African Studies Invention of Tradition
by
Thomas Spear
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0002

Introduction

“Tradition” is one of the most vexed concepts in African historiography, often criticized for conveying the sense of backward societies mired in an unchanging past, but traditions change as older ideas and practices are reconceptualized in accord with current historical problems in an ongoing process of reinterpretation and reformulation. Since the early 1980s, it has become common to see traditions and related traditional institutions, such as tribes, chieftaincy, and customary law, as not traditional at all but as “invented” or “created” by European colonial authorities and missionaries colluding with African elders to establish colonial hegemony. Studies of “the creation of tribalism” have shown how territorially defined political units supplanted earlier, more fluid social groups and were given substance by standardized languages, ethnographies, and collections of folklore, the experiences of urban migrants, and the reorganization of local polities into ethnically based, colonial native authorities. Colonial chiefs were inventions in two senses: first, the men colonial authorities appointed often lacked traditional legitimacy, and second, the positions to which they were appointed were either created by the colonial administration or had been so corrupted by its demands that they no longer represented legitimate patterns of authority. Finally, analyses of the “making of customary law” have shown how colonial authorities, missionaries, and African elders cobbled together local customs, colonial law, Christian morality, and administrative regulations, codified them, and made them enforceable by authoritarian chiefs, contrary to negotiated precolonial political practices. What these concepts share is a common emphasis on the social construction and instrumentality of tradition, law, and ethnicity by colonial authorities, ostensibly to preserve tradition and social order, while in reality subordinating African societies to colonial rule. These constructions were rarely without local historical precedents, however, and they had to be perceived as legitimate to be effective. Local discourse played a vital role as people continually reinterpreted and reconstructed tradition in the context of broader socioeconomic changes. And colonial policies often stimulated rather than stilled conflict in the ongoing politics of neo-traditionalism. Far from being created by alien rulers, then, tradition was reinterpreted, reformed, and reconstructed by subjects and rulers alike.

The Problem of Tradition in African Studies

“Tradition” is a contentious concept in African studies. Long taken as denoting a fixed, unchanging past, it has come to be seen more recently as infinitely malleable, by colonial officials and Africans alike, to strengthen and legitimize their rule.

The Invention of Tradition

The “invention of tradition” was an influential concept advanced by Ranger 1983, in which he argued that far from being timeless, traditions were created by colonial authorities to establish new ethnic categories and sets of African customs to support patriarchal colonial authority. Subsequently, in a little-cited follow-up, Ranger 1993 found his earlier use of “invention” to be overly focused on colonial power at the expense of African agency, and sought to substitute the concept of “imagined communities” developed by Anderson 1983. Yet Anderson also focused on the role of elites in the articulation of national identities at the expense of the historical processes of reinterpretation and reconstruction that shaped identities over time. Both concepts have subsequently become immensely popular, and several review articles provide critical analyses of the resulting literature, including Smith 1991 and Spear 2003, while Briggs 1991 discusses the conflicts that have developed between social scientists and their subjects over the concept of invention.

  • Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

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    In this widely influential text, Anderson emphasizes the role of elite intellectuals in the articulation of national identities over the economic, social, and political factors that shape them over time.

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    • Briggs, Charles L. “The Politics of Discursive Authority in Research on the ‘Invention of Tradition.’” Cultural Anthropology 11 (1991): 435–469.

      DOI: 10.1525/can.1996.11.4.02a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Discusses the conflicts between “progressive” social scientists and their “traditional” subjects over the invention of tradition, as local peoples reject the implications that traditions are spurious.

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      • Ranger, Terence. “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa.” In The Invention of Tradition. Edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, 211–262. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

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        While Ranger first developed the concept of “the invention of tradition” to explain the development of British imperial institutions to establish a “feudal-patriarchal” ethic of colonial subordination, it quickly became widely deployed to explain how colonial authorities created rigid ethnic categories and reified African custom to facilitate colonial hegemony, and how Africans reworked traditions to maintain social order in the face of labor migration, urbanization, education, and Christianity.

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        • Ranger, Terence. “The Invention of Tradition Revisited: The Case of Africa.” In Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth Century Africa. Edited by Terence Ranger and Olufemi Vaughan, 62–111. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1993.

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          In this critique of his earlier article (Ranger 1983), Ranger doubts the utility of using the term “invention,” which implied a conscious construction of tradition, focused on colonial power and agency, essentialized tradition, and disregarded historical processes of reinterpretation and reformation. In short, Ranger saw the term as misleading and chose to substitute Benedict Anderson’s term “imagined” (Anderson 1983) to better convey multidimensional, interactive historical processes.

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          • Smith, Anthony D. “The Nation: Invented, Imagined, Reconstructed?” Millennium 20 (1991): 353–368.

            DOI: 10.1177/03058298910200031001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            A critical analysis of Ranger 1983’s concept of the “invention of tradition” and Anderson 1983’s notion of “imagined communities.”

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            • Spear, Thomas. “Neo-traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British Colonial Africa.” Journal of African History 44 (2003): 3–27.

              DOI: 10.1017/S0021853702008320Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              An extensive essay that reviews the literature on the invention of tradition and argues that it often overstates colonial ability to manipulate African traditions to establish colonial hegemony. Rather, tradition was an ongoing process in which people reinterpreted the lessons of the past in the context of the present. Traditions were not easily fabricated, and colonial dependence on them often limited colonial power as much as facilitating it.

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              Tradition and the Limits of Invention

              Just as colonial administrators put their faith in traditional rulers, customs, and tribes, scholars have credited European and African intellectuals with the ability to create such fictions, but tradition was both more flexible and less subject to outside manipulation than either officials or scholars have thought. Thus, for Vansina 1990, traditions are fundamental cognitive patterns that shape social life and endure for extremely long periods of time, yet fluidly adapt to changing historical realities, until they are fundamentally challenged by a different paradigm, such as that imposed by European colonialism. By contrast, Feierman 1990 views traditions as unending discourses by means of which people continually debate the terms of their social existence in accord with changing circumstances. Yet, if traditions are continually reinterpreted and adapted, why do they nevertheless appear fixed and immutable? Kratz 1993 Harries 1993, MacGaffey 2013, and Jansen 2011 seek to resolve this paradox by showing how traditions assimilate changes to the past such that they appear seamless and take on the authority of tradition. Thus, as Hamilton 1998 demonstrates, there are limits to invention if such traditions are to continue to resonate with people’s values and practices such that they can be believed and adhered to.

              • Feierman, Steven. Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

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                A seminal work that draws on linguistic and social theory to analyze traditions as ongoing discourses that are continuously reinterpreted, reformed, and transformed as peoples struggle over changes and conflicts within their societies. Thus, when colonial authorities sought to appropriate tradition to support their own rule, they became subject to discourses of which they had little knowledge or control. And when they sought to superimpose their own discourses, such as Christianity or democracy, they risked their appropriation to challenge their own authority.

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                • Hamilton, Carolyn. Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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                  Examines how both Zulu and British representations of the tradition of Shaka changed over two hundred years, focusing on the limits of invention imposed by the ways the tradition’s past shaped its present, by ongoing struggles over their conflicting versions of the past, and by the politics of knowledge in a colonial society.

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                  • Harries, Patrick. “Imagery, Symbolism and Tradition in a South African Bantustan: Mangoshuthu Buthelezi, Inkatha and Zulu History.” History and Theory 32 (1993): 105–125.

                    DOI: 10.2307/2505634Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Shows how contemporary Zulu traditions are reassembled from bodies of existing knowledge into new forms that continue to express communal values.

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                    • Jansen, Jan. “The Intimacy of Belonging: Literacy and the Experience of Sunjata in Mali.” History in Africa 38 (2011): 103–122.

                      DOI: 10.1353/hia.2011.0011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Analysis of how “tradition” acts as a living link between the past, present, and future and is continually invoked to establish identity in a changing world.

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                      • Kratz, Corrine A. “‘We’ve Always Done It Like This. Except for a Few Details’: ‘Tradition’ and ‘Innovation’ in Okiek Ceremonies.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 35 (1993): 30–65.

                        DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500018259Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        While traditions continually change, they nevertheless appear immutable and authoritative. Since changes to tradition usually accrue only incrementally and thus are assimilated into tradition through projection of the present into the past and concentrated, they appear seamless and timeless, and thus gain historical authority.

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                        • MacGaffey, Wyatt. Chiefs, Priests, and Praise-Singers: History, Politics and Land-Ownership in Northern Ghana. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.

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                          A thorough critique of traditional, academic, and colonial accounts of the development and operation of “traditional” chieftaincy over four centuries in northern Ghana that shows how it was continually reinterpreted and projected back into the past in the ongoing making of tradition.

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                          • Vansina, Jan. Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

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                            A formidable reconstruction of a continuous Equatorial African political tradition over 4,000 to 5,000 years, during which fundamental concepts and practices were continually reconceptualized, and renewed until they were finally overwhelmed by colonial rule. Examines how traditions combine fixed precedents and principles with fluid processes of adaptation that enable them to be continually renewed in an autonomous and self-regulating process.

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                            Ethnicity and Identity

                            The concept of “tribe” is no less problematic than the concept of “tradition” and lies at the center of discussions of colonial invention. Usually defined as an exclusive, territorially bounded, self-conscious ethnic collectivity sharing a common origin, language, history, and culture, the concept of tribe underpinned colonial approaches to tradition, chieftaincy, and customary law discussed here. Traditions related the origins, history, cultural values and institutions of tribal entities. Indirect rule was premised on the existence of homogeneous territorial tribes ruled by chiefs, and customary law provided the prescriptive rules binding such units. The idea of tribe also undergirded European racial thought concerning Africa. Seen as primitive and backward, tribes would inevitably fade away with modernization and economic development, but social and political mobilization along ethnic lines remains a modern, powerful, and sometimes violent force in African politics today. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Ethnicity and Politics.”

                            The Problem of Tribe

                            Southall 1970 forcefully critiques the earlier “tribal” model, while Kopytoff 1987 supplants it with a dynamic theoretical model of ethnic formation. Turner 1957 and MacGaffey 1970 develop dynamic processual ethnographic models that replace fixed functionalist ones.

                            • Kopytoff, Igor. “The Internal African Frontier: The Making of African Political Culture.” In The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies. Edited by Igor Kopytoff, 3–84. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

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                              Contrary to the unitary collective history conveyed in African origin traditions and colonial thought, Kopytoff sees ethnic formation as a dynamic historical process in which small groups continually broke off from existing societies as a result of lineage segmentation, succession disputes, or witchcraft, and formed their own societies in an ongoing process of ethnicity in the making.

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                              • MacGaffey, Wyatt. Custom and Government in the Lower Congo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.

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                                Provides a dynamic analysis of chieftaincy and identity that provides an alternative to earlier static functionalist anthropological models.

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                                • Southall, Aidan. “The Illusion of Tribe.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 5 (1970): 28–50.

                                  DOI: 10.1177/002190967000500104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Refutes the bounded concept of tribe enshrined in British anthropological and colonial thought and African tradition and seeks to replace it with “interlocking, overlapping, multiple collective identities.”

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                                  • Turner, Victor. Schism and Continuity in an African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1957.

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                                    In focusing on social process and political action, Turner shows how identity was a political strategy employed by emerging leaders, contra structural functionalist ideas of tribe.

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                                    Theories of Ethnicity

                                    The study of ethnic groups and ethnicity—common euphemisms for tribe and tribalism—dating from the 1960s is ably surveyed and critiqued in Young 1986, Bentley 1987, and Brubaker and Cooper 2000. It was previously seen as unproblematic—colonialists, Africans, and social scientists alike assumed that tribalism would fade away when confronted by modernity—but its seemingly anachronistic resurgence among migrant workers, perverse failure to fade away in the face of modernization, and explosive intrusion into national politics has forced scholars to reassess prevailing evolutionary assumptions. Prompted by the seminal work Barth 1969, competing primordial, instrumental, and constructivist approaches emerged. Primordialists, like Geertz 1963, sought to explain ethnicity’s cultural and emotional power through evoking a common history, culture, and destiny—potently symbolized by blood—in defense of group interests, yet were unable to explain how and why it was invoked. Instrumentalists focused on the ways ethnicity was mobilized by migrant workers to counter insecurity, by nationalists to build political constituencies, and by cultural elites to enhance their status, but they could not account for its content. These problems led to constructivist approaches that focused on the construction of ethnicity by colonial rulers and African elites alike in the name of reproducing a neo-traditional social order. The constructivist approach was pioneered by Vail 1989 and has been widely emulated since. Following Vail, Amselle 1998 and Lentz 1995 agree that ethnicity was a product of French and British administrators, missionaries, and ethnographers fixing rigid, bounded models of African societies. Yet such strict constructivism fails to account for the existence of precolonial ethnicities and their influence on the development of modern politicized tribalism. This problem is resolved by Lonsdale 1992’s deconstruction of ethnicity into its opposed and often contradictory moral and political aspects, thus stressing both the importance of earlier forms of ethnic consciousness and the crucial roles these played in subsequent efforts by European colonialists and Africans to forge new forms of political consciousness.

                                    • Amselle, Jean-Loup. Mestizo Logics: Anthropology of Identity in Africa and Elsewhere. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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                                      Argues that precolonial African social identities were “devoid of historical meaning prior to colonial conquest” until they were fixed by French administrators, missionaries, and ethnographers, and subsequently appropriated by local people. A rare French complement to a literature dominated by analyses of British indirect rule. First published in French as Logiques métisses: Anthropologie de l’identité en Afrique et ailleurs (Paris: Payot, 1990).

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                                      • Barth, Fredrik. “Introduction.” In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organisation of Cultural Difference. Edited by Fredrik Barth, 9–38. London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.

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                                        A seminal analysis of ethnicity focused on the fluid nature of ethnic boundaries rather than on rigid cultural constructions of ethnicity.

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                                        • Bentley, G. Carter. “Ethnicity and Practice.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 29 (1987): 24–55.

                                          DOI: 10.1017/S001041750001433XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          A critical review of primordialist and instrumental interpretations of ethnicity.

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                                          • Brubaker, Rogers, and Frederick Cooper. “Beyond ‘Identity.’” Theory and Society 29 (2000): 1–47.

                                            DOI: 10.1023/A:1007068714468Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            A perceptive critique of the concept of identity, which the authors argue is both too “strong” (in the sense of deep, abiding and foundational) and too “weak” (multiple, unstable, and fragmentary) to be analytically useful. They recommend, instead, breaking identity down into separate analytical categories based on its constituent elements of identification and categorization, self-understanding and social location, and commonality and connectedness.

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                                            • Geertz, Clifford. “The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil Politics in the New States.” In Old Societies and New States. Edited by Clifford Geertz, 105–157. New York: Free Press, 1963.

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                                              A classic primordialist statement that argues that people resort to deep-seated fundamental values enshrined in traditional institutions and practices in times of disruptive social change.

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                                              • Lentz, Carola. “‘Tribalism’ and Ethnicity in Africa: A Review of Four Decades of Anglophone Research.” Cahiers des sciences humaines 31 (1995): 303–328.

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                                                Argues that precolonial African societies were characterized by multiple, overlapping networks and flexible boundaries that became fixed ethnic identities only with European colonial rule and the development of common ancestral identities and culturally and linguistically distinctive tribes.

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                                                • Lonsdale, John. “The Moral Economy of Mau Mau: Wealth, Poverty and Civic Virtue in Kikuyu Political Thought.” In Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa. Edited by Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale, 315–504. London: James Currey, 1992.

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                                                  By distinguishing between contradictory aspects of ethnicity, the inherited moral sensibilities that govern our relations with one another and establish our collective sense of selfhood (or “moral ethnicity”) and the competitive oppositional politics that govern our relations with others (“political tribalism”), Lonsdale resolves the debate between primordialist and instrumentalist/constructivist views, reopening the issue of ethnicity to historical study as well as bringing issues of tradition, indirect rule, and customary law back into studies of ethnicity

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                                                  • Vail, Leroy, ed. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

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                                                    An influential collection of papers that first developed the idea of the creation of tribalism on a large scale. Vail’s Introduction (pp. 1–19) is a classic constructivist critique of primordialism, arguing that ethnic groups were the product of specific colonial forces that fostered the development of ethnic polities, languages, histories, and ideologies. Individual articles by Ranger (pp. 118–150), Vail and White (pp. 151–192), and Roberts (pp. 193–214) provide detailed examples of this position, while those by Harries (pp. 82–117) and Papstein (pp. 372–394) argue that not only were ethnic identities prominent prior to the advent of colonialism, they also played as significant a role in the creation of modern tribalism as did colonial authorities and African elites.

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                                                    • Young, M. Crawford. “Nationalism, Ethnicity and Class in Africa: A Retrospective.” Cahiers d’études africaines 103 (1986): 421–495.

                                                      DOI: 10.3406/cea.1986.1711Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      A comprehensive review of the literature on ethnicity in Africa (pp. 442–455) set against the parallel literatures on nationalism and class, the dominant analytical paradigms in postcolonial Africa.

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                                                      Precolonial Ethnicity

                                                      Africans have long organized themselves in larger societies, sometimes along lineage and clan lines and others along culturally, territorially, or politically defined ones. Such ethnic identities provided individuals with the moral and social compasses to navigate their lives and distinguish themselves from others. Yet through intermarriage, trade, and population movement, membership of individual ethnic groups was fluid and groups themselves changed over time. Ethnicity was thus an ongoing historical process that had been underway for thousands of years before the advent of European imperialism, as shown in Vansina 2004 and Schoenbrun 1998. Ethnogenesis could assume many forms, from the micropolitics of land (Greene 1996) and the vagaries of conquest in Ghana (Gilbert 1997) or southern Africa (Wright and Hamilton 1990), to popular expansion in East Africa (Ambler 1988), an expanding Luso-African world (Mark 1999), or the vast Yoruba diaspora of the Atlantic world (Peel 2000). In the process, ethnicity drew on longstanding processes of inclusion and exclusion, consolidation and differentiation that continually redefined and reformulated group traditions and identities in meaningful ways in the context of changing historical circumstances.

                                                      • Ambler, Charles H. Kenyan Communities in the Age of Imperialism: The Central Region in the Late Nineteenth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

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                                                        A dynamic analysis of the formation of ethnic groups in 19th-century Kenya as people migrated into the area, formed small-scale, lineage-based societies, and grew into larger, territorially defined, village-based societies.

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                                                        • Gilbert, Michelle. “‘No Condition Is Permanent’: Ethnic Construction and the Use of History in Akuapem.” Africa 67 (1997): 501–533.

                                                          DOI: 10.2307/1161106Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Gilbert shows how Akyem chiefs were able to conquer Guan in 1730 and establish their hegemony through their immigrant status, ethnicity, matrilineal descent, and ancestral stools, while Guan were distinguished by their indigenous status and ethnicity, patriliny, and ritual priests, but over time, the two ethnic groups renegotiated the relations between them and Guan became progressively more “Akanized.”

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                                                          • Greene, Sandra E. Gender, Ethnicity and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of Anlo-Ewe. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

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                                                            Ethnic history of a small maritime enclave in which successive settlers variously employed insider status, endogamy, wealth, and ritual to redefine identity and gain inclusion in processes that continued through the colonial period and into the era of independence.

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                                                            • Mark, Peter. “The Evolution of ‘Portuguese’ Identity: Luso-Africans on the Upper Guinea Coast from the Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century.” Journal of African History 40 (1999): 173–191.

                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S0021853799007422Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              As Portuguese traders settled along the West African coast over 250 years, ethnicity slowly became transformed from assimilationist African paradigms (mixed races, languages, religious practices, and architecture) to more exclusionary European ones (White, Catholic, and Portuguese).

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                                                              • Peel, J. D. Y. Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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                                                                Details the articulation of a trans-Yoruba ethnic identity by 19th-century Yoruba historians and linguists as Yoruba in the vast diaspora stretching from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, Cuba, and Brazil first became aware of their common ethnicity and language in a process of active “cultural work” that integrated peoples’ experiences with their histories.

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                                                                • Schoenbrun, David. A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity between the Great Lakes to the Fifteenth Century. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.

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                                                                  Uses the complementary concepts of the instrumental power of rulers over peoples and the creative power of healers over the maintenance of collective well-being to trace “a social history of inventing and remembering” across two thousand years as peoples sought to master and define their own economies, powers, and identities.

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                                                                  • Vansina, Jan. How Societies Are Born: Governance in West Central Africa before 1600. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.

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                                                                    Traces the development of traditions, societies, and ethnic identities over more than two thousand years. Argues that new economies and modes of governance were critical in transforming small, weakly differentiated communities into larger cooperating societies with collective institutions, imaginations, and identities.

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                                                                    • Wright, John, and Carolyn Hamilton. “The Making of the Amalala: Ethnicity, Ideology and Relations of Subordination in a Pre-colonial Context.” South African Historical Journal 22 (1990): 3–23.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/02582479008671653Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      As wars of annexation swept 19th-century southern Africa, local chiefdoms based on common territory, culture, language, and descent were either assimilated early on into conquest states or were later excluded on ethnic grounds and exploited for tribute and labor, showing how ethnic differentiation was a function of differing precolonial historical circumstances.

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                                                                      Ethnicity and Colonialism

                                                                      With colonial conquest, African societies became subject to new forms of economic exploitation, political domination, and social control. Yet colonial power was limited, and so colonial officials sought to utilize preexisting political institutions—tribes, chiefs, and customs—to administer African societies (Iliffe 1979). Colonial powers were not alone in seeking to adapt traditional identities and institutions to their own purposes, however; Africans also sought to mobilize existing and reformulated identities to cope with colonial political and economic exploitation. Differential access to resources was often sustained by policies of ethnic exclusion, as among Maasai and neighboring peoples (Spear and Waller 1993). Migrant labor and urbanization brought diverse peoples together, highlighting ethnic differences and encouraging people to organize themselves on ethnic lines, some newly expanded for the purpose (Willis 1993, Harries 1994). Expanded ethnic identities were also utilized to draw local communities together in larger collectivities (Bravman 1998 and Mahoney 2012) and to unite peoples scattered in new national and international diasporas (Cohen and Odhiambo 1989). And ethnicity could be used politically to mobilize followers in opposition to other groups (Glassman 2011).

                                                                      • Bravman, Bill. Making Ethnic Ways: Communities and Their Transformations in Taita, Kenya, 1800–1950. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.

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                                                                        Settled in scattered mountain niches, Taita developed small localized ethnicities based on neighborhood and descent within broader regional languages, cultures, and social organizations, but with colonial rule, Christianity, and education, they slowly coalesced into a broader Taita identity that pitted older men against young educated Christians in struggles to control Taita “cultural politics.”

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                                                                        • Cohen, David William, and E. S. Atieno Odhiambo. Siaya: The Historical Anthropology of an African Landscape. London: James Currey, 1989.

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                                                                          While a new generalized Luo ethnicity was promoted by colonial officials and the educated elite to assert regional hegemony, it was further elaborated by Luo teachers, traders and bar owners in the forms of extended lineage genealogies and ideologies, myths of common origins, folk tales, and emotionally charged ideas of home propagated in Luo bars, football clubs and political organizations throughout the Luo diaspora.

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                                                                          • Glassman, Jonathon. War of Words, War of Stones: Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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                                                                            Glassman shows how older forms of ethnicity along the coast were reinterpreted by Zanzibari intellectuals in the context of racialized European ideologies and nationalist politics and deployed, often violently, in nationalist politics.

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                                                                            • Harries, Patrick. Work, Culture, and Identity: Migrant Laborers in Mozambique and South Africa, c. 1860–1910. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.

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                                                                              Demonstrates the vibrant ways that reformed identities were forged among Mozambique migrants in the distant mines and fields of South Africa.

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                                                                              • Iliffe, John. A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511584114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                Shows how British indirect rule aggregated and consolidated local identities into tribal units ostensibly possessing a common territory, culture, language, and law and into a unified system of native administration.

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                                                                                • Mahoney, Michael R. The Other Zulus: The Spread of Zulu Ethnicity in Colonial South Africa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1215/9780822395584Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  Traces the expansion of Zulu ethnic identity as a modern expression promoted by migrant youths to oppose both traditional chiefs and newly installed colonial authorities alike.

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                                                                                  • Spear, Thomas, and Richard Waller, eds. Being Maasai: Ethnicity and Identity in Eastern Africa. London: James Currey, 1993.

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                                                                                    Spear’s introduction stresses the significance of differential access to resources in establishing local ethnic identities within the wider context of interdependent and inclusive regional economies to show how Maasai ethnicity could both exclude non-Maasai from the economic world of cattle and include them in Maasai cultural practices, social institutions, and exchange economy. Individual articles develop these points further in a variety of historical circumstances.

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                                                                                    • Willis, Justin. Mombasa, the Swahili, and the Making of the Mijikenda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198203209.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Traces the permutations of Mijikenda ethnicity from the rural surroundings of Mombasa in the 19th century to an urban labor force in Mombasa in the 20th, arguing that precolonial rural identities were characterized by fluid, situational, and ephemeral social networks that became increasingly institutionalized and fixed under colonial rule.

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                                                                                      Postcolonial Ethnicity

                                                                                      Many assumed that triumphant nationalism would submerge “traditional” ethnic groups and ethnicity generally in “modern” national states, yet ethnicity continues to inform modern politics and ethnic conflict continues today. While such conflicts are popularly interpreted as resulting from deeply rooted, primordial instincts, on closer study, they usually reflect modern political, economic, and social forces as politicians and others evoke putative “traditional” identities to mobilize supporters and lend legitimacy to their quest for power and wealth, bringing immensely destructive forces into play as they do so. Examples abound, from the pervasive ethnicization of Kenyan politics that lead to explosive violence following the 2007 elections, explored in Branch 2011, Lynch 2011, and Jenkins 2012, to the genocidal violence of Rwanda and Burundi, detailed in Lemarchand 1994, Mamdani 2001, and Prunier 1998, and the collapse of Somalia into endemic clan-based ethnic violence analyzed in Kapteijns 2013. In dramatic contrast, Dafinger 2013 sees normal ethnic differences as both complementary and oppositional, with the potential for both cooperation in daily life and episodic conflict.

                                                                                      • Branch, Daniel B. Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963–2011. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                        A political history of the first half century of Kenyan independence focused on the increasing dominance of Big Men who employed ethnically based patronage politics, corruption, and violence, to gain wealth and power, with disastrous results in the deadly aftermath of the 2007 elections, showing both the efficacy and the danger of such politics.

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                                                                                        • Dafinger, Andres. The Economics of Ethnic Conflict. Woodbridge, UK: James Currey, 2013.

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                                                                                          A detailed anthropological case study of local political economy in Burkina Faso that investigates the contradictory roles of ethnic differences in socioeconomic relations between pastoral and agricultural peoples. An excellent example of how ethnic differences can be simultaneously seen as both complementary and conflicted.

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                                                                                          • Jenkins, Sarah. “Ethnicity, Violence and the Immigrant-Guest Metaphor in Kenya.” African Affairs 111.445 (2012): 576–596.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/afraf/ads051Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            In contrast to interpretations of Kenyan politics that focus on ethnic mobilization from the top down, argues that ethnicity was also mobilized from the bottom up by ordinary Kenyans as they increasingly viewed other groups as illegitimate outsiders who posed a threat to their own existence.

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                                                                                            • Kapteijns, Lidwien. Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.9783/9780812207583Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              An impassioned account of the emergence of newly ethnicized collective violence in the aftermath of the fall of the Barre regime in 1991, the ways in which leaders and influential poets systematically manipulated ethnic divisions, the collapse of the state, and the immensely destructive aftermath that continues into the early 21st century.

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                                                                                              • Lemarchand, René. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                Authoritative account of the lesser-known genocide in Burundi in 1972 that preceded that in Rwanda twenty-two years later.

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                                                                                                • Lynch, Gabrielle. I Say to You: Ethnic Politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498096.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Views the emergence of “Kalenjin” ethnicity as a new political supertribe in opposition to the dominant Kikuyu and Luo in the increasingly ethnicized electoral politics of Kenya from the 1950s, culminating in the capture of the state under the Kalenjin president Daniel arap Moi.

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                                                                                                  • Mamdani, Mahmoud. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Oxford: James Currey, 2001.

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                                                                                                    An analysis that focuses on the social construction of ethnic identities by colonial authorities in Rwanda and Burundi that subsequently led to genocides.

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                                                                                                    • Prunier, Gérard. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. London: Hurst, 1998.

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                                                                                                      A thorough analysis of the historical origins of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 in the progressive ethnicization of politics by both the colonial and postcolonial regimes.

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                                                                                                      Chiefs and Chieftaincy

                                                                                                      One of the most common uses of the concept of the invention of tradition has been to analyze the British policy of indirect rule, in which colonial authorities sought to identify and rule through “traditional” African authorities in the interests of administrative and financial expediency. Yet in incorporating African chiefs into their system of political domination, they imposed new requirements on them to collect taxes, raise labor, and impose new laws, while neglecting their responsibilities to protect the interests of their followers, thus undermining their legitimacy. The fact that colonial authorities often had to replace recalcitrant chiefs and that chiefs have been able to maintain their legitimacy through the colonial period into the era of independence demonstrates the limits of colonial cooptation and the continued vitality of the institution. See also the Oxford Bibliographies article “Precolonial Political Systems.”

                                                                                                      British Indirect Rule and the Politics of Neo-Traditionalism

                                                                                                      Initially devised by the British governor of Nigeria, Lord Lugard, indirect rule was intended to extend colonial rule down from a small number of senior British officials through tiers of African rulers, chiefs, and headmen to establish colonial domination economically and effectively (Cameron 1937). At the same time, however, the British imposed new obligations upon African authorities and gave them greater power, turning them into “decentralized despots” (Mamdani 1996), but also undermining their legitimacy and effectiveness (Clough 1990, Berry 1993, and Beidelman 2012). While the policy of indirect rule was formally associated with British colonial rule, Crowder 1968 finds the results of other colonial philosophies were mixed in practice. See also the Oxford Bibliographies article “British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

                                                                                                      • Beidelman, Thomas O. The Culture of Colonialism: The Cultural Subjection of Ukaguru. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                        A detailed case study of the imposition of indirect rule on a classic segmentary society without ruling chiefs before the Germans and then British intervened and imposed neotraditional identities complete with customs and authorities to govern them that were neither wholly traditional nor invented, but did create new vehicles for both local people and British to makes claims to power and resources.

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                                                                                                        • Berry, Sara S. No Condition Is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                          Berry elegantly sums up the colonial dilemma as the problem of achieving “hegemony on a shoestring.” Insofar as colonial officials were poorly financed, thin on the ground, and dependent on traditional authorities, law, and custom to maintain their rule, tradition became the source of continuing struggles over power, meaning, and access to resources as tradition was contested by Africans and Europeans alike in attempts to maintain their power.

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                                                                                                          • Cameron, Donald. “Native Administration in Nigeria and Tanganyika.” Journal of the Royal African Society 36 suppl. (1937): 1–20.

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                                                                                                            Cameron was one of the main colonial architects of indirect rule and saw it as an efficient way to harness the “natural authority,” legitimacy, and popular loyalty of traditional African rulers to the colonial regime.

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                                                                                                            • Clough, Marshall S. Fighting Two Sides: Kenyan Chiefs and Politicians, 1918–1940. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1990.

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                                                                                                              Portrays colonial chiefs as “men in the middle, trying to balance the demands of the D.C. and the wishes of the people” (p. 87). While administrators expected chiefs to serve the administration by collecting taxes, administering justice, and supplying labor, local people expected them to defend their interests against alien authority. In the process the greater the regime’s demands, the more it undercut chiefs’ legitimacy and weakened its own authority.

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                                                                                                              • Crowder, Michael. West Africa under Colonial Rule. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968.

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                                                                                                                While most early studies of colonial rule focused on different administrative philosophies—British indirect rule utilizing traditional authorities, French assimilation of Africans to French institutions, and German paternalistic overrule—Crowder sees these as often overlapping in practice and evidencing similar problems.

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                                                                                                                • Mamdani, Mahmood. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                                  In opposition to Cameron 1937, views colonial chiefs as a consolidation of imposed judicial, legislative, and executive authority in a colonial system of domination founded on forced labor, cultivation of crops, payment of taxes, and loss of land.

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                                                                                                                  Chieftaincy in the Colonial Era

                                                                                                                  African chiefs had to navigate a tortuous path between the often oppressive demands of their colonial overlords for taxes, labor, and land and the demands of their followers to ensure their well-being against such extractions. But colonial authorities also had to be careful lest they impose too great demands and undercut the very legitimacy of the chiefs they relied on for their hegemony. Reliance on tradition was thus a fraught enterprise for all involved. Iliffe 1979 shows how in their attempt to shield Africans from the disruptive effects of colonialism, colonial authorities paradoxically often made them worse. Fields 1985, van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal and van Dijk 1999, and Green 2011 focus on the inherent problems of colonial dependence on traditional authority, while Watson 2003 studies the construction of chieftaincy and the destructive effects of colonial rule on it and Sackeyfio-Lenoch 2014 traces the transformation of colonial chieftaincy in an urbanizing setting. In many precolonial African societies, however, power was diffused among lineage and village elders, making it difficult for colonial officials to identify and rule through preexisting authorities, but colonial officials remained dependent on local politics nonetheless, as shown by Spear 1997. Robinson 2000 shows how the French employed Muslim clerics as local authorities, with similar results.

                                                                                                                  • Fields, Karen E. Revival and Rebellion in Colonial Central Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                    An incisive study of the contradictions inherent in indirect rule, which worked, according to Fields, “by making black men with legitimate authority appendages of white men without it” (p. 63). It thus drew African rulers into the colonial order at the same time as drawing European officials into the traditional one, such that when colonial authorities sought to combat witchcraft, they found themselves damaging the religious foundations of the chiefs’ legitimacy, with a consequent loss in their own authority.

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                                                                                                                    • Green, Erik. “Indirect Rule and Colonial Intervention: Chiefs and Agrarian Change in Nyasaland, ca. 1933 to the Early 1950s.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 44.2 (2011): 249–274.

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                                                                                                                      Explores the contradictions of indirect rule as colonial authorities sought to employ traditional chiefs to maintain their authority while also expecting them to act as agents of political and economic change.

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                                                                                                                      • Iliffe, John. A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511584114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        An encyclopedic study of colonial rule in one country. Interprets indirect rule as a means of social control designed to counter the disruptive effects of colonial agricultural reform, education, migrant labor, and urbanization, but which often exacerbated them by enhancing chiefs’ authority, reifying tradition, and heightening ethnicity.

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                                                                                                                        • Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                          Shows how French and Muslim authorities each sought to bargain with the other in a form of indirect rule in which the French allowed Islamic authorities continued autonomy in return for Muslim recognition of French suzerainty. As each became implicated in the other’s world, however, the French found themselves caught up in contentious discourses about purity, reform, and authority within African Islam.

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                                                                                                                          • Sackeyfio-Lenoch, Naaborko. The Politics of Chieftaincy: Authority and Property in Colonial Ghana, 1920–1950. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2014.

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                                                                                                                            Traces the ways that urbanization and the development of cocoa farming in colonial Accra led to increasing disputes over land and political authority, often fought in new colonial institutions, and the resultant transformation of both chieftaincy and land law.

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                                                                                                                            • Spear, Thomas. Mountain Farmers: Moral Economies of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru. Oxford: James Currey, 1997.

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                                                                                                                              Colonial authorities often created new chiefly offices in societies lacking preexisting ones, but even they were subject to traditional discourses regarding the responsibilities of power if they were to be effective tools of colonial rule. While colonial administrators were quick to dismiss any political opposition to them as an attack on tradition, popular opponents could effectively question chiefs’ legitimacy on both traditional and modern grounds, as demonstrated by the famous Meru Land Case.

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                                                                                                                              • van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, E. Adriaan B., and Rijk van Dijk. “The Domestication of Chieftaincy in Africa: From the Imposed to the Imagined.” In African Chieftaincy in a New Socio-Political Landscape. Edited by E. Adriaan B. van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal and Rijk van Dijk, 1–20. Hamburg, Germany: LIT Verlag, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                Stresses that the central question of chieftaincy was not whether it was imposed or not, but how it was made acceptable, given meaning, and imbued with respect and awe. It must thus have been both imagined, in Anderson’s sense, and embedded in local discourse, in Feierman’s (see the Problem of Tradition in African Studies). That chieftaincy has endured testifies to its continuing ability to express local ethnic consciousness and to legitimize the state.

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                                                                                                                                • Watson, Ruth. “Civil Disorder Is the Disease of Ibadan”: Chieftaincy and Civic Culture in a Colonial City. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                  Studies the development of chieftaincy in the new military city of Ibadan in the early 19th century and its transformations under colonial rule in the 20th, as the bases of local political power shifted from military success to the acquisition of wealth and local rulers sought, not unsuccessfully, to capitalize on British rule.

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                                                                                                                                  Chieftaincy in the Postcolonial Era

                                                                                                                                  Many expected chieftaincy to wither quickly under the attacks of African nationalists and the achievement of independence from the late 1950s. Yet while some newly independent governments abolished it and others cut the links between the state and chiefs, chieftaincy proved remarkably resilient in many areas. Rathbone 2000 and Berry 2000 both focus on Ghana, where vibrant traditions of chieftaincy and strong chiefs faced an aggressive nationalist movement determined to undermine their power. Vaughan 2000 emphasizes the degree to which Yoruba chieftaincy has thrived as sources of local identity and guardians of local interests from precolonial times to the present. Most surprisingly, Oomen 2005, Ntsebeza 2005, Myers 2008, and Williams 2010 demonstrate the continued salience of ethnicity and chieftaincy in democratic South Africa in spite of the apartheid regime’s attempts to exploit them and consequent opposition from the victorious African National Congress. And Kleist 2011 demonstrates how overseas Ghanaian professionals return home to become traditional chiefs while espousing modernity.

                                                                                                                                  • Berry, Sara S. Chiefs Know Their Boundaries: Essays on Property, Power, and the Past in Asante, 1896–1996. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                    Far from fixing tradition and codifying custom, indirect rule and independence led to ever-proliferating disputes over what constituted custom and who had the authority to decide, this study concludes that there had long been a “marketplace of power” in Asante, where history was bargained over and chiefs sought to appropriate and channel the resources and ambitions of wealthy subjects.

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                                                                                                                                    • Kleist, Nauja. “Modern Chiefs: Tradition, Development and Return among Traditional Authorities in Ghana.” African Affairs 110.441 (2011): 629–647.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/afraf/adr041Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      Explores the phenomenon of modern Ghanaian professionals who have migrated abroad and subsequently returned to Ghana to become traditional chiefs, claiming to be both guardians of tradition as well as harbingers of development and modernization.

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                                                                                                                                      • Myers, Jason C. Indirect Rule in South Africa: Tradition, Modernity and the Costuming of Political Power. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                        Analyzes how the South African regime employed the British policy of indirect rule in the establishment of apartheid in KwaZulu to try to co-opt chiefs’ legitimacy, control rural populations, and forestall the transition to democracy in the 1990s.

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                                                                                                                                        • Ntsebeza, Lungisile. Democracy Compromised: Chiefs and the Politics of the Land in South Africa. Boston: Brill, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                          Traces the survival of traditional chieftaincy through the colonial and apartheid eras into the modern democratic era as both the apartheid regime and the ANC sought to exploit it to establish their own political control over rural areas.

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                                                                                                                                          • Oomen, Barbara. Chiefs in South Africa: Law, Power and Culture in the Post-apartheid Era. Oxford: James Currey, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                            A revealing study of how traditional authorities—dismissed as undemocratic, patriarchal allies of the apartheid state—challenged the dominant ANC and its political discourse of democracy, multiracialism, and national unity to entrench their powers under customary law. In the process, Oomen shows how law and custom are negotiated, relational, and processual, as people deploy rules as resources and the vernacular in which cases are argued.

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                                                                                                                                            • Rathbone, Richard. Nkrumah and the Chiefs: The Politics of Chieftaincy in Ghana, 1951–60. Oxford: James Currey, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                              Colonial-era chiefs were often seen as fractious and corrupt as they became the foci of struggles over access to land, wealth, and the state. Yet far from being functions of colonial or nationalist politics, chieftaincy disputes influenced national political styles, and chiefs surged back into power following Nkrumah’s overthrow.

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                                                                                                                                              • Vaughan, Olufemi. Nigerian Chiefs: Traditional Power in Modern Politics, 1890s–1990s. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                Sees Yoruba chieftaincy as an “imaginative adaptation of Yoruba indigenous political structures to the processes of state formation in Nigeria” in which “Yoruba elites consistently deployed subjective interpretations of their past to construct structures and ideologies of power” (pp. 210–211).

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                                                                                                                                                • Williams, Michael J. Chieftaincy, the State, and Democracy: Political Legitimacy in Post-apartheid South Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                  Finds that chieftaincy has been remarkably successful in adapting to changing political circumstances in democratic South Africa while retaining its claims to authority.

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                                                                                                                                                  Customary Law

                                                                                                                                                  In the British colonial order, chiefs were seen as the repositories, administrators, and judges of customary law, the rules that governed colonial social, political, and economic relations, but in African societies, indigenous law was more a legal claim to be debated than a legal code to be adjudicated. Colonial authorities thus found many variants when they attempted to codify such practices. They also dismissed customs they found repugnant to their standards and added their own laws, administrative rules, and religious practices to the colonial code. Making customary law was thus not a simple process of colonial invention, but a bipartisan one in which Europeans employed such mixed codes to ensure colonial domination, while Africans appealed to them to defend their own interests. Such struggles over the terms of colonial domination, moral control, and modernization ensured that law remained subject to precedent, the demands made on it, historical conditions, and its perceived legitimacy.

                                                                                                                                                  The Making of Customary Law

                                                                                                                                                  Colson 1971 provides an early example of the making of customary law in the author’s analysis of the manipulation of African land tenure to alienate land to Europeans. Chanock 1985 argues that customary law transformed flexible precolonial patterns of negotiation into sets of fixed rules in which chiefs exercised increasing control, while Moore 1986 emphasizes how chiefs and newly wealthy big men were able to transform custom into customary law in order to expand their wealth and power. Yet both Chanock and Moore exaggerate the ability of colonial authorities or African chiefs to manipulate it, as Mann and Roberts 1991 demonstrates. Mann 2003 takes the analysis further to reveal that customary law could also be used to defend clients’ interests against contractual obligations. Shadle 1999 demonstrates that British administrators often opposed codifying customary law in order to maintain their own ability to respond flexibly to different situations. And Lentz 2013 shows how claims to land and ethnic identity continued to be contested from precolonial times to the early 21st century.

                                                                                                                                                  • Chanock, Martin. Law, Custom and Social Order: The Colonial Experience in Malawi and Zambia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                    The classic account of the making of customary law. Shows how custom became codified by colonial officials seeking to establish administrative control while at the same time becoming the main means that Africans elders could deploy to defend their own interests against colonial control.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Colson, Elizabeth. “The Impact of the Colonial Period on the Definition of Land Rights.” In Colonialism in Africa. Vol. 3. Edited by Victor Turner, 193–215. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

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                                                                                                                                                      Analyzes the inherent contradictions in colonial preservation of communal land tenure for Africans while promoting individual tenure for white settlers that allowed colonial governments to alienate Africans’ land en bloc while simultaneously proclaiming African backwardness and restricting them from individual enterprise. It was, Colson notes, a masterful means of facilitating and justifying exploitation at the same time.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Lentz, Carola. Land, Mobility and Belonging in West Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                                        A dynamic ethnographic and historical analysis of the complex ways claims to land, customary tenure, and ethnic belonging were continually contested and negotiated against a background of enduring universal rights to land and livelihoods from precolonial to postcolonial times.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Mann, Kristin. “Interpreting Cases, Disentangling Disputes: Court Cases as a Source of Understanding Patron-client Relationships in Early Colonial Lagos.” In Sources and Methods in African History: Spoken, Written, Unearthed. Edited by Toyin Falola and Christian Jennings, 195–218. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                          Reveals an emerging struggle between the values of an older moral economy and an emerging capitalist one as clients sued their patrons to recover traditional rights to food, housing, and bridewealth, while patrons defended their refusal to observe customary norms on the grounds that their relations were purely contractual ones of wage labor, cash rents, and commercial loans.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Mann, Kristin, and Richard Roberts. “Law in Colonial Africa.” In Law in Colonial Africa. Edited by Kristin Mann and Richard Roberts, 3–8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                                            An important corrective to Chanock 1985 and Moore 1986 that views law not as a fixed instrument of domination, but as a dynamic institution employed by people in struggles over property, labor, power, and authority. Thus colonial authorities were not always successful in making customary law to ensure their domination, and they frequently found it deployed against them by Africans to resist colonial domination.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Moore, Sally Falk. Social Facts and Fabrications: Customary Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                                                                              Argues that chiefs’ powers and wealth were greatly enhanced by colonial rule as they gained access to new taxes, legal fees, payments from labor recruiters, and income from coffee. Yet Moore exaggerates their unilateral power, as widespread expansion of coffee and education enabled many others to access resources in the new capitalist economy.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Shadle, Brett L. “‘Changing Conditions to Meet Current Altering Conditions’: Customary Law, African Courts, and the Rejection of Codification in Kenya, 1930–60.” Journal of African History 40 (1999): 411–431.

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                                                                                                                                                                Rejects the idea that colonial authorities always sought to convert negotiable customary laws into fixed legal codes as they sought to maintain their flexibility.

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                                                                                                                                                                Women and Customary Law

                                                                                                                                                                Many studies of the making of customary law focus on the ability of African men to manipulate law to control women, as detailed in Chanock 1982, but they often overlook the ability of women also to employ it to resist exploitation, as Schmidt 1992, Byfield 1996, Roberts 1999, and Mutongi 2007 demonstrate. Hay and Wright 1982 provides a broader series of historical studies of women’s changing legal status.

                                                                                                                                                                • Byfield, Judith. “Women, Marriage, Divorce and the Emerging Colonial State in Abeokuta (Nigeria), 1892–1904.” Canadian Journal of African Studies 30 (1996): 32–51.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/486039Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Demonstrates how women were able to seek divorce from oppressive husbands by appealing to customary law within new colonial courts.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Chanock, Martin. “Making Customary Law: Men, Women and Courts in Colonial Northern Rhodesia.” In African Women and the Law: Historical Perspectives. Edited by Margaret Jean Hay and Marcia Wright, 53–67. Boston: Boston University African Studies Center, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                                                    A pioneering work on the making of customary law that focuses on attempts by African elders to reestablish social control over women and younger men as market agriculture and migrant labor introduced new tensions over the control of labor, wealth, and land.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Hay, Margaret Jean, and Marcia Wright, eds. African Women and the Law: Historical Perspectives. Papers presented at a conference held at Columbia University in April 1979. Boston: African Studies Center, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                                                      A significant early collection of papers that focus on the historical development of overlapping political, commercial, Muslim, Christian, and colonial legal codes and processes affecting women in precolonial and colonial Africa.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Mutongi, Kenda. Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226554228.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        While women with no men to protect their interests were particularly defenseless in many African societies, Mutongi shows how widows were able to appeal to colonial courts to uphold their married daughters’ honor by shaming elders into upholding their responsibilities to protect them.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Roberts, Richard. “Representation, Structure and Agency: Divorce in the French Soudan during the Early Twentieth Century.” Journal of African History 40 (1999): 389–410.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Shows how women were able to divorce their husbands in colonial courts by appealing to customary law and colonial courts.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Schmidt, Elizabeth. Peasants, Traders, and Wives: Shona Women in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870–1939. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                                            While Schmidt generally accepts that European and African men colluded to try to control African women, she also demonstrates how women could exploit conflicting interests between them to use colonial courts to their own advantage or to evade the new laws altogether, in this significant addition to Chanock 1982.

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