The University of Wisconsin Press



Power and Performance
Ethnographic Explorations through Proverbial Wisdom and Theater in Shaba, Zaire
Johannes Fabian

New Directions in Anthropological Writing

“Power is eaten whole” (“Le pouvoir se mange entire”).

In 1985 the distinguished anthropologist, Johannes Fabin, while engaged in fieldwork in the Shaba province of Zaire, first encountered this saying. Its implications—for the charismatic religious movements Fabin was examining, for the highly charged political atmosphere of Zaire, and for the cultures of the Luba peoples—continued to intrigue him, though its meaning remained elusive. On a later visit, he mentioned the saying to a company of popular actors, and triggered an ethnographic brainstorm. “Spontaneously, they decided it would be just the right topic for their next play. On the spot they begin planning—suggestions for a plot were made, problems of translating the French term ‘pouvoir’ were debated, several actors cited saying and customs from their home villages . . .”

Power and Performance examines traditional proverbs about power as it illustrates how the performance of Le pouvoir se mange entier was created, rehearsed, and performed. The play deals with the issue of power through a series of conflicts between villagers and their chief. Both rehearsal and performance versions of the text of this drama are included, in Swahili and in English translation.


Johannes Fabin is professor in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Non-Western Sociology at the University of Amsterdam.

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December 1990
LC: 90-050085 DT
336 pp.   6 x 9

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ISBN 978-0-299-12514-1
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ISBN 978-0-299-12510-3
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