Simon Ottenberg - Author

About the Author

Books by Simon Ottenberg

Igbo Art & Culture

Igbo Art & Culture

Author: Simon Ottenberg Format: Paperback Release Date: 25/05/2018

Seeing with Music The Lives of Three Blind African Musicians

Seeing with Music The Lives of Three Blind African Musicians

Author: Simon Ottenberg Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/06/1996

In the course of his ongoing study of the aesthetic world of the Limba of Sierra Leone, anthropologist Simon Ottenberg met three men from Wara Wara Bafodea chiefdom who played an instrument called the kututeng, known elsewhere in Africa as the mbira and sometimes in the West as the thumb piano. Each of the three was blind, poor, unmarried, and childless in a society where children bring status and where musicianship is not a standard role for the blind. Each man's life experiences had influenced the way he performed Kututeng, a traditional but changing form of music. In this book, Ottenberg approaches Limba Kututeng music through the lives of these three musicians-Sayo Kamara, Muctaru Mansaray, and Marehu Mansaray. He looks at their different styles of performance, the social settings in which they play, the meanings of their song texts, and the relationships between their musical form and other Limba arts. Ottenberg filters his analysis through the concepts of personhood and agency: he is concerned with the actions and experiences of individuals within a larger cultural structure, with the way people act to maintain or re-create their culture and society as they go about their everyday business. By examining the lives and music of these three men, he is able to show how each one has been an agent for either innovation or stability in Kututeng music in this Limba chiefdom. Throughout the book, Ottenberg attempts to let the musicians' voices and personalities be heard and seen. He believes that looking at music and performance through their eyes, rather than solely through the anthropologist's organized categories, offers a useful alternative way of understanding how music is practiced, responded to, and changed by individuals. At the same time, Ottenberg makes readers aware of his own agency-the effects his presence, personality, and life experiences had on his fieldwork. Kututeng music is not an ancient tradition in Limba country, or in Sierra Leone in general, but dates to the early twentieth century. In recent years it has begun to change in response to the popularity of other musical forms in Sierra Leone. Ottenberg shows effectively how these three men have helped reformulate the nature of Kututeng in the chiefdom capital town, giving it a new vitality that is consistent with the aesthetic values of the Limba world.

Boyhood Rituals in an African Society An Interpretation

Boyhood Rituals in an African Society An Interpretation

Author: Simon Ottenberg Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/06/1989

This is an anthropological study of boyhood in a group of related Igbo villages called Afikpo, in souteastern Nigeria. About half of the book is taken up with the description and analysis of adolescent initiation rites, providing a close and detailed view of rituals that for the most part have only been touched upon in literature. The work makes use of psychoanalytic theory, with a logic that is grounded in data, blended with traditional cultural anthropological analysis. Ottenberg's understanding of the dynamics of the symbols and their unstated meanings contributes to the study of ritual process in any society. The data on ritual initiation alo0ne make this a major contribution to African ethnography, and Ottenberg's descriptive material on male secrecy and related gender distinctions provides a background fora more general understanding of West African secret societies. His examination of all phases of childhood at Afikpo--not just initiation--reveals how one society comes to terms with the special needs of infancy, while answering the society's need to produce a certain kind of adult. Ottenberg rejects the common notion that an adolescent arrives at his initiation as a tabula rasa upon which society's instructon is etched; he also rejects the equally common assumption that initiation marks a summing up or completion of socialization. Instead, Ottenberg analyzes initiation rites in the context of the boys' earlier experiences, as part of an ongoing and unfinished process of socialization. He traces the life and experiences of boys from birth through adolescent initiation to adulthood, with a focus on the ritual aspect, since rituals through their symbolic content reveal a society's attitudes and values. The Afikpo initiation rites recall aspects of the rites of birth and other early childhood experiences, and Ottenberg shows how many of these rituals are designed to assist in the transition from one stage to the next. The wealth of materials and close attention to detail in the analyses of boyhood rituals among the Afikpo reflect Ottenberg's superb skills as a field investigator. The detail in which he presents his data contributes greatly to our understanding of Afikpo cosmological beliefs and social structure. The presentation provides important materials for evaluating the interrelationship between adult and boyhood secret societies, making it valuable to scholars of other areas. Boyhood Rituals in an African Society makes a significant contribution to both psychological anthropology and African studies, but it will also be of interest to other scholars concerned with the cross-cultural study of socialization and childhood.