The inception of agriculture in eastern Africa is a major topic of discussion among Africanist archaeologists, although very sparse evidence exists. Questions range from whether domestication was a local invention or whether it was introduced from the Near East, Asia, or elsewhere outside of Africa. These questions have remained unanswered because wild progenitors and models of the spread of African domesticates are yet to be established using undisputable data. The paucity of direct data has therefore necessitated the use of objects of material culture such as pottery, beads, burial cairns, architectural structures, and so on as indicators of pastoralism and cereal farming. In addition to the origins of African domesticates, research in eastern Africa has concerned itself with questions of farming technologies from later archaeological and historical times to the present. The remains of elaborate farming systems with extensive irrigation networks have drawn considerable attention. Though not unchanged, some of these farming systems remain in contemporary use in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori
Richard T. Chia and A. Catherine D'Andrea
Recent narratives on the origin of food production in the West African forest zone have replaced earlier diffusion-based models with viewpoints that emphasize the diversity of sources for plants and animals exploited and domesticated in the region. Management of indigenous tree species, including oil palm and incense tree, managed first by indigenous foragers, have the longest history in the area, dating back to over 8,400 before present (bp). After the 4th millennium bp, domesticates such as pearl millet, cowpea, and domestic caprines were introduced from adjacent Sahel and the savanna regions, and populations began to favor oil palm over incense tree. The mechanisms of these introductions are less clear but likely involved both diffusion and/or movements of peoples who became sedentary to varying degrees. Palaeoenvironment is an important factor to consider in tracking the development of food production in the forest zone; however, some combination of natural and human-mediated changes took place, the nature of which was not uniformly distributed.
James C. McCann
Ethiopia’s highlands and their lowland peripheries offer a distinctive and, in many ways, ideal setting for human habitation and the evolution of agricultural ecologies. The ranges in climate variability by season and over time framed a sophisticated set of crops, agricultural practices, and local political ecologies. Chief among these was the development and use of the single-tine ox-plow (i.e., the ard or scratch plow) that integrated endemic annual crops with secondary crop introductions and, in some areas, cultivated or intercropped with perennial crops such as ensete and coffee. Animal husbandry to sustain animal traction and pastoral livelihoods in regional ecologies was essential, over time, to regional economies and their political ecologies. Agricultural patterns existed at the heart of cultural diversities and periods of political conflict and accommodations. In some areas of the south (Sidamo), southeast (Harar highlands), and southwest (Jimma), coffee cultivation complemented annual grain cropping. Yet the plow in its current form as a dominant tool appears in rock painting dating as far back as 500 ad. That technology was both efficient and persistent. While Ethiopia’s plow agriculture dominated the region’s political ecology over more than two millennia, in the late 20th century Ethiopia’s agrarian economy began an inexorable set of changes. New crops (such as maize), urbanization, and global migration of peoples and commodities (oil seeds, fibers, and grains) brought new seeds, inputs, and pressures to adapt to change, particularly for smallholder farmers and new enterprises. Heavy investments in dams and irrigated agriculture also foretell new agricultural landscapes of riverain areas that will need to coexist with the classic highland smallholder farms. The story of maize in Ethiopia’s agricultural history is emblematic of the struggle between pressures for change and the inertia of tradition felt by farmers. Their agrarian adaptation to new methods, new materials, and a new climate will play itself out in existing geographies and natural contours.
The peoples of early-21st-century Mozambique underwent different historical experiences which, to a certain extent, were homogenized when Portuguese colonialism encompassed the entire territory from the late 19th century onward. However, all of them had common origins, rooted in successive Bantu migrations. These peoples were organized into small chiefdoms based on lineages, but those located in the central region of Mozambique were integrated into states with some level of centralization, created by the Karanga south of the Zambezi and by the Maravi to the north. The interior regions were articulated into mercantile networks with the Indian Ocean through Swahili coastal entrepôts, exporting gold and ivory. From 1505 onward, the Portuguese sought to control this commerce from some settlements along the coast, particularly Mozambique Island, their capital. During the last decades of the 16th century, projects emerged for territorial appropriation in the Zambezi Valley, where a Luso-Afro-Indian Creole society developed. From the mid-18th century onward the slave trade to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans became increasingly important, with different impacts in the respective regions. Modern Portuguese colonialism was established by means of military campaigns: having limited capital, Portugal granted concessions for part of the territory to companies. When these concessions ended in 1942, the colonial state developed a direct administration throughout the territory, headquartered in Lourenço Marques (Maputo). Nationalist ideals developed during the 1950s among various movements, of which three organizations united to form the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) in 1962. From 1964 onward, FRELIMO unleashed an anticolonial war in northern and central Mozambique. After the 1974 revolution in Portugal, negotiations resulted in the recognition of Mozambique’s independence on June 25, 1975, and a FRELIMO government. Armed opposition to the Marxist-Leninist government and the civil war continued until 1992. During the 1990s, Mozambique adopted a multiparty system and liberalized its economy.
This examination of the history of women’s situation in Central Africa from the late colonial period of the 19th to the early 21st century sheds light on women’s experiences by highlighting their agency in confronting the changes they faced. The colonizers’ introduction of cash crop production and forced labor in the late 19th century to modernize the economy impacted the sexual division of labor, transforming the organization of the work within the family and community. In the post-independence period, traditional gender expectations continued to shape the lives of the majority of women, but a small number were able to take advantage of social mutations in the domains of education, politics, and work to become leaders. Transformations brought about by postcolonial armed conflict in three Central African countries profoundly affected women’s lives.