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Cannabis and Tobacco in Precolonial and Colonial Africa  

Chris S. Duvall

Cannabis and tobacco have longstanding roles in African societies. Despite botanical and pharmacological dissimilarities, it is worthwhile to consider tobacco and cannabis together because they have been for centuries the most commonly and widely smoked drug plants. Cannabis, the source of marijuana and hashish, was introduced to eastern Africa from southern Asia, and dispersed widely within Africa mostly after 1500. In sub-Saharan Africa, cannabis was taken into ethnobotanies that included pipe smoking, a practice invented in Africa; in Asia, it had been consumed orally. Smoking significantly changes the drug pharmacologically, and the African innovation of smoking cannabis initiated the now-global practice. Africans developed diverse cultures of cannabis use, including Central African practices that circulated widely in the Atlantic world via slave trading. Tobacco was introduced to Africa from the Americas in the late 1500s. It gained rapid, widespread popularity, and Africans developed distinctive modes of tobacco production and use. Primary sources on these plants are predominantly from European observers, which limits historical knowledge because Europeans strongly favored tobacco and were mostly ignorant or disdainful of African cannabis uses. Both plants have for centuries been important subsistence crops. Tobacco was traded across the continent beginning in the 1600s; cannabis was less valuable but widely exchanged by the same century, and probably earlier. Both plants became cash crops under colonial regimes. Tobacco helped sustain mercantilist and slave-trade economies, became a focus of colonial and postcolonial economic development efforts, and remains economically important. Cannabis was outlawed across most of the continent by 1920. Africans resisted its prohibition, and cannabis production remains economically significant despite its continued illegality.


Food History and Women in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Igor Cusack

Any account of women and food history in sub-Saharan Africa must be complicated by two main factors: first, the multitude and complexity of African societies and their interactions with the different colonial powers over five centuries, and, second, by an underestimation of the importance of women’s activities by researchers imbued with colonial patriarchal ideologies. In prehistoric and precolonial times, only glimpses of women’s roles in food production and gathering can be seen, drawing on evidence from historical linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology. What evidence there is suggests that women’s participation in these tasks was important. The written account of Ibn Battutah and the oral epic of Sundiata provide some information about what was eaten and Sundiata does point to women’s major role in growing food and in cooking. During the colonial period, from about 1500 to the 1960s, many accounts from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa stress how women played a dominant part in the farming, processing, preparation, and cooking of food. There was a varied and often complex division of labor between men and women. Instead of the more rigid gendered private/public divide often seen in the West, women in Africa have engaged in wider roles in the public sphere, for example, in the processing of food for sale. There are some indications that women’s work was changed by the introduction of new crops from Asia and the Americas. Colonial governments favored men working on cash crops so that women focused even more on the provision of food for the family. Women also showed great adaptability in assessing and using new technologies such as peanut processing machines. Cooking has remained predominantly a woman’s occupation in sub-Saharan Africa and a divide between a “high” cuisine, mainly in the hands of men outside Africa, and a “low” or humble cuisine, has not developed. Cookery books are very useful sources for evidence of the history of women’s domestic role. Those published for European settler wives in the colonial period were focused on the housewife rooted in the home and this ideology of domesticity can be found in the cookery books of postcolonial Africa. After independence, the ruling elites of African nations set about constructing discourses of national identity, flags and anthems particular to each nation, and women have contributed to this nation-building by assembling national cuisines. Since the 1980s, an epidemic of obesity has occurred in many African urban areas, with associated chronic disease, which women have suffered more than men. An ideal image of a plumper body, along with the introduction of “fast food,” has contributed to this situation. Women have also been disadvantaged by cultural food taboos in which certain foods are prohibited to them.


Forest History  

Christopher Conte

Natural and human histories intersect in Africa’s forested regions. Forests of several types cover the continent’s mountains, savannas, and river basins. Most current classifications divide forest by physical structure. Open canopy forests occur in semi-arid regions of western, eastern, and southern Africa, while closed canopy rain forests with large emergent trees cover much of the Congo River basin, the upland forests of Rift Valley escarpments, and the volcanic mountains in eastern and Central Africa. Along the tropical coasts, mangrove forests hug the river estuaries. For much of human history, Africa’s forests have anchored foraging and agrarian societies. In the process of domesticating the landscape through agriculture, Africans modified forests in ways that ranged from large-scale deforestation to forest creation on savanna environments. A boom in forest commodities preceded European colonialism and then continued when foreign governments took formal possession of African territory in the late 19th century. In this context, states ascribed value to forest trees as commodities and so managed them as profitable agricultural crops. Colonial forestry separated people from forests physically and culturally. This fundamental shift in human–forest relations still resonates in postcolonial African countries under the guise of internationally funded forest conservation.


HIV and AIDS in Africa  

Krista Johnson

Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV, with an estimated 25.7 million HIV-positive people in Africa by the end of 2018. This figure represents over two-thirds of infected people globally. African women and girls represent a majority of those infected, and Africa is home to three-fourths of all HIV-infected women and girls. Across African countries, there are differences in the sizes and trajectories of HIV epidemics. Southern Africa has the worst epidemic, with the numbers infected still rising in some countries. Prompting a development and governance crisis in many southern African countries, HIV prevalence rates are as high as 20 percent of the adult population in some countries and nearing 50 percent of the adult population in certain communities. East Africa too has been hit hard by HIV, leading to high mortality and morbidity rates in that region as well. In most of West and North Africa, there has been limited spread of HIV, with most countries in these regions having HIV prevalence rates of less than 3 percent. Africa’s encounter with HIV and AIDS began before it was first identified as a medical condition early in the 1980s. However, it was not recognized as an epidemic in most parts of Africa until much later. Framed largely as a public health crisis rather than a developmental one, much of the world’s focus on the AIDS pandemic in Africa has centered on access to treatment, and developing effective prevention strategies that have principally focused on behavior change practices for targeted populations. However, the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa did not emerge in a vacuum. It is the consequence of longer historical processes such as massive demographic growth, urbanization, and social change, as well as global inequalities and historical legacies of colonialism and imperialism. In this regard, a historical account of HIV in Africa offers an important corrective to the dominant biomedical response to AIDS in Africa. It is important to take note of longer historical processes that have shaped both the virus and the human response to it.


Money and Currency in African History  

Jane I. Guyer and Karin Pallaver

African peoples have managed multiple currencies, for all the classic four functions of money, for at least a thousand years: within each society’s own circuits, in regional exchange, and across the continent’s borders with the rest of the world. Given the materials of some of these currencies, and the general absence of formalized denominations until the colonial period, some early European accounts defined certain transactions as barter. The management of multiplicity is traced through four eras: a) the precolonial period, with some monies locally produced and acquired, and others imported through intercontinental trades, such as the Atlantic slave trade, and eventually under the expansion of capitalism to Africa; b) the colonial period, when precolonial monies, in some places, still circulated with official monies; c) postcolonial national monies for the new African states; and d) the most recent phase of multiplicity in use, due to migration and sales across borders as well as to the use of new technologies, such as mobile money. The management of multiplicity thereby has a long history and continues to be an inventive frontier. History and ethnography meet on common ground to address these dynamics through empirical study of money in practice, and broader scholarship has drawn on a large variety of original sources.


Pastoralism in Africa  

Andrew B. Smith

To find the origins of African pastoralism it is important archaeologists look for the wild progenitors of animals. The wild sheep of Africa (Ammotragus lervia) were never domesticated, so all domestic sheep and goats came from the Near East. There has been some debate over whether there was an independent domestication of African cattle, because wild cattle (Bos primigenius) remains have been found in the Nile Valley. Genetic evidence shows that the source of African domesticated cattle was the Levant, some 8,000 years ago. Cattle spread across the Sahara as the environment was conducive to pastoralism, being well watered at this time. This lasted until after 5000 bp when the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) retreated and the Sahara dried up to its present condition. The tsetse barrier also retreated at this time, allowing pastoralists to move south into West Africa and, via the Ethiopian highlands, to East Africa, arriving c.4500 bp, although it took another 1,000 years for them to fully adapt to the grasslands of southern Kenya and Tanzania. Domestic stock then went on to southern Africa via a tsetse-free corridor, arriving around 2000 bp. The effect of herding societies on local hunters throughout Africa appears to have been an initial rapprochement, with a later hardening of relations. In East Africa, this was probably due to the need to learn about the new environment with the help of local hunters and to adjust to new epizootic diseases. In southern Africa, the first pastoralists were primarily sheep herders during the 1st millennium bce, with few cattle bones being found from this time. Pastoralists only became fully fledged cattle herdsmen around 1000 bp when they developed the attributes of the historic Khoekhoen. A further debate existed in southern Africa over whether pastoralism there was the result of immigrant herders who arrived in the northern Kalahari and then spread to the Cape, or if local hunters took up sheep herding.


Pastoralism in Eastern Africa  

John Galaty

The Rift Valley is a stage on which the history of Eastern Africa has unfolded over the last 10,000 years. It served as a corridor for the southward migration from the Upper Nile and the Ethiopian highlands of Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic speakers and cultures, with their domestic animals, which over time defined and restructured the social and cultural fabric of East Africa. Genetic evidence suggests that, contrary to other regions in Africa where geography overrides language, the clustering of East African populations primarily reflects linguistic affiliation. Eastern Sudanic Nilotic speakers are dedicated livestock keepers whose identification with cattle over thousands of years is manifested in elaborate symbolism, networks created by cattle exchange, and the practice of sacrifice. The geographical attributes of rich grasslands in a semi-arid environment, close proximity of lowland and highland grazing, and a bimodal rainfall regime, made the Rift Valley an ideal setting for increasingly specialized pastoralism. However, specialized animal husbandry characteristic of East Africa was possible only within a wider socioeconomic configuration that included hunters and bee-keeping foragers and cultivators occupying escarpments and highland areas. Some pastoral groups, like Maasai, Turkana, Borana, and Somali, spread widely across grazing areas, creating more culturally homogeneous regions, while others settled near one another in geographically variegated regions, as in the Omo Valley, the Lake Baringo basin, or the Tanzanian western highlands, creating social knots that signal historical interlaying and long-term mutual coexistence. At the advent of the colonial period, Oromo and Maasai speakers successfully exploited the ecological potential of the Rift environment by combining the art of raising animals with social systems built out of principles of clanship, age and generation organizations, and territorial sections. Faced with displacement by colonial settlers and then privatization of rangelands, some Maasai pastoralists sold lands that they had been allocated, leading to landlessness amid rangeland bounty. Pastoral futures involve a combination of education, religious conversion, and diversified rangeland livelihoods, which combine animal production with cultivation, business, wage labor, or conservation enterprises. Pastoralists provide urban markets with meat, but, with human population increasing, per capita livestock holdings have diminished, leading to rural poverty, as small towns absorbing young people departing pastoralism have become critical. The Great East African Rift Valley has had a 10,000-year history of developing pastoralism as one of the world’s great forms of food production, which spread throughout Eastern Africa. The dynamics of pastoral mobility and dedication to livestock have been challenged by modernity, which has undermined pastoral territoriality and culture while providing opportunities that pastoralists now seek as citizens of their nations and the world.


The Soninke in Ancient West African History  

Kassim Kone

The Soninke are an ancient West African ethnicity that probably gave rise to the much larger group that is called the Mande of which the Soninke are part. The Soninke language belongs to the northwestern Mande group but through the dynamism of its speakers has loaned many words and concepts to distant ethnic groups throughout the West African ecological zones. Mande groups such as the Malinke and Bambara may be descendants of the Soninke or a Proto-Soninke group. The Soninke are the founder of the first West African empire, Ghana, which they themselves call Wagadu, from the 6th to the 12th centuries ad Ghana was wealthy and powerful due to its access to gold, its geographic location between the Sahara and the Sahel, and its opening of trade routes from these ecological zones into the West African forest. Long distance trade contributed to the development of an ethos of migration among the Soninke, arguably making them the most traveled people of the whole continent. As they embraced Islam, some Soninke clans became clerics and proselytizers and followed the trade routes, sometimes becoming advisers to kings and chiefs. By the time of Ghana’s fall, the Soninke diaspora and trade networks were found all over West Africa. At present, pockets of Soninke, small and large, are found on all continents.