their emergence and modes of existence. This is a factor whose formal character is best conveyed by the term "Euro-African intertextuality," a term that must be understood asxiv PREFACEdenoting not a validating norm but rather an enabling principle in the development of modern African literature Irele, More circumscribed is that other context indicated by the title essay, in which I propose the notion of an African imagination as a general perspective for apprehending in a single vision the various dimensions of Black expression.
The essays that follow may be said to enlarge in varying degrees upon this notion. Given the historical and thematic connections between forms of imaginative expression and intellectual movements in Africa and the Black Diaspora in the Caribbean and North America, a fundamental concern here is to chart the directions of modern expression in Africa and the Black Diaspora, as embodied both in the imaginative and the ideological writings, within the general perspective of an intellectual history that reflects African and Black responses to the encounter with the West.
But apart from exploring the relations that connect the different areas of Black literature, a major burden of these essays derives from the need to formulate a theory of African literature in a comparative perspective, stressing its significance as reflecting a truly heterogeneous and diversified experience of literary form. This has, paradoxically enough, required an insistence on the distinctive features of African literature: The centrality of orality to the African imagination, the original dimension it confers on African forms of expression, has provided the principal means for demonstrating not merely the distinctive character of African literary genres but also their comparative interest.
For this reason, I have had to consider the question of orality in the development of my argument in the title essay, and to confront it directly, so to speak, in the succeeding essay entitled "Orality, Literacy, and African Literature" chapter 2.
I have also found myself having to return to the question in some of the other essays, for example in my reading of The Fortunes of Wangrin in chapter 5, in which I discern a form of counterpoint between orality and literacy as the informing principle and driving force of Hampate Ba's textual practice.
The primary objective in all these forays into theory has been to try and shed some light on a phenomenon that is manifestly an important cultural feature in Africa, in order to facilitate reflection on the fundamental questions it raises for literary scholarship.
There can be no doubt about the necessity for this reflection. It has sometimes been asserted that the insistence in African scholarship on the primacy of orality in traditional African cultures and forms of discoursePREFACE xvhas been motivated by purely ideological considerations.
A notable instance of this view is provided by Eileen Julien who, in a well-known study, proceeds to set up what will strike many as a straw man against whom to direct her challenge of what she considers a racialized conception of oral communication Julien, Taking his cue directly from Julien, J.
Coetzee has gone further and adopted a sneering tone that turns this straw man into pure caricature, when he suggests an association between African theories of orality and a vulgar conception of black masculinity Coetzee, While it is clear to anyone with an inside experience of orality that these views are somewhat incomplete, as with Julien, and totally inadequate, as in the case of Coetzee, one cannot presume to dispel the misconceptions they foster without a demonstration in scholarly terms of orality as a defining feature and significant modality of African expression.
And when one learns, as I have, that an AfricanAmerican university professor had no inkling of the immediate derivation of the Brer Rabbit stories from the African folktale tradition, which he apparently confuses with Aesop's fables, the immensity of the task of information that needs to be undertaken in this area emerges in all its scope and urgency. The seminal work of Kwabena Nketia on the funeral dirges of the Akan peopleIsidore Okpewho on the oral epic in AfricaDaniel Kunene on Sotho heroic poetryand Karin Barber on oriki or lineage poetry among the Yoruba to cite just these examples has demonstrated that documentation and analysis of oral forms can serve as steps toward the elaboration of concepts that enable a proper understanding of the dynamics of oral literature.
For the issue that orality raises for literary scholarship is metacritical, one that goes to the very heart of the status, modes of existence, and cultural significance of speech acts when they assume an imaginative and symbolic function. This observation prompts a final question concerning the place of "theory" in the study of African literature. The question may be understood in either the narrow sense of an examination of the relevance of current theories to the particular circumstances of African literature, or in the wider sense of the potential for the expansion of the conceptual field of literary theory itself through a consideration of the specific forms and functions of this literature in relation to the Western.
The parallelxvi PREFACEimmediately suggests itself here of the impact of the folk tradition on the Russian formalists in the elaboration of their methodological and theoretical studies. The point that needs to be stressed is that the distinctive situation of African literature as a comprehensive field that embraces several conventions of imaginative expression and brings into view different traditions of literary valuation constitutes what one might call a strategic position for gaining a more inclusive perspective on the general phenomenon of literature than is afforded by the established Western canon.
For while the postulate of a universal, undifferentiated experience of literature does not appear to be tenable, it is nonetheless useful, if only from a theoretical and methodological perspective, to examine the lines of convergence that relate various literary traditions to one another despite the differences of language, conventions, and historical development. Literary scholarship thus stands to benefit from bringing African literature firmly within its purview.
The recognition of orality as a valid expressive medium can be seen from this point of view to be a responsibility that is incumbent upon African literary scholars to promote.
But this does not by any means imply a repudiation of literacy, which has served us well in our confrontation with the vicissitudes of history and especially in the imaginative engagement with the dilemma of modernity. They may be thought perhaps to reflect an unusually strong awareness of the function of literature in Africa as a mode of self representation. This may be imputed to the recognition they express of this literature as the channel of an internal discourse of which Africans remain the undisputed subjects.
It has been my purpose to examine African literature as a form of discourse whose suggestive force derives from its recourse to image and metaphor, but in which the symbolic mode by which it seeks to organize experience entails, to borrow Gerard Graff's term, a "prepositional" aspect Graff, For the conception of literary scholarship that underlies and sustains these essays has derived from a continuous engagement with African and Black historical experience as refracted through the prism of literary texts, with all the affective and symbolic charge implied by this form of representation.
In the event, literary criticism has come to represent for me a special mode of intellectual endeavor: Beyond the theoretical and methodological concerns evoked above, I have been at pains, then, to present the imaginative phenomenon in Africa in its referential function, that is, as a central component of the symbolic field of awareness and, hence, as a regulatory factor of the communal experience in Africa.
The term "African Literature" is thus to be taken here in a wider sense than is denoted by the usual reference to imaginative expression. As in other contexts, literature here not only communicates a structure of feeling but also reflects a climate of thought.
The essays in this book are intended to register this irreducible character of the literary phenomenon as it applies to the African world.
In their specific orientation, they seek to place literature within the total framework of life and expression so as to connect it to other forms of the social production of meaning in contemporary Africa. For this reason, every published work has to be considered the outcome of a collaborative effort, either explicitly solicited and welcomed, or recognized as implicit in the informal system of exchanges and conversations that are a part of the collegiate culture the academy has a vocation to promote and sustain.
I have been especially fortunate in the collegiate company into which I have been thrust, especially since my expatriation in While I cannot possibly name all those who have in one way or the other contributed to this volume, it gives me great pleasure to identify at least some of them.
I must begin with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The publication of this volume brings back memories, impossible for me to forget, of the wonderful intellectual companionship that I enjoyedwith my two late friends and colleagues, Richard Bjornson and Josaphat Kubayanda. It is usual for an author to feel a sense of obligation to the institutional libraries that have supported his or her research. Never is any mention made of the bookshops from which some of the books that went into this research were procured, yet they are important to all our scholarly work.
They helped in no small way to ease for me the tension and near desperation of keeping up with the flood of publications in literary studies and related fields. Once again, I owe Ruthmarie Mitsch a special debt of gratitude. She proved as usual a most diligent first reader and editor; she went over the text with a fine comb, so to speak, and compiled the general bibliography.
I'm also grateful to Karen Leibowitz and Stacey Hamilton at Oxford University Press for their forbearance while seeing the work through the production process. To all these named individuals, and to so many others whom it is impossible for me to list here, I wish to express the warmest thanks. Finally, a word about the text. With the exception of chapter 7, which is an expanded version of a paper first delivered as a lecture in Lome, and subsequently as a conference paper in Bordeaux, the essays in this volume have been reprinted with only minor revisions in the form in which they first appeared.
The credits are as follows: Papers in Honour of Albert Gerard, ed. Janos Riesz and Alain Ricard, Gunter Narr Verlag, The Making of a Tradition. Revised and expanded version of the keynote address delivered at the conference on "Tradition and Transition in African Letters" organized by the Common Wealth of Letters at Yale University, April State University of New York Press, New Horn Press, Ahmadou Kourouma's Monne, outrages et defts.
Structure et Signification," in Litterature africaine et enseignement, ed. Jacques Corzani and Alain Ricard, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, Edward Kamau Brathwaite's Masks. Collected Poems and Plays, vii Howard University Press, The New Realism in African Fiction.
My thanks go to the editors and managers of the various journals for permission to reprint these essays in this volume. The African Imagination, 3 2. Orality, Literacy, and African Literature, 23 3. The Making of a Tradition, 39 4. Dimensions of African Discourse, 67 5.
Narrative, History, and the African Imagination: Ahmadou Kourouma's Monne, outrages et defis, 98 7. Return of the Native: Edward Kamau Brathwaite's Masks, 9. Parables of the African Condition: Most notable among these critics was Janheinz Jahn, who proposed the term "neo-African literature" to cover the specific corpus of writings produced by Blacks in the modern age and in the European languages, on both sides of the Atlantic; these writings were distinguished by a fundamental unity not only of reference but also of vision Qahn, His approach consisted of positing a structure of mind common to members of the black race, an informing principle of a collective vision of the world.
This vision was presumed to be discoverable in specific modes of traditional African thought as expounded by scholars such as Placide Tempels, Marcel Griaule, and Alexis Kagame. For Jahn, this structure of mind and this collective vision are manifested in one form or another in the imaginative expression of Black writers, both Africans and those of African descent. Jahn's approach, which derives from the essentialist tenets of the Negritude movement, is summed up in his use of the concept nommo as the operative factor of neo-Africanism in literature: In the United States, a similar preoccupation can be discerned in the effort of the Black Aesthetics movement to identify and account for a specific African-American literary tradition distinguished from the so3called mainstream of the national white literary expression Gayle, While the quasi-mystic dimension of Jahn's account is absent from the formulations of the writers and critics associated with this movement, their effort was also bent toward the clarification of the distinctive quality of African-American literature, in their case by reference to the profound implication of this literature in the Black experience, in terms therefore inherent in its history and framework of elaboration.
In both cases, the larger question of a Black identity provides the background for these efforts, the presumption being that such an identity would find its clearest and most profound expression in works of the imagination produced by Black writers. The title of this book may suggest that my aim is identical to the efforts I have evoked above and so may give rise to undue expectations.
It is, however, not my intention to propose a model of the structure of a racial imaginative faculty nor to demonstrate the impress of a Black identity upon the imagination. I would like more modestly to explore what seems to me a coherent field of self-expression by Black writers in relation not only to a collective experience but also to certain cultural determinants that have given a special dimension to that experience and therefore to have imparted to Black expression a particular tonality.
My position does not of course rule out the possibility that such an exploration may well offer an opening for the elaboration of a distinctive Black aesthetics nor indeed, through the analysis of the dominant modalities of the literary works of Black writers, for the elucidation of the particular structure of mind fashioned by their cultural environment.
My aim, rather, is more modest: In other words, I am exploring a field invested with a particular body of imaginative discourse, marked by both a convergence of themes and a common preoccupation with the modes of address of a new self-formulation. I would like my use of the term African imagination to be taken therefore as referring to a conjunction of impulses that have been given a unified expression in a body of literary texts.
In the first place, our use of the term is posited upon a disjunction between language and literature. Ordinarily, we assume an organic and intimate association between the two. The association between language and literature can be said to be "natural" insofar as language constitutes the grounding structure of all literary expression, so that the unity of a body of literature is most readily perceived in terms of its language of expression rather than by any other criterion.
For historical reasons with which we are familiar, the term African literature does not obey this convention. The corpus is in fact multilingual.
The variety of languages covered by the term can be appreciated by a consideration of the range of literatures in Africa. These literatures fall into three broad categories: It should be noted here that Arabic, though possibly the most widely employed non-indigenous language in Africa south of the Sahara, is usually excluded from our use of the term. What I have called the disjunction between language and literature in our understanding of the term African literature has often been perceived as unnatural.
It was at the root of the controversy that raged in the s concerning the proper application of the term African to the new literature in the European languages, a controversy inaugurated by Obi Wall in his now famous article, "The Dead End of African Literature" Wall, Despite this initial controversy, which surfaced at the dawn of the reception of African literature in the early s, categorization according to languages indigenous to the continent has not yet become so compelling as to inhibit the use of the term African literature in the comprehensive continental sense in which it has become customary to do so.
The reason seems to be that the ethnic dimension suggested by the appeal to indigenous languages does not appear to have received recognition as a determinant in the contemporary political, social, and cultural experience of the continent. This situation leads to the other important association disregarded in our use of the term: The notion that literature is the collective expression of a people in this sense, of their heritage as a constituted national community, is of course an eminently modern one.
Since the s, there has been a movement in African literary studies toward the recognition of national literatures in the new African states, such as Cameroonian, Senegalese, Beninois literatures, and so on Kadima-Nzuji, ; Huannou, ; Bjornson, But while there has undoubtedly emerged a definite sense of corporate identity, often marked by clear thematic and formal progressions, in some of the literatures expressed in the European languages, because of the common interests and involvements that have arisen out of what one might call the "territorial imperative," it remains an incontrovertible fact that the European-language literatures in Africa, for which a national status is being canvassed in each of the states where they have been produced, are not yet generally experienced as having attained such a status, largely because the languages in which they are expressed have at best only an official acceptance.
They are neither indigenous to the societies and the cultures on which they have been imposed nor are they national in any real sense of the word. This must limit the claims to national significance of any of these literatures, however abundant the corpus or coherent the internal configurations.
The present position, then, is that literature in Africa does not quite function in the limited national range suggested by the conventional association between literature and nation save in a few exceptional cases, the most prominent being that of Somalia. Given the decidedly multiethnic and multilinguistic character of African states as presently constituted and the circumstances of the emergence of modern literature in Africaalong with the development of literary studies related to Africa it has not been felt to be either appropriate or functionally valid to employ this micro level of definition or categorization of works.
Today they are grouped together in the general corpus designated by the term African literature. Clearly, Africa is not a nation in the ordinary sense of the term: Objectively, then, where African literature as presently understood is concerned, there is no real correspondence founded upon conventional associations between literature and language on one hand or literature and nation on the other.
Often, therefore, one feels a lack of congruence between the term African literature and the object to which it is applied.
However, when considered from the point of view of reference to a framework of experience, the term acquires a pertinence that cannot be denied. African literature exists and has meaning primarily in the context of a recognizable corpus of texts and works by Africans, situated in relation to a global experience that embraces both the precolonial and the modern frames of reference.
The significance of this continuous scheme for the notion of an African imagination will, I hope, become apparent later in this volume. The point is that, for historical reasons that include important developments in the New World, Africa has emerged as an operative concept, which can be applied to an entire area of existence and historical experience. It is essential to bear in mind that this notion, starting as an ideological construction, has developed beyond this contingent factor to assume the significance of objective fact: The term is thus closely bound up with the emergence in Africa itself of a self-focused consciousness of which literature has been an essential medium of expression.
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The use of the term African literature therefore presupposes an attention to the complex of determinations that have endowed the term African with real meaning, with a special significance for us as Black people. But precisely because of the developments in the New World and their consequences for our notion of Africa, the term African literature itself can be restricting, since it excludes a dimension of experience that brought it into being in the first place.
Moreover, we have seen the difficulties thrown up by its application to the African corpus itself.Things Fall Apart Analysis
For this reason, it may be preferable to employ a term that is both more embracing and more flexible in its definitions. The notion of an African imagination corresponds to this wider scope of expression of Africans and people of African descent, which arises out of these historical circumstances.
In what follows, I shall attempt a pragmatic survey of the field that is covered by this extended term, taking into account the total framework of the imaginative expression that it represents: I would like in short to consider the image of Africa as the figure of an engagement with the world in and through language from a comprehensive historical, ethnic, and cultural perspective.
Despite the disproportionate attention paid to literature by Africans in the European languages, the primary area of what I have called the African imagination is represented by the body of literature produced by, within, and for the traditional societies and indigenous cultures of Africa.
This literature forms an essential part of what is generally considered the oral tradition of Africa, though it does not entirely account for it.
Furthermore, it is a literature that is fully contemporarystill being produced, in various forms, updated in its themes and references, and, what is more significant, integrating influences from the written conventions adapted from the literate tradition of Europe. It is also beginning to employ new technological means of production and performance as the audiovisual media create a revolution in the oral tradition: What the preceding remarks indicate is that, although the traditional literature of Africa in its original form is being increasingly marginalized, it has retained an undoubted vigor.
What is more, its practitioners display a sharp sense of context, which has enabled them to maintain it as a cultural form, open nonetheless to change and adaptation. Its appropriation of modern, Western-derived forms has a peculiar interest therefore as an indication not merely of what Ruth Finnegan has called an "overlap" between the oral and the written in traditional societies in the modern world Finnegan, but also of the strategy involved in what Soyinka has called the "survival patterns" of traditional culture in Africa Soyinka, a, Soyinka's point has to do especially with the creative accommodation to cultural change of traditional forms of drama.
When we consider the impact of radio and television on the production and transmission of traditional literature, the striking fact that we encounter is the interaction, if not fusion, of the three phases or levels of orality distinguished by Walter Ongthe primary, residual, and secondary Ong, For all their undoubted diversity, the manifestations of the imagination in our traditional societies have one common denominator: It is this that accounts for the pervasiveness of the spoken word in traditional African cultures.
This observation has implications for our conception of literature and our values of interpretation. With regard to the oral literature of Africa, I recall the scheme of three levels of orality that I have proposed elsewhere Irele, There is, first, the level of ordinary communication with a purely denotative use of language, as in simple factual statements and commands.
At a second level, we have the forms of orality associated with the rhetorical uses of language, forms that are not necessarily reserved for special situations but are ever-present in traditional African discourse through the use of proverbs and aphorisms, which regularly channel communication in African cultures and therefore provide what one might call a "formulaic" framework for speech acts, discursive modes, and indeed the structure of thought.
As the Yoruba metaproverb puts it: Owe I'esin oro Proverbs are the horses of discourse. Beginning with the white settlers and the creation of their Church, a long process of deterioration within the tribe is catalyzed. Okonkwo is especially resistant to these tribal changes, which eventually culminates to his lashing out in an unmistakable act of violence.
From the initial meeting with the white settlers, the delicate structure of the tribe is irrevocably altered. The missionaries had come to Umuofia. They had built their church there, won a handful of converts and were already sending evangelists to the surrounding towns and villages," Achebe The missionaries infiltrate a pivotal part of tribal life- the religion. Before the changes take effect, the Ibo religion stringently dictates the daily and political life of the tribe.
Described as polytheistic with an emphasis on the spiritual, the religion is the primary source of knowledge for the tribe including such decisions as to when to go to war and whom to execute. More so than perhaps any other, Okonkwo feels the changes in the tribe exceedingly. As a man whose purpose in life is to shed the influence of his "lazy" father, Okonkwo not only strives to gain power but to create a masculine persona Achebe 4 within Umuofia.
Unlike his father he could stand the look of blood," Achebe It is no surprise then that Okonkwo is infuriated by these changes, and questions the dispassionate manner in which the tribe allowed the white men to usurp power. Why have they lost the power to fight?