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Article

Agostinho Neto  

David Birmingham

Agostinho Neto was an Angolan medical doctor who was born in the agricultural hinterland of Luanda City in 1922 and died in a Moscow hospital in 1979. He had been assimilated into Portuguese colonial society by gaining a school education at a Methodist mission station where his father was the minister, and he proceeded to university studies in Lisbon. There his radical politics fell foul of the dictatorial police, and after a spell in prison he escaped, via London, to become an itinerant political exile in Africa. There he became a guerrilla commander leading small bands of soldiers who fought a gainst both a Portuguese conscript army and rival political movements seeking independence for Angola. In 1974 the Portuguese colonial empire imploded, and Neto found himself leader of the largest nationalist movement in Luanda, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola; MPLA). On November 11, 1975, he became Angola’s president as the last Portuguese governor-general sailed away on a gun-boat under cover of darkness. Neto’s four years in the presidential palace were not happy ones. Rival political movements not only challenged his legitimacy but also made unholy military alliances with South Africa, Congo, and the United States. He also alienated his domestic constituents, and when they attempted a coup d’état he rounded on them with all the ferocity that he had experienced himself when being persecuted by the Portuguese political police. His health rapidly deteriorated, and two years later he was flown to Moscow, albeit too late, to seek a cure.

Article

André do Couto Godinho  

Lucilene Reginaldo

André do Couto Godinho was born in 1720 in the Brazilian captaincy of Minas Gerais, in the town of Mariana, and died in the Kingdom of Kongo, probably around 1790. Born not only a slave but the slave of a slave, he went on to obtain his freedom, becoming literate, later studying at a university, and finally going on to serve as a missionary in Africa. Between the beginning of his life, in Brazil, and its end, in Africa, he spent a number of years in Portugal, in the cities of Coimbra and Lisbon. While his life story is certainly extraordinary, it provides a window into the possibilities of, and strategies for, social and geographic mobility of free and freed black people in different parts of the Portuguese Empire during the second half of the 1700s. Retracing André Godinho’s footsteps is an exercise in micro-history, a technique that, when used as a counterpoint to a more global analysis, offers fresh insights into familiar subjects, with the seemingly insignificant details of an individual life raising questions that would have gone unnoticed in a strictly macroscopic analysis. André’s path in life, as a free man of color helps understand the larger historical contexts that defined the possibilities, choices, and limitations of his personal history. Godinho’s story provides insights into African descendants’ possibilities for social ascension, also clarifying the limitations imposed by emerging social hierarchies based on skin color and slave origin.

Article

Banda, Hastings Kamuzu  

Joey Power

Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was an American- and British-trained medical doctor born in Nyasaland at the turn of the last century. He became leader of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) from 1958 to its banning in a state of emergency in 1959; became president of its successor party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), after his release from detention in April 1960; and in September became that party’s “life president.” He was the prime minister of Malawi’s first independent government formed in July 1964, its first president when Malawi assumed republican status in 1966 under a single-party system, and in 1971 became its life president. Schools, airports, highways, and hospitals bore his name, and his portrait could be seen in every public and private office and home. He was the embodiment of personal rule. The Banda regime became known for its collaborationist politics vis-à-vis apartheid South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique and for the ruthless repression of all political dissent at home. Banda defended his foreign and domestic politics as necessary evils. White regimes were far too powerful to be antagonized by a small land-locked emerging nation state. To do so would be to cut Malawi’s economic, political, and military throat. He maintained cordial relations with the United Kingdom after 1964 and formally eschewed association with communist states during the Cold War. Western states ignored widespread allegations of human rights abuses until the early 1990s when economic decline, the beginning of the end of apartheid, and the thawing of the Cold War led to a resurgence of protest, both foreign and domestic. In the face of this pressure, Banda allowed for a 1993 referendum on multiparty democracy, which led to multiparty elections the following year. He stood and lost as the MCP presidential candidate, and Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front (UDF), formed a government. The Muluzi administration approved a commission of enquiry into the May 1983 deaths of four MCP politicians in a “car accident” that had long been suspected as a cover for state murder. The Mwanza Enquiry (so named for the highway near the border with Mozambique where the “accident” took place) resulted in a criminal trial in which Banda and four others (see Cabinet Crisis and the Establishment of the Politics of Single-Party Personal Rule) were charged with conspiracy to murder but acquitted for lack of evidence. Banda went into retirement and stepped down as life president of the party in July 1997, a move, it has been suggested, to secure his legacy as elder statesman and father of the nation. He died at the Garden Clinic in South Africa on November 25, 1997.

Article

The Bantu Expansion  

Koen Bostoen

The Bantu Expansion stands for the concurrent dispersal of Bantu languages and Bantu-speaking people from an ancestral homeland situated in the Grassfields region in the borderland between current-day Nigeria and Cameroon. During their initial migration across most of Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa, which took place between approximately 5,000 and 1,500 years ago, Bantu speech communities not only introduced new languages in the areas where they immigrated but also new lifestyles, in which initially technological innovations such as pottery making and the use of large stone tools played an important role as did subsequently also farming and metallurgy. Wherever early Bantu speakers started to develop a sedentary way of life, they left an archaeologically visible culture. Once settled, Bantu-speaking newcomers strongly interacted with autochthonous hunter-gatherers, as is still visible in the gene pool and/or the languages of certain present-day Bantu speech communities. The driving forces behind what is the principal linguistic, cultural, and demographic process in Late Holocene Africa are still a matter of debate, but it is increasingly accepted that the climate-induced destruction of the rainforest in West Central Africa around 2,500 years ago gave a boost to the Bantu Expansion.

Article

The Cameroon Grassfield States in the Broader History of Nigeria and Cameroon  

Mark Dike DeLancey

The Grassfields constitutes a dynamic area covering primarily the Northwest and West regions of Cameroon. Considered by many to be the birthplace of the Bantu languages and a primary source of ancient sedentary cultures for Central Africa, the Grassfields witnessed the proliferation of a bewildering number of states beginning perhaps as early as the 16th century. Originally colonized by Germany, the fault line between the later British-controlled Southern Cameroons and the French-controlled Cameroun ran through the Grassfields, dividing the Bamenda groups from the Bamiléké and Bamum. In the postcolonial period, the Grassfields has been the heartland of important political opposition groups including the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) and later the Social Democratic Front (SDF), and more recently of the separatist Ambazonia movement.

Article

Central Africa and the Atlantic World  

Roquinaldo Ferreira

Central Africa became deeply intertwined in the Atlantic world with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1482, which opened up a new world of connections between African societies and European and American partners. As a region, central Africa stretches from Gabon to Mossamedes, near the border of the present nation of Namibia. Two distinct patterns of interaction marked the region’s integration into the wider Atlantic world. On the Loango coast, Atlantic trade by Dutch, British, and French merchants favored African kings in the short term but eventually paved the way for the rise of coastal rulers who seized upon wealth amassed through the slave trade to challenge kingship. After first playing out in the kingdom of Kongo, this dynamic unfolded in several other polities, such as the kingdom of Ngoyo and Ndongo. South of the Congo River, Portugal’s ability to carve out coastal enclaves in Luanda and Benguela powerfully shaped the relationship with the Atlantic world. Both cities developed sprawling trading networks with their immediate hinterlands as well as several cities across the Atlantic, particularly in Brazil but later also in Cuba. Although the slave trade formed the cornerstone of trading networks, a continuum of social, cultural, and political ties bridged the ocean. Portuguese institutional and economic presence was deeply dependent on Angola’s ties with Brazil. The two Portuguese colonies interacted bilaterally, and Brazil was not only the source of commodities for the trade in human beings but also in crops, food supplies, and military hardware. Distinct patterns of Afro-European interaction in Loango and Portuguese Angola should not hide the intense trade between these two regions. Since the 17th century, Luanda had depended on the Loango coast for palm-cloth currencies (libongos) that circulated widely in the capital city of Portuguese Angola. Cabinda men sailed to Luanda to purchase tobacco and sell slaves and other goods. As the French and then the British abandoned the slave trade, the direct slave trade with Brazil intensified and altered the structure of shipments of captives. In addition to the tightening Brazilian grip over central Africa’s slave trade, this development further integrated coastal trade between Loango and Portuguese Angola and set the stage for the continuation of shipments of captives until the 1860s.

Article

The Central African Federation  

Andrew Cohen

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw British government policy align, albeit briefly, with European settler desire in Southern and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe and Zambia) for a closer association of their territories. Widespread African opposition was overlooked, and on September 1, 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (more commonly known as the Central African Federation) came into existence. Nyasaland was included at the insistence of the British government. The federation was a bold experiment in political power during the late stage of British colonialism and constituted one of the most intricate episodes in its retreat from empire. Explanations for the creation of the federation center on attempts to stymie the regional influence of apartheid South Africa and the perceived economic advantages of a closer association of Britain’s Central African colonies. African opposition to the formation of the federation was widespread. Although this protest dissipated in the early years of the federation, the early promises in racial “partnership” soon proved to be insincere, and this reinvigorated African protest as the 1960 federal constitutional review drew close. The end of the Central African Federation is best explained by several intertwined pressures, including African nationalist protest, economic weakness, and hardening settler intransigence. By the end of 1962, there was large-scale African opposition to federation in both Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and the Rhodesian Front had come to power on a platform of independence free from the federation. The final death knell for the federation rang with the British government’s decision that no territory should be kept in the federation against its will.

Article

Christianity in Kongo  

Carlos Almeida

On the Atlantic coast of Africa, the Polity of Kongo, situated around the Congo River and to the south, constitutes a unique case of a secular lasting relationship with Christianity. In 1491, following Diogo Cão’s travels, Mwene Kongo Nzinga Nkuwu accepted the baptism offered him by the Portuguese priests. This set off a complex process of integration and appropriation of Christianity’s ritualistic and symbolic forms, accelerated, in particular, during the reign of Afonso Mvemba Nzinga (1504–1542). From the beginning, the incorporation of Christianity into Kongo resulted from an autonomous decision by local political leaders. The complicated process of cultural translation of the Christian theological world to the Kongo cosmology, heterogeneous and discontinuous, full of ambiguities and misunderstandings, depended on the active participation of members of the Kongo aristocracy who were sent to Portugal to study or trained locally in the precepts of the faith. Different religious orders established themselves in the region between the 15th and 19th centuries, Jesuits and Capuchins most prominent among them. In addition to countless reports and descriptions about the social reality of the region, some printed at the time, their presence resulted in a set of linguistic sources, including booklets, catechisms, and vocabularies that determine the way different concepts and rituals were translated into the Kongo frame of reference. Christianity and the related process of acquiring and using the written communication reinforced the tendency of the political entity for agglutination around its center Mbanza Kongo. At the same time, they opened a diplomatic channel that Kongo manipulated in order to counter the political, economic, and religious pressure of the Portuguese Crown and its colony in Luanda, and to defend its own sphere of interests on an Atlantic scale. After the fragmentation of the Kongo following the battle of Mbwila in 1665, Christianity, or at least the consolidated forms of its appropriation and the local agents of that process, continued to play a relevant political and social role, even when the presence of different European religious orders had become either scarce or virtually nonexistent. This pattern of establishing roots is well reflected in the successive prophetic movements that broke out throughout the 17th century, echoes of which were still visible at the turn of the 20th century, when new religious protagonists emerged on the scene. The voluminous and diversified documentary archive continues to raise important theoretical and methodological debates about the nature of the processes of appropriation, reframing, and cultural hybridity generated in the context of this historical relationship.

Article

Colonialism in West Central Africa  

Florence Bernault

The article considers a large region comprising Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.1 From the 1880s onwards, Central Africa was colonized by Spanish, French, German, Belgian, and Portuguese powers. Here Africans generally suffered a harsher kind of rule than in West Africa, as colonialism brought little capital and investments, and imposed brutal forms of extractive economy. Foreign powers, moreover, proved reluctant to dialogue with African elites. Yet, the colonial era was also a moment when Central Africans initiated radical political revolutions and capacious social changes, achieving independence in the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout the period under consideration, moreover, important cultural creations in the form of music, popular painting, photography, and fashion became influential in the rest of Africa and beyond.

Article

Combat Games in the Black Atlantic, 17–19th Centuries  

Matthias Röhrig Assunção

Combat games are attested in Africa from the time of the transatlantic slave trade and throughout the 19th century. In the agricultural societies in the rainforest of West and West Central Africa, wrestling was the most common form, while pastoral societies in the savannahs of central and southern Africa excelled in stick fighting. Fist fighting, slap boxing, and kicking also constituted the base of combat games in some locations. The enslaved Africans and their descendants made use of these bodily techniques in the plantation societies of the Americas and the Indian Ocean. The new oppressive context of slavery led to adjustments of techniques and practice. Stick fighting was widespread in Brazil and the Caribbean, whereas wrestling only became important in the United States. The previously rather marginal techniques of kicking and head butting became central to capoeira, ladja, and moring, even though it is difficult to establish precise genealogies. Bodily techniques were onlys one aspect of the complex cultural reinvention of combat games in the Atlantic world. African religious practices such as protections from supernatural forces and broader cultural meanings were incorporated into African-derived and creole combat games. While keeping some of their former social function, combat games in the “New World” also acquired new, contradictory meanings as either tools of resistance, spectacle for monetary gains, or even instruments of oppression. They provided an early example of globalization of bodily techniques and cultural meanings, and the most successful ones, such as capoeira, continue to expand worldwide to this day.

Article

Congo in the Americas and Brazil  

Marina Souza

In the late 15th century, the coast of West-Central Africa was integrated into Atlantic trading circuits due to the actions of Portuguese navigators and traders, supported by the Crown and followed by the Dutch, French, and English. Thousands of people were enslaved through Congolese routes and sold several times until they reached the Americas, where they were put to work in agriculture, artisanal activities, cargo transportation, mining, and domestic and urban services, among many others. The enslaved Central Africans, for three centuries brought to the Caribbean and the Americas, and especially to Brazil, established new communities and cultural manifestations from the knowledge and sensibilities that they brought from their societies of origin. The Congo has been present in the Americas in many ways. One of these was the election of a Congo king, celebrated with festive processions, in which the royal couple and their court paraded through the streets and attended dances with special choreographies set to African musical rhythms. These celebrations articulated and consolidated black identities and existed in various parts of the Americas and the Caribbean. In Brazil, they have been a tradition since colonial times and still go on today, referred to as congadas. Such festivities project an abstract idea of primordial motherland onto the memory of a mythic Congo, annually updated in festive rites that celebrate a Catholic African king and affirm black identities in Brazilian society.

Article

Digital Sources in Europe for African History  

Marion Wallace

There are copious resources for the study of African history on the internet. They include manuscripts and documentary archives, maps, museum collections, newspapers, printed books, picture collections, and sound and moving images. The websites of European institutions provide a good proportion of this content, reflecting the long, entangled, and troubled histories that connect Europe and Africa, as well as new partnerships with African institutions. This plethora of digital resources enables both specialized researchers and the public to access information about Africa more quickly and easily, and on a larger scale than ever before. Digitization comes with a strong democratic impulse, and the new technology has been instrumental in making libraries, archives, museums, and art galleries much more open. But all is not smooth sailing, and there are two particular aspects of which researchers should be aware. The first is that there are still huge collections, or parts of collections, that have not been digitized, and that resources have been—on the whole—most focused on items with visual appeal. The twin brakes of cost and copyright restrain the process, and researchers need to understand how what they can get online relates to what still exists only in hard copy. The second consideration is that digitized resources can be difficult to find. Information about the riches of the web in this area is very fragmented, and exclusive use of one search engine, however dominant, is clearly not enough. As a counter to this fragmentation, a listing of the major websites for African history in Europe is given in a handy guide for researchers, which covers these resources by format and by region of Africa. The listing also provides websites in two particular areas of interest to historians and to the public: the transatlantic slave trade, and the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

Article

Documents on South-Central and Southeast Africa to 1890  

Matthew Hannaford

Much research on the history of south-central and southeast African societies prior to colonial rule has made use of historical documents to a greater or lesser degree. Here, the contents and coverage of available written sources are examined over a near-millennial period from the end of the 1st millennium ce to 1890. While the argument that follows is that documents over this period provide valuable historical material beyond the activities of colonial societies, it is inescapable that they are generally “external” narratives written for external purposes, foremost among which was the exploitation of the land and people. This imbues documentation with a multitude of biases but does not preclude careful and critical use of documentary records for the study of African societies and environments. This is especially true when documents are used alongside other source types from other disciplines such as archaeology, oral history, linguistics, paleoecology, and paleoclimatology. Many pre-19th-century documents are housed in European archives, which poses challenges around accessibility. However, endeavors to produce source databases and develop digital archives are beginning to change this picture, providing scope for renewed scholarship on aspects of the history of Africa from the early 16th century through to the end of the 19th century.

Article

Early African Pasts: Sources, Interpretations, and Meanings  

David Schoenbrun

Writing Africa’s history before the 10th century almost always means relying on sources other than written documents, which increase in number especially from the 16th century onward. Archaeology (including the study of art objects), the comparative study of historically related languages, paleo-environmental studies, and oral traditions provide the bulk of information. Writing Africa’s early history ideally involves collaboration among experts in using each kind of source, an increasingly common practice. Despite the challenges of analysis and interpretation posed by this base of sources, early African history has a depth and breadth akin to the histories made from the written sources in archives. Even so, whereas written documents provide details about individuals and precise dates, the sources for writing early African histories more often provide detail about conceptualization, for example, of time, hospitality, and individualism and about larger, environmental contexts shaping those concepts and shaped by the actions of the people who held them. Translating such concepts and scales of action into accounts accessible to those—including many historians—not steeped in the methodological conventions underlying the analysis of each source is a major challenge facing historians of Africa’s earlier past.

Article

Early Food Production in the Congo Basin  

Dirk H. Seidensticker and Katharina V. M. Jungnickel

The introduction of food production into a specific region is among the most influential transitions in human history. It is frequently connected to other changes such as sedentism and population growth. Though most communities living in the Congo Basin today follow a relatively sedentary lifestyle with a slash-and-burn agri- or horticulture, hunting and fishing still contribute in large part to their subsistence. The lifestyle of historic forager communities and their sedentary neighbours changed significantly through colonialism. When and how food production started in the region is essentially not solved yet. Studies suggest that the introduction of food production dates back to the 1st millennium bce. However, empirical data are sparsely available, and Central African research is still marked significantly by its lack of physical evidence. Postcolonial archaeological research started earlier in other parts of Central Africa, while the Congo Basin saw large-scale, systematic research on its prehistory from the late 1970s. Investigations focused predominantly on the chrono-typological sequences, as ceramics are an easily encountered find category in the region. Archaeobotanical samples often underwent no further scrutiny or are still awaiting processing. Political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s and 2000s halted research in the Congo Basin. The western parts of Central Africa are among the better-researched areas. However, even there, only limited evidence of early food production has been uncovered. For a more concise picture, one should nonetheless discuss these two bodies of evidence in conjunction. The available evidence suggests that during the 1st millennium bce, pearl millet, originating from West Africa, was used in southern Cameroon and the Congo Basin, but presumably not in quantities that constituted a staple crop. The evidence for the use of cooking bananas is incomplete. Archaeobotanical remains are dominated by charred oil palm or wild Canarium, both equally unsuited as a staple food. Thus, the composition of the subsistence base and the reliance on food production of the ceramic-producing communities living in the Congo Basin during the 1st millennium bce and the 1st millennium ce remain uncertain.

Article

The History of Angola  

Jeremy Ball

Angola’s contemporary political boundaries resulted from 20th-century colonialism. The roots of Angola, however, reach far into the past. When Portuguese caravels arrived in the Congo River estuary in the late 15th century, independent African polities dotted this vast region. Some people lived in populous, hierarchical states such as the Kingdom of Kongo, but most lived in smaller political entities centered on lineage-village settlements. The Portuguese colony of Angola grew out of a settlement established at Luanda Bay in 1576. From its inception, Portuguese Angola existed to profit from the transatlantic slave trade, which became the colony’s economic foundation for the next three centuries. A Luso-African population and a creole culture developed in the colonial nuclei of Luanda and Benguela (founded 1617). The expansion of the colonial state into the interior occurred intermittently until the end of the 19th century, when Portuguese authorities initiated a series of wars of conquest that lasted up until the end of the First World War. During the 20th century, the colonial state consolidated military control over the whole territory, instituted an infrastructure of administration, and developed an economy of resource extraction. A nationalist sentiment developed among Luso-African thinkers in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s these ideas coalesced into a nationalist movement aimed at independence. Simultaneously, anticolonial movements developed among mission-educated elites in the Kikongo-speaking north and in the Umbundu-speaking central highlands. Portugal’s authoritarian New State leaders brutally suppressed these disparate nationalist movements during more than a decade of guerrilla war. A revolution in Portugal in 1974 ushered in negotiations leading to Angolan independence on November 11, 1975. Competing nationalist movements, bolstered by foreign intervention, refused to share governance and as a result plunged Angola into a brutal civil war that lasted until 2002.

Article

The History of Gabon  

Douglas A. Yates

Primeval rainforest at the Equator on the west coast of Africa, the land we know as Gabon, was settled prehistorically by Pygmies during the late Stone Age, and then by Bantu-speaking migrants during the Iron Age. These culturally diverse peoples did not develop a common language or political system with one another until after their violent conquest by Europeans during the colonial era. The Age of Discovery in the 15th century brought European explorers to the coast. The Atlantic triangle trade, with its slave barracoons and entrepôts, transformed some African communities along the coast into centralized kingdoms, and turned other clan-based societies of the forested interior into hunted peoples suspicious of any and all outsiders, European or African. The Scramble for Africa brought military expeditions into Gabon in the 19th century, when French colonial rule was established. Colonialism bestowed on the ethnic groups of Gabon a protonational identity of being “Gabonese,” although this nationalist impulse was muted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the effort of French authorities and missionaries to assimilate black Africans into France’s culture and civilization. Unassimilated colonial subjects in the interior of the newly conquered territory violently resisted French colonial rule until the world wars, by which time the assimilation project had sufficiently fashioned a new coastal French-educated Gabonese elite. The two world wars weakened France and led these assimilated elites to a call for political reforms, at first taking the form of mono-ethnic-based political parties, but eventually coalescing around multiethnic coalitions, largely francophone in outlook, while retaining many elements of older precolonial identities. Independence in 1960 brought to power three authoritarian rulers—Léon Mba, Omar Bongo, and Ali Bongo—as well as consolidation of an oil-rentier state and an oxymoronic dynastic republic. “Gabonese” national identity emerged, an imagined community constructed out of African music, literature, and art, yet incorporating French as its lingua franca.

Article

History of Malawi  

Joey Power

The boundaries of Malawi in the early 21st century are rooted in European imperial expansion of the late 19th century and the establishment of the British Central African Protectorate (1891–1907) and, later, the Nyasaland (1907–1964) Protectorate. In 1953, Nyasaland was merged with Northern and Southern Rhodesia to constitute the Central African Federation. African opposition to this led to violent disturbances in 1953 and 1959. A state of emergency was declared in March of 1959 and the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), the largest African political party in the protectorate, was banned and many of its leaders detained. The NAC was replaced by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) during the state of emergency. The state of emergency ended in June of 1960 and party leader Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda led the MCP to a territorial election victory in 1961. Vows to end the “stupid federation” were realized in 1963 with the secession of Nyasaland from it. Nyasaland became the independent state of Malawi in July 1964 under an MCP-majority government. Within months of independence, the government and party unity were rocked by a “cabinet crisis” in which key ministers differed with Dr. Banda over foreign policy and domestic politics. Many key leaders resigned or were dismissed and thereafter left the country. This initiated a thirty-year period of autocratic rule that only ended in the early 1990s as a result of internal protest and international financial pressure. A 1993 referendum prompted a return to multiparty governance, and the 1994 elections led to the ouster of the MCP/Banda regime. Since then, Malawi has maintained a multiparty political structure, albeit with enduring challenges wrought by colonial and autocratic legacies.

Article

Kingdoms of South-Central Africa: Sources, Historiography, and History  

David M. Gordon

In his influential book, Kingdoms of the Savanna (1966), Jan Vansina described the rise of the kingdoms of the south-central African interior from the 15th century. These include the Luba (the mulopwe titleholders), Lunda (the nuclear Lunda, also termed Rund, of the mwant yav titleholders), Lunda-Ndembu, Chokwe, Pende, Luvale, Luluwa, Kanyok, Luba-Kasai, Kuba, Eastern Lunda, Yeke, and the Bemba. New analyses of oral traditions as well as the study of art, archaeology, ethnographic fieldwork, linguistics, and documentary sources haverevised understandings of these polities and added details. Historians have considered the context of the production of primary sources, in particular art and oral traditions, which were created during a transformative 19th century, when trade and violence contributed to the centralization of power for some polities and the disintegration of others. With subjects questioning the power of sovereigns, art, oral traditions, and oral praises projected royal genealogies and the qualities of kingship into a vague antiquity. The study of historical linguistics has also provided inroads into understanding the dissemination of political institutions and titles along with tentative accounts of their historical depth. Ethnographic fieldwork has further elaborated on the functioning of political systems and religious ideas. These diverse primary sources complicate the historiography of central African kingdoms; they also indicate the spread of alternative political and religious affiliations during the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular Luba fertility associations and Lunda fictive kin alliances.

Article

Ping, Jean  

Jeremy Rich

Jean Ping (born November 24, 1942) was a leading figure in Gabonese politics from the late 1980s well into the 21st century. His mother belonged to the Nkomi ethnic group and his father was a rare Chinese resident of Gabon. Like most other young Gabonese intellectuals, he studied abroad in France and then became a supporter of the ruling Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG) party. After working as the Gabonese representative to UNESCO, Ping returned to Gabon in 1984. He became a close associate of dictator Omar Bongo, had two children with Bongo’s daughter Pascaline, and held a series of top ministerial posts from 1990 to 2014. Ping became Gabon’s most prominent diplomat. African Union delegates voted for Ping to become the president of the African Union in 2008. He held this position until 2012. Perhaps his greatest disappointment was the failure of the African Union to successfully mediate between Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi, Libyan rebels, and Western countries who chose military intervention to overthrow Qaddafi. Although Ping had become a member of Omar Bongo’s inner circle, he pulled away from the PDG party after Omar’s son Ali Bongo Ondimba won the 2009 presidential elections. Ping quit the PDG in 2014 and ran for president in the 2016 elections. Many Gabonese and outside observers believed Ping triumphed in this contest. The official results that proclaimed Ali Bongo as the winner stated Bongo had won 95% of the vote in Haut-Ogooué province, where supposedly 99% of all eligible voters actually cast their ballot. Ping rejected the findings and declared he was the true president of Gabon. Ping’s career, starting as a young Gabonese intellectual and becoming a member of the PDG elite and finally the leader of the Gabonese opposition, is a crucial part of the political history of Gabon after the end of French colonization.