How Societies Are Born: Governance in West Central Africa before 1600

How Societies Are Born: Governance in West Central Africa before 1600

Jan Vansina

Language: English

Pages: 356


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Like stars, societies are born, and this story deals with such a birth. It asks a
fundamental and compelling question: How did societies first coalesce from the small foraging
communities that had roamed in West Central Africa for many thousands of

Jan Vansina continues a career-long effort to reconstruct the history
of African societies before European contact in How Societies Are Born. In
this complement to his previous study Paths in the Rainforests, Vansina
employs a provocative combination of archaeology and historical linguistics to turn his
scholarly focus to governance, studying the creation of relatively large societies extending
beyond the foraging groups that characterized west central Africa from the beginning of human
habitation to around 500 BCE, and the institutions that bridged their constituent local
communities and made large-scale cooperation possible.

The increasing reliance
on cereal crops, iron tools, large herds of cattle, and overarching institutions such as
corporate matrilineages and dispersed matriclans lead up to the developments treated in the
second part of the book. From about 900 BCE until European contact, different societies chose
different developmental paths. Interestingly, these proceeded well beyond environmental
constraints and were characterized by "major differences in the subjects which enthralled
people," whether these were cattle, initiations and social position, or "the splendors
of sacralized leaders and the possibilities of participating in them."

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!Kung find these in the wild. . Ohamba / in Umbundu; -sambi /, / in the Ngangela cluster. Perhaps Libolo kajamba is related to this. Thamba / in Pende, Cokwe, Lwena, and -tamba in Rund and Ndembu, all designate the sweet potato. . They are now designated by a great variety of terms, which attests to a very complex history. . Attested to in practically all the languages of the area except for Mbala. Beside these beans, proto-Njila speakers may also have planted Cajanus cajan Druce

applied to the working of stone (e.g., Guthrie, Comparative Bantu :, , topograms , ). Others stem from regional innovations of much later date. uva.vansina.000-000 6/9/04 2:30 PM Page 67   since most farmers, especially in the south, were Njila speakers, that development did benefit the further dissemination of Njila languages. Toward the Formation of West Central Africa During the Late Stone Age, what is now West Central Africa formed part of two different areas. Its

an equatorial African area and the southern half part of a south African one. That was still the case during the first half of the first millennium, for the twofold introduction of ironworking did not alter the situation. And yet a few centuries later, by  or , all of West Central Africa had become a single coherent cultural entity, despite the ecological boundary. This unification of the area resulted from the combined effects of the dissemination of the Njila languages with the cultural

‒. Moreover, this claim flies in the face of all other evidence elsewhere in Africa. Most likely the phytoliths identified are ensete. . Such as those elaborated by Michael Mann in Bastin et al., Continuity, p. ; the heterogram .. line of similarity of less than  percent between neighboring languages. The Zambezi floodplain barrier starts there between K and K and ends between L and K. The northern barrier is less clear and shows up only around Mbagani. Note a second less

, there were five great, seven medium, and four partial floods as well as ten years in which the water did not reach the delta and three years in which only the uppermost part of the river held water. Great droughts and famines are known for ‒, , and ; see Tönjes, Ovamboland, pp. ‒ and ‒, for the annual outbreaks of malaria that accompanied the floods. . Siiskonen, Trade, p. . In , Duparquet saw  men digging a storage reservoir. . As Ambo, Nyaneka, and

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