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Title: Freetown 'lantans' : tradition, art and performance in Sierra Leone, 1895-1997
Author: Oram, Jennifer Lesley
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis explores the lantan tradition in Freetown where street floats (lantans) used to be built to mark particular occasions - usually the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan each year. It constitutes a work of social and art history and addresses the lantan tradition from two main perspectives. First, it explores the tradition's history from the late 19th to the late 20lh centuries, its introduction, spread and development in Freetown as well as the roles that prominent individuals, politicians, parade organisers and lantern clubs played in nurturing the tradition and exploiting its potential. Secondly, the thesis focuses attention on the artefacts (lantans) at the core of the tradition - how they were built, the imagery they employed and some of the networks of lantan builders operating in the 1990s. An attempt is made to identify the principles that underpinned the evaluation of lantans in Freetown, and to address the issue as to whether lantans were in fact works of art. Finally, insights drawn from puppetry and performance theory are used to examine the nature of lantanperformances and to relate them to other types of performance, in particular those associated with Freetown's masquerade figures (locally known as debuls). The techniques and concepts underlying puppetry provide tools that allow an examination of Freetown lantan and debul traditions within a single conceptual framework. It has been possible to identify related notions of performance, involving imitation/pretence on the one hand and characterisation/acting-in-character on the other, as the defining features of lantan and debul performances respectively. Lastly, the opposing concepts of'power object' and 'plaything' (which are widespread notions within various West African artefact traditions) allow a distinction to be drawn between different types of debul traditions in Freetown, and illuminate the essentially 'playful' nature of lantanperformances as an entertainment form.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral