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Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa  

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

Article

Fulani Pastoralism in West Africa  

Matthew D. Turner

Histories of the Fulani people have generally focused not on their pastoralism per se but on their role in the political histories of different periods in West Africa. Nevertheless, the changing social relations of Fulani people and others have affected the Fulani settlement and herd mobility practices that constitute their pastoralism. Fulani pastoralism has undergone significant changes from the late 19th century to the present, including sociopolitical changes that arose with colonial rule and have led to new trajectories affecting Fulani pastoralism up to the present. A key issue is the uneasy dependence of herding Fulani on the state—a dependence that has qualitatively changed as the key threat to their mobile pastoral livelihood has shifted from insecurity to competition with crop agriculture, as shaped by colonial policy, laws, and rapid increases in rural population density. The Fulani have always been a heterogeneous group. The herding Fulani, who manage livestock owned by themselves and others, is a focus of any reconstruction of the history of pastoralism. Unfortunately, these low-status “bush Fulani” are not often not included as protagonists in oral histories and colonial archives. A serious consideration of current understandings understandings of the needs of livestock and the constraints associated with herding offers a different lens through which to re-read standard accounts of the “Fulani” within colonial and post-colonial documents. By doing so, the hope is to demonstrate the responsiveness of herding Fulani to the changing constraints they have faced over time.

Article

Newspapers as Sources for African History  

Emma Hunter

Newspapers have become increasingly important as a source for African history, and the range of historical questions newspapers have been employed to address has expanded dramatically. Newspapers are not only sources for political history, they also have much to teach us about the social, cultural, and intellectual history of Africa. They were spaces of literary and textual experimentation. They also played an important role in the creation of new identities. It is essential, however, that we approach newspapers critically as sources and think carefully about their limitations, as well as the opportunities they present to the historian.

Article

Indigenous Peoples in Africa  

Renee Sylvain

Moringe ole Parkipuny addressed the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP) in 1989 and, for the first time, opened up discussion of the idea that certain groups of hunter-gathers and pastoralists in Africa merited the status of indigenous peoples. Local activists and international organizations took up the cause in the following decades. Several international conferences resulted in new forms of activism, the reformulation of local identities, and a growing body of scholarship addressing African indigeneity. As NGOs built solidarity among relatively scattered groups of pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, often skeptical state governments initially resisted what they saw as demands for recognition of status and claims to “special rights.” Disagreements between state interests and newly organized indigenous groups were expressed at the United Nations during the process of adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); but as the idea of indigeneity evolved through such discussions, African governments gradually came on board. International activism and work done by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights play significant roles in convincing African states to accept the concept of “indigenous peoples.” The issue of developing a definition of “indigenous peoples” appropriate for Africa remains unsettled and continues to present challenges. Mobilization among marginalized groups on the African continent itself, however, has presented NGOs, activists, states, and courts with the opportunity, through well-publicized struggles and several landmark legal cases, to refine the category to better fit with African contexts.

Article

Women in Beauty Culture and Aesthetic Rituals in Africa  

Oluwakemi Balogun

Women and their bodies have figured prominently in beauty cultures and aesthetic rituals throughout Africa, and they are tied to specific symbolic practices, political contexts, and economic circumstances. Diverse beauty practices in Africa provide valuable insight into understanding shifting cultural logics and social structures. Beauty practices and aesthetic rituals are socially contingent and hold multiple meanings depending on the historical context that they emerge from. Moreover, women’s aesthetic choices are often heavily politicized within broader local, national, and global tensions. Specific beauty rituals illuminate the social contexts of varied communities and are often connected to rites of passage that signal maturity, fertility, and status. Beauty both reflects and constitutes social values, power differentials, and personal agency.

Article

Ceramics and Archaeology in Southern Africa  

Per Ditlef Fredriksen

Pottery has been part of daily life in southern Africa for the last two millennia. The frequent occurrence at settlement sites and its resistance to decay makes pottery the most common proxy for past food-producing communities (farmers and livestock herders), who made containers for cooking, serving, and storing foods and liquids. Provided that pots and sherds have enough diagnostic features to indicate décor patterns and vessel shape, trained eyes can get an instant and literally cost-free peek into past movement and interaction. Various material sciences offer high-precision dating and insights into less visible characteristics, and ethnographic insights are helpful for understanding more intangible aspects, such as the organization of production, pots’ roles in social practices and belief systems, and the transmission of knowledge and skills through apprenticeship. Potting has been a highly gendered activity, and attention to social identity is instrumental in widening the range of lenses through which archaeologists view past material culture. In this manner, by focusing on skilled craft networks dominated by women, ceramic research can provide a critical corrective alternative to more traditional top-down narratives that trace the evolution and interaction of (male) elites. However, the European and North American legacy of archaeological classification in southern Africa cannot be overlooked. Ceramic classification may still unwillingly project a Western-centered understanding of the human condition, mobility, and social change. While unacceptable labels that refer to outmoded notions of tribalism have long been replaced by more neutral terms, this does not mean that ceramics provide archaeology with a neutral “tracking device.” A continual key challenge for practitioners in southern Africa is to situate ceramic analysis within a wider thematic and disciplinary nexus in order to construct convincing deep time narratives while also exploring new pathways to insights that can give voices to otherwise silent or subaltern members of past societies.

Article

Ndau Identity in Zimbabwe  

Emmanuel Sithole

Ndau people (popularly identified as VaNdau) possess a rich but largely under-recorded history. Notwithstanding that the etymology of “Ndau” as a collective ethnic term is the subject for much debate, some documental archives suggest that the ancestors of Ndau people arrived in a series of migrations and settled in the areas between the Pungwe and Save rivers during the early centuries. The existing archaeological and historical evidence attests that there were interethnic and interracial contact between “Mandowa” (local Indigenous people) and Swahili and Muslim merchants at Sofala Bay during the 8th century. They had trade networks that were developed several centuries before Portuguese traders’ arrival, settlement, and control of the trading of gold, ivory, and, much later, slaves in that part of the East African region. Early Portuguese explorers and writers, some of whom had intermarried with Mandowa women, realized that VaNdau had developed political, linguistic, social, and cultural identities in the 16th century. As reported in early Portuguese literature, VaNdau shared kinship ties, similar social and cultural beliefs, and spoke the same language (albeit with several regional varieties) that helped in the negotiation and assertion of a collective sense of Ndauness across centuries. Ndau identity became even more asserted and concretized during the 19th century when VaNdau were exposed to extreme persecution at the hands of their Gaza Nguni conquerors. Forced conscription of VaNdau into Gaza Nguni social and military ranks, however, resulted in a renegotiation of the nature and meaning of an Ndau identity. Interethnic marriage with Gaza Nguni warriors culminated in the emergence of a dual Ndau and Gaza identity represented by a permanent accommodation of Gaza Nguni clan names, among other cultural and linguistic elements among VaNdau in the late 19th century. Meanwhile, White colonial and missionary (mainly American Board Mission) activity exerted significant influence on the cultural, social, religious, and political aspects of Ndau society in the 20th century. Colonial and postindependent policies in education, media, and the greater society encouraged the assimilation of Ndau people into a newly created linguistic Shona identity in Zimbabwe. From 1931, young Ndau speakers began to gradually accept Shona as their primary identity. However, Ndau’s constitutional recognition as a separate official language in 2013 contributed toward the reclamation of the ChiNdau identity in Zimbabwe, especially across virtual platforms such as Facebook and other social networking sites. Thousands of Ndau-speaking people converge on virtual platforms such as Rekete Chindau—Leave a Legacy to reassert and reshape their identity through speaking and writing about it in Zimbabwe.

Article

Pepetela  

Alexandra Santos

Pepetela (b. 1941) is one of the most awarded Angolan writers and a successful creator of the myths and epics sustaining Angolan identity in the symbolic domain. He has played many roles throughout his life, from revolutionary socialism ideologist to guerrilla fighter, government member, university professor, and civic activist. Most notably, he is a prolific writer; his dozens of novels, chronicles, plays, and fables constitute an incomparable testimony to 20th-century Angola. His writing articulates a strong sociological awareness with a world vision that feeds on the ideological currents of nationalism and socialism. This surprising junction makes the basis for literary works in which the struggle for independence, the construction of the Angolan nation, the socialist revolution, and social analysis assume great relevance, as does the quest for the symbolic roots of national identity. Pepetela has been the most thorough explorer of Angolan historical sources and autochthonous myths, from which he assembled narratives that are considered foundational to the nation. His work is the object of numerous academic essays in several languages. Just as importantly, he is a favorite among readers worldwide.

Article

Ogot, Grace  

J. Roger Kurtz

Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot (1930–2015), a leading Kenyan writer and politician, was a pioneering figure whose professional accomplishments spanned the independence and postindependence eras in East Africa. Until her death at age eighty-four, Ogot was an acclaimed cultural leader within her Luo community, as well as in her nation of Kenya. While she also worked in the fields of nursing and journalism, Ogot is best remembered for her political success, her groundbreaking achievements as an author of short stories and novels, and being chronicler of Luo folk tales. In all areas of her work, Ogot developed a reputation as a prominent advocate for women’s concerns. As an author, Ogot belongs to the first generation of Kenyan writers. This group may be defined as those writers who were born and educated during the colonial period, but whose writing continued into the postcolonial era. She was the first Luo writer and the first Kenyan woman to win international acclaim for her creative writing. Other well-known Luo women writers from Kenya include Asenath Bole Odaga, Margaret Ogola, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Ogot wrote both in English and in Dholuo, the language of the Luo people. She is best known for her works of realist fiction, her promotion of traditional myth and folklore, and her books for children. She began publishing short stories in East African journals in the 1960s. Her best-known works are her novel The Promised Land (1966) and her short story collection Land without Thunder (1968). These were the first creative works written by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, the region’s first locally owned and managed publishing firm. In national politics, Ogot represented her region as a member of parliament, and she served as an assistant minister in the national government. She served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and to UNESCO in 1976. She was married to Bethwell Ogot, a leading Kenyan historian. Together, they represented one of Kenya’s most influential and publicly recognized couples due to their prominent national positions. Through her writing and political activities, especially as she used those activities to promote positive social change for women, Ogot will be remembered as someone whose life both reflected and influenced the social dynamics of 20th-century Kenya.

Article

The Kalanga in Historical Perspective  

Thembani Dube

The Kalanga are one of the ethnic groups found mostly in the Bulilima and Mangwe districts, in the southwestern parts of Zimbabwe. Although the origins of the Kalanga date back to a thousand years, it is important to note that Kalanga ethnic identity is a socially constructed phenomenon, which continues to be negotiated. Therefore, it is vital to note that dynamism, flexibility, and malleable are some of the attributes of this identity. As such, Kalanga history and identity, which has been a product of various processes, such as precolonial political and social organization, colonial rule and the postcolonial Zimbabwean state, will be sought after. Central to these processes are actors such as Kalanga chiefs, missionaries, colonial administrators, Kalanga elites, women, and the ordinary people, who played a significant role in shaping and articulating Kalanga identity at different historical epochs. Moreover, markers of Kalanga identity such as language, Ngwali/Mwali religion, chieftaincy, and histories of origin have been used to (re)construct Kalanga identity. Nonetheless, the heterogeneity of Kalanga people and the complexity involved in the intricate processes of identity formation will be acknowledged. In postcolonial Zimbabwe there has been rising interest from Kalanga elites who have lobbied the government to recognize the Kalanga. This activism is inspired by perceived marginalization of the Kalanga and other minority groups, which has been enforced through monolithic linguistic policies, orchestrated through government favoritism toward the so-called majority languages, such as Shona and IsiNdebele. However, the interaction and cordial relations among the Kalanga and other ethnic groups found in Zimbabwe will also be acknowledged. Nonetheless, there is no exhaustive account of this group as scholars continue to engage with them, hence contributing to always expand the different interpretations on these people. It is therefore hoped that the history of this particular group will be chronicled and perhaps directions for future research on the Kalanga pointed out. In order to fully explore this historical account, various sources that have been used in the study of Kalanga history will be critically engaged.

Article

Women, Race, and Ethnicity in Africa  

Hilary Jones

The idea of race shaped the encounter between Africa and Europe from the “age of discovery,” through the height of colonial rule in the 20th century, and on into the age of independence, decolonization and the birth of the postcolonial nation. Race, understood today as a social construct rather than a biological fact, emerged as an ideological framework in Western thought to rationalize difference. In the 16th and 17th centuries, religion and color stood as markers of difference. The Atlantic slave trade furthered the notion of African inferiority by defining African people as “heathen” and therefore suitable for enslavement. By the 19th century, scientific racism advanced the idea of blackness as biologically and culturally inferior to whiteness, which in turn served to justify colonial conquest under the guise of “civilizing dark Africa.” Colonial rule, moreover, relied on ethnicity as a means of categorizing African peoples. Using the idea of “tribe” to characterize and govern African peoples furthered the objectives of European imperialism by taking a complex landscape of social, cultural, political, and linguistic identity and establishing a rigid and fixed system of classification. African women stood at the intersection of racialist thinking about Africa and the construction of a colonial social order that used race and ethnicity as means of defining and controlling African populations. Women like Sara Baartman became the symbolic projection of racial and ethnic difference for Europe; at the same time, customary marriages between African women and European men in Atlantic Africa defined cross-cultural trade and gave rise to multiracial communities. As European imperialism gave way to colonial bureaucracy, the fluidity of interracial unions gave way to policies that sought to police the boundaries between black and white in the colony; children of mixed racial ancestry did not fit neatly into the ethnic or racial categories erected by colonial regimes. Far from being passive receptacles of racial and ethnic thinking, African men and women used these categories of European knowledge as tools for their own purposes. African women, in particular, developed their own strategies for engaging with European merchants and officials in the age of encounter, and for navigating the evolving landscape of colonial rule, whether defying colonial boundaries by entering into intimate partnerships with European men, or rejecting European suitors.

Article

Pentecostalism in Africa  

Nimi Wariboko

The literature on African Pentecostalism is relatively vast and growing rapidly, but it is, unfortunately, caught in the circle of trying to define what African Pentecostalism is, and how it is what it is. How does African Pentecostalism constitute itself in relation to its sensibilities? How does it bear witness to its form of religiosity as a spirituality that is continually affected by African traditional religions, by economic exigencies and political developments in Africa, and by traditions, doctrines, and the gospel message of Christianity? What does it mean for Africans to express or modify Pentecostalism? How does one capture the style by which African Pentecostals leave their marks on Pentecostalism? The question of how African Pentecostalism defines itself is ultimately a question about Africa bearing witness to itself in African Pentecostalism, and about Pentecostalism expressing itself in an African context. The study of this religious movement, then, is not only about African Pentecostalism, but also about Africans bearing witness to their particular mode of being Pentecostal. It tells the story of the multi-directional openness of African Pentecostal social life without applying a constrictive universalizing framework to the fragmentary nature of African Pentecostalism. The movement is an assemblage of practices, ideas and theologies, and interpretations of reality, whose tangled roots burrow deep into the past, present, and future segments of African temporality. African Pentecostalism, like any other human endeavor, is full of fragments, and to understand it scholars must think in parts rather than in unified cultural wholes.