Skip to content

Dimensions of Motherhood in an African World Sense: Ritual and Power among Avalogooli


Add to: Outlook, ICal, Google Calendar

As the field of Motherhood Studies advances common languages and frameworks, the menace of Eurocentrism rears its head again. Engaging the cultural character of motherhoods, motherwork, and mothering defies academic constructions of standard disciplinary languages and structures for its study. We must consider what is lost in embracing universalistic definitions and challenge the introduction of new monikers for appropriated phenomena that already have understandings within their cultures of origin. Culturally comprehended motherhoods and mothering, as concepts and practices, should derive from the conditions, roles, values, challenges, distinctions, merits, privileges, and related expectations uniquely normed by societies. It is through this lens that I examine the ethos of motherpower and mother agency among Avalogooli, a subgroup of the Luhya ethnic community of Western Kenya. 

Besi Muhonja is Associate Vice Provost for Scholarship and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at James Madison University. She also serves as Black Faculty Advisory Associate to Academic Affairs Division at the same university. Before that, she served as Director of the African, African American, and Diaspora (AAAD) Studies Center. She is a professor of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In the recent past, she has won several awards including The Woman of Distinction Award, Provost’s Award for Excellence in Inclusivity, Edna T. Shaeffer Distinguished Humanist Award, Diversity Enhancement Award, and Feminist Scholarship Award.

Dr. Muhonja’s work engages the interfaces of transnationalism, gender and sexuality in the politics, identities, philosophies, and products of/from Africa, the larger Global South, and the Black Diaspora. Specifically, using interdisciplinary and decolonial approaches, she studies and teaches critical African(a) studies, critical race studies, critical transnational feminisms, queer studies, and utu/ubuntu studies. She is also a leading Wangari Maathai scholar. Dr. Muhonja is author of Radical Utu: Ideas and Ideals of Wangari Maathai (Ohio University Press, 2020) and Performing Girlhood and Womanhood: Rituals of Kenya's Twenty-First Century Middle Class (Lexington -Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) and Turn Down the Volume on Silence (a collection of plays, forthcoming in 2022); and co-editor of the book volumes Gender and Sexuality in Senegalese Societies: Critical Perspectives and Methods (with Babacar M’baye, 2019), Mothers and Sons: Centering Mother Knowledge (with Wanda Bernard Thomas, 2016) and Gender and Sexuality in Kenyan Societies: Centering the Human(e) in Critical Studies (with M’baye, forthcoming in 2022). She has edited several issues of major peer reviewed journals of critical African and gender studies and published over twenty-five (25) peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. She is the series editor of Gender and Sexuality in Africa and the Diaspora, an academic series with Lexington of Rowman & Littlefield and serves on the editorial/advisory boards for the Journal of Sustainability, Environment and Peace (University of Nairobi); Praxis: Gender and Cultural Critiques (State University of NY), and various centers and organizations. She served as editor and curated/edited 16 database issues of the Kiswahili Story Database


Co-sponsored by:

Department of Women's and Gender Studies


Social Science and Public Policy





Open to



Parents and Families


Students, Graduate and Professional

Students, Prospective

Students, Undergraduate




MAX-Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, MAX-Maxwell African Scholars Union


Nicholas Feeley


Contact Nicholas Feeley to request accommodations