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- African History x
Lance van Sittert
The South African fisheries are environmentally bifurcated by the different current regimes on the west (Benguela) and east (Agulhas) coasts. Limited precolonial subsistence use of the littoral zone was supplemented from the mid-17th century by commercial harvesting of marine mammals for international trade and fish to ration imported slave labor. The liberalization of trade after 1814 led to the commercialization of Benguela fisheries by Cape Town merchants drying barrracouta (snoek) for export to ration indentured Indian labor on the sugar plantations of the southwest Indian Ocean and canning rock lobster to feed the urban bourgeoisies of Europe. The mineral revolution in the final quarter of the 19th century created an expanded southern African demand for fish in the new mining centers of the subcontinent, prompting the colonial state to pioneer the demersal fisheries of the Agulhas current, which were monopolized for the first half of the 20th century by British-owned steam trawlers. The motorization of rock lobster fishing in the same period created widespread poverty in the inshore subsistence fisheries. This became an increasingly politicized issue as Afrikaner nationalists laid blame on the British monopoly over the national fish market. Proposed state nationalization of the demersal fishery and reorganization of the inshore fisheries into cooperatives was defeated in 1944 in favor of state financing of private capital through the provision of research, infrastructure, and finance. Afrikaner nationalists after 1948 utilized the latter to engineer the rapid industrialization of the pelagic inshore fisheries and concomitant rise of Afrikaner capital. Falling inshore catches and increasing foreign competition in the demersal fishery led to a crisis in the 1960s that was resolved through the creation and strict conservation of an exclusive economic zone south of the Orange River coupled with the looting of the Namibian colony’s fish resources. The postcolonial states in Namibia (1990) and South Africa (1994) thus inherited severely depleted fisheries resources dominated by white capital and superintended by neoliberal states, severely constraining black capital formation. Both consequently satisfied themselves with blackening the white monopolies and defending their exclusive resource access against escalating insurgencies from the excluded black underclass.
Sharon E. Nicholson
Environmental constraints have large impacts on populations, especially in semi-arid regions such as Africa. Climate and weather have long affected African societies, but unfortunately the traditional climatic record for the continent is relatively short. For that reason, historical information has often been used to reconstruct climate of the past. Sources of historical information include reports and diaries of explorers, settlers, and missionaries; government records; reports of scientific expeditions; and historical geographical and meteorological journals. Local oral tradition is also useful. It is reported in the form of historical chronicles compiled centuries later. References to famine and drought, economic conditions, floods, agriculture, weather events, and the season cycle are examples of useful types of information. Some of the records also include meteorological measurements. More recently chemical and biological information, generally derived from lake cores, has been applied to historical climate reconstruction. Early works provided in most cases qualitative, discontinuous information, such as drought chronologies. However, a statistical method of climate reconstruction applied to a vast collection of historical information and meteorological data allowed for the creation of a two-century, semi-quantitative “precipitation” data set. It consists of annual indices related to rainfall since 1800 for ninety regions of the African continent. This data set has served to illustrate several 19th-century periods of anomalous rainfall conditions that affected nearly the entire continent. An example is widespread aridity during several decades early in that century.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Please check back later for the full article.
In French Algeria during the 1860s, the “sleeping baby” controversy arose. It turned into a legal, judicial, and medical dispute that eventually reached the appellate court in the capital, Algiers. Many North Africans, both Muslims and Jews, traditionally believed that gestation in the womb could be delayed for as long as five years. The benefits to widowed, divorced, or abandoned women and their children are obvious; the sluggish fetus could be declared legitimate, thereby assuring protection and inheritance rights. Colonial jurists and scientific authorities resoundingly proclaimed sleeping babies a legal fiction. And the “primitive” notion of slumbering fetuses in utero provided opponents of Islamic justice and all things Muslim with yet another weapon, and attack they did.
This survey of French colonialism (1830–1962) in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco from the vantage point of women and gender does so within a comparative framework, contrasting the North African regimes with France’s possessions worldwide, as well as with other modern empires. Modern Euro-American colonialism was never uni-directional, radiating out from the Metropole or imperial center, nor did power circulate principally between mother country and colony. Rather, the exercise of power was webbed, bumpy, contradictory, and subject to complex local negotiation and the play of serendipity—the law of unintended consequences. Rival empires such as the British, French, Italian, and Spanish in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) emulated each other’s policies and practices. As important, the binary distinction between “colonial overlords” and “colonized natives” is no longer tenable. Nevertheless, the distinction made between Euro-American settler colonies and other kinds of imperial properties and possessions is a significant one.
The voices of those labeled unsatisfactorily as “the colonized,” particularly women and/or subalterns, have often gone missing—especially for the 19th century—because the documentary corpus is lacking, inaccessible, recondite, or was destroyed during warfare. Therefore, the essay assesses the current state of the field, mainly secondary historical literature on women, gender, and empire, and provides a broad-brush portrait of what the archives—state, colonial, missionary, and otherwise—look like.
David K. Wright
Understanding paleoclimates has been an important component of archaeological research for over a century. Human settlement, mobility, and subsistence activities are predicated on interactions with the natural world, and by reconstructing the broader environmental context, archaeologists can recognize the primary external catalyst of cultural change. Modern paleoenvironmental reconstruction methods employ techniques developed over the last century as well as those that are at the frontiers of scientific inquiry. Archaeologists intent on providing basic environmental context must first describe the sedimentology of surficial deposits in order to understand landform evolution. Furthermore, descriptions of soils, which form in stable, weathered sedimentary deposits, are critical indicators of past climate. Soils are first described in excavation test units using macro-scale classification schemes, but increasingly microscopic techniques such as soil micromorphology in thin sections and DNA sequences of endemic microbiota are being used. Various types of plant and animal communities hosted in archaeological deposits also provide critical environmental details as they are often temperature and precipitation dependent. Generally speaking, the simpler and smaller the organism is, the more restricted its habitat tends to be. Therefore, microfauna and floral remains often provide the greatest level of precision in environmental reconstruction. Finally, light stable isotopes of carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen can be assayed from a wide variety of organic matter, and they provide specific information about biotic communities and precipitation that are useful to understand paleoenvironments. The simultaneous integration of multiple lines of evidence is being performed in archaeological research projects across the African continent and provides the best means to fully comprehend the framework in which human biological and cultural evolution occurred.
Complexity flourished in several regions north and south of the Zambezi during the second millennium
Political power was closely entwined with economic wealth in these regions. Economic commodities, however, varied. In the Greater Shashe-Limpopo region and on the Zimbabwean plateau, cattle were important objects in the accumulation of wealth. In these economies cattle had intrinsic value but were also used to facilitate other forms of wealth generation, such as trade and mining. Cattle keeping played a less significant role north of the Zambezi. In the Upemba basin, salt and metal production furnished important trade goods, but trade in these products did not drive the development of complexity. In contrast, the expansion of Maravi political power was entangled with Indian Ocean trade networks.
James R. Brennan
Popular politics have influenced the development of East Africa’s political institutions from roughly two millennia ago up to contemporary times. Among the discernible political dynamics over this time period were pressures to include or exclude peoples from key institutions of belonging, the decisive role of patron–client relationships across all political institutions, the role of generational conflict, the source of political authority based on command of the visible and invisible worlds, and the changing role of indigeneity and “first-comer” status claims. These dynamics can all be found at work in the development of conventional political structures that span this time frame—that is, from the small chieftaincies and kingdoms of the precolonial era; to cults of public healing and medicine making; to engagement with European colonial institutions and the 20th-century creation of “traditional” indigenous authorities; to the growth of associational life that led to political parties, one-party states, and their postliberalization successors. Yet there was also tremendous diversity of these experiences across East Africa, which goes some way toward explaining the differences not only among the region’s contemporary nation-states but even within those nation-states. Popular pressures for inclusion either resulted in the expansion of existing political institutions or created demands for new institutions that directly challenged the exclusionary and often brittle existing political structures.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. Please check back later for the full article.
Histories of South Sudan are rare. Indeed a pre-colonial history of what is actually, geographically, the world’s largest swamp (South Sudan) is challenging and at present impossible without the use of oral histories, along with a very few archaeological and linguistic studies. Only two scholarly accounts lend information about the obscure history of this region of Africa. Oral histories suggest that the very earliest inhabitants of South Sudan were a mound-building folk known to the Dinka as the Luel, and to archaeologists as the Turkwel. Sometime after the later Middle Ages and the fall of the 11th-century Christian kingdom of Alwa, the Western Nilotic Dinka claim to have migrated with their cattle into South Sudan from the Gezira because of fear of slave raiders. The Dinka claim to have found Bari, on the East Bank of the Nile, a historical point that is corroborated by Bari oral histories. Some decades later, the Dinka crossed the Nile following the rich soils that were most favorable to their favorite agricultural food, kec. Over time they penetrated deeply into the western swamps of Southern Sudan. Sometime around the 15th century, another Nilotic people, now known as the Shilluk, thrust northwards beyond the depths of the South Sudanese swamps, settling approximately at the junction of the Nile and the Sobat rivers. Oral histories claim the Shilluk were led to this homeland by a great leader, Nyikang, the first in a long line of kings. The last great ethnic groups to migrate into what is now the boundary of modern South Sudan were the non-Nilotic Azande.
Of interest is that all of these ethnic groups were slave-holding cultures and, with the exception of the Azande, were agro-pastoralists. The Bari were prominent iron-making specialists, as were the highly martial Azande. All of these cultures had social hierarchies, and migration is a connecting theme among the larger societies; none of the present cultures of South Sudan appear to have originated in South Sudan except the Nilotic Luo. By the late 17th century, with the fall of Sultan Sanusi of the Central African Republic, numbers of non-Nilotic peoples fled into various western regions of South Sudan. Additionally, with the fall of the Islamic sultanate of Sinnar and the coming of the Turco-Egyptians in the early 19th century, much of South Sudan had been historically peopled by the Nilotic Luo, whose progeny appeared to have evolved into numerous ethnic groups of South Sudan; groups that would now include the Shilluk-Luo, the Nuer, the Atuot, Anyuak, and various Luo communities that now exist under various names.
While there are a handful of defined methods for working with primary historical sources in archaeology, few archaeologists take these as their main points of departure or rely upon them too rigidly. This is to do both with the highly variable nature of the historical and archaeological material available for certain African contexts, and also with how archaeologists conceive of the relationship between these two bodies of evidence: as antagonistic, supplementary, entangled and subjective, mutually creative, and so on. Some methodologies focus on the potentials for consonance and dissonance between written and material sources. Others utilize oral traditions to provide insights into chronology, memory, historical and political dynamics, and the material aspects of these. Still other approaches focus on how historical and archaeological sources offer complementary perspectives on the local and the global, events and processes, and other shifts in scale. While these methods are diverse and contingent, they are united insofar as archaeologists take their cues from objects and from preoccupations with time and space. Archaeologists see their work concerning primary historical sources not as filling in gaps in written records but as addressing the partialities of the records themselves by engaging with an array of complex questions about meaning, authority, and materiality
Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force of the Cape Colony between its foundation by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1652 and abolition in 1834, by which date the Cape was under British rule. Slaves were transported to the Cape from a wide range of areas in the Indian Ocean world, including South and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Some were owned by the VOC and labored on the Company farms, outposts, and docks. The majority were sold to settlers and worked as domestic servants in Cape Town or as laborers on the grain, wine, and pastoral farms of the Cape interior.
Throughout the 18th century slaves outnumbered settlers. Although there were few major revolts, individual resistance was widespread and desertion common. Some runaways joined indigenous groups in the Cape interior, while others formed more isolated maroon communities. Toward the end of the 18th century some slaves claimed individual rights, reflecting the influence of wider revolutionary movements in the Atlantic world. A revolutionary uprising took place in 1808, shortly after the abolition of the slave trade and the takeover of the colony by the British.
In the early 19th century slave resentment continued to grow, especially as a boom in wine production increased labor demands. In the 1820s and early 1830s abolitionist voices were heard in the colony, and slavery was ended at the same time as that in the British Caribbean and Mauritius. Unlike these other British colonies, Cape slaves largely continued to work as farm laborers, and their living and working conditions produced the continued impoverishment of farmworkers in the western Cape region.
Slaves played an important part in the creation of a distinctive creolized Cape culture, notably in the development of the Afrikaans language and Cape musical and culinary traditions. They were also responsible for the growth of Islam in Cape Town and its hinterland, which took a distinctive form influenced by its Southeast Asian origins.
The South African interior, roughly equivalent to the Highveld on the southern continental plateau, was in the 19th century a stage of numerous players and groups, acting in concert and in conflict with one another, as often dissolving as taking on board new members. The fortunes of Highveld inhabitants, occupiers, and passers-by fluctuated without periods of calm, and turned advantages to few. It was therefore not uncommon for the human flotsam and jetsam created by raiding, battles, and migrations, aggravated by drought and famine, to be subordinated by the survivors and forced to serve those with whom they had no prior allegiance or knowledge. Slavery in the interior was largely a by-product of staking out territory. Rather than generate slaves for sale in an external market, slavery on the Highveld was fed by the political impulse to aggregate followers and servants. An internal exchange emerged in some areas, and traders made a few transactions with coastal exporters, but the general pattern of enslavement was acquisition by raiding and distribution among raiders. The majority taken were youngsters and, to a lesser degree, women. As a rule, the menfolk were killed.