Frobenius unbound

Black Atlantis and the poetics of displacement in the Yoruba diaspora


  • Andrew Apter



Whatever one thinks of his controversial reputation as a provocative gadfly among pioneering African ethnologists, Leo Frobenius contributed signifi-cantly to African studies, not only during his prodigious documentary expeditions throughout the continent but also via his productive imagination in perceiving pat-terns, regional affinities, and even hidden historicities within African cosmologies and their material forms. In this article, I return to Frobenius’s theory of Atlantis as the absent ‘origin’ of Yoruba culture and civilization. At worst, his theory can be read as a contrived variation of the Hamitic hypothesis applied to a Yoruba civili-zation predicated on Phoenician origins. On a deeper structural level, however, it mirrors the fundamental poetics of displacement at the core of Yoruba kingship and ritual renewal. I argue that this sanctified ground of originary surrogation in Yoruba cosmology – a figural ‘Atlantis’ that lies beyond recovery – not only shaped the changing political topology of Yorubaland in West Africa, but also informed the Yoruba diaspora and its historical trajectories in the Americas. Critically refor-mulated, Frobenius’s problematic ‘road to Atlantis’ charts a course for rethinking the Yoruba-Atlantic.