African Society

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African Society

I. North AfricaJacques Berque


II. Sub-Saharan AfricaJacques Maquet



It would be rash to venture upon the study of a society scarcely emerged from the crisis that brought it to independence if it were not that the rupture itself embodies a rejection of the spirit of the colonial period and harks back beyond it to older continuities. Certain cultural constants previously hidden from view by colonial conditions have clearly emerged. From another point of view, the modernization to which the Maghreb aspires points up its principal problem: the relationship of the collective personality, anxious to protect itself, to the worldliness by which it is besieged. Decolonization in our days, like colonization formerly, represents a certain stage in this dual relationship which the Maghreb is attempting to conceptualize and absorb into its own order.

To scholars of the colonial period the Maghreb prior to the European occupation had only a prehistory; because of archaism and exoticism, this prehistory aroused their curiosity. The accent, however, was on Western intervention and on the cultural disturbances, adaptations, and replacements it had provoked. Maghrebi society was seen as a social field with varying orthodoxies and survivals possessed of greater or lesser degrees of interest but scarcely as a system capable of an evolution of its own. Since independence, on the other hand, the three Maghrebi nations, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, have viewed the colonial period as a transitory state, less a point of arrival than one of departure for a social organism that has already passed through many stages. In this evolution colonization is only one stage; in order to maintain its identity in the face of ever-increasing pressures of adaptation to the rest of the world, the structure of Maghreb culture must undergo radical revision (e.g., see Doutté 1908; Maunier 1932; Gautier 1931).

The Maghrebi system

In the past decade, and by a coincidence that is not devoid of irony, several partial discoveries have enabled the historian and sociologist to reassemble the elements of what might be called the Maghrebi system. With a certain regularity these elements have been found in ethnological milieus as different from each other as Berber-speaking sedentary mountaineers and Arabic-speaking bedouins, traditional Islamic towns (madīna’s) and modern urban working-class quarters.

It was observed among the Chleuhs of the HautAtlas in Morocco that the division of the elementary political group, taqbilt, into agnatic subgroups, ikh’s, corresponds to the astonishingly minute and painstaking division of the land into toponymic agricultural patches and also to the cyclical allotment of irrigation periods. The integration of technique, knowledge, and social organization—with an astonishingly permanent structure—was the governing principle for the allocation of human energies. Even inequities in wealth based upon the mortgaging of the land to a lender and the subsequent departure of the borrower, which combined a smallscale nascent capitalism, procedural astuteness, and individual initiative, remained within the collective framework. Characteristic cultural traits— such as collective and legislative group festivals; poetry, hagiology, and historicity; and the mobilization of labor for maintenance of the irrigation system—are assembled in a configuration of great continuity (J. Berque 1955).

For example, in an Arabic-speaking Tunisian group, which with its extensive economy survives in the midst of the most heavily colonized sublittoral hills and plains and which has maintained a determined adherence to bedouin life, there appeared a matrimonial organization capable of graphic representation and numerical computation. Here the permanence of the group was based upon a balance—previously unsuspected— between exogamy and endogamy, on a dual rhythm in the collective life. A circular configuration corresponding curiously to the shape of numerous bedouin encampments, duwār, best depicted these regularities (Cuisenier 1963).

At the opposite pole, in the large coastal cities, where the proletarization of the uprooted masses had progressed for at least a generation in the casbah, bidonville, and gourbiville quarters (Berque 1958b), the urbanization of new arrivals was effected in progressive hierarchical stages. What was observable in the casbah or other quarters of Algiers differed little except for time factors from what was observable in the rabd of Tunis or the outer neighborhoods of Fez. In spite of its reduction in status as a result of industrial impact, the old madīna had to a certain degree persisted. Alongside the intrusions of the modern era it preserved its pedagogical role. In Fez, Tunis, Rabat, Salé, Constantine, Tétouan, and even Algiers there persisted a pattern of life that centered on the khutba (weekly sermon) mosque, whose minaret was usually adjacent to the purifying hammām and the sūq of the artisan and shopkeeper. The Islamic city in some ways continued to influence the shape of modern cities, thus compensating at the symbolic level for what it had lost in fact. The struggle for emancipation could be defined as an attempt at readjustment between the two orders, emphasizing certain fundamental cultural complementarities that functioned above and beyond conscious ideologies.

A basic alternation

One of the fundamental complementarities of the Maghreb concerns the two habitats, the town, madīna, and the country, bādīya, along with the two types of men and kinds of life, the town-dwelling and the bedouin. Even in the traditional system this was not a strict dualism, but rather a case of overlapping structures. The bedouin doubled as sedentary and as nomad or transhumant. Between the country and the town certain regions, e.g., the Sahel of Tunisia and the Yebala of Morocco, contained a villager type who was recognizable by his speech (Marçais 1902). But at times the village was only a hamlet or temporary winter camp. Bedouinism affected these middle segments of the continuum with its economic precariousness and its instability of behavior. Transhumance produced an annual confrontation of the zone of extensive exploitative economy with the more active coastal zones of arboriculture and cereal culture (Nouschi 1961). The traditional town was characteristically the center for the ideal type, the pious and the learned. This ideal was modified by the legacy of the Bani Hilal, the poetic and warlike shepherds. Economic complementarity was thus paralleled by cultural polarity.

This structure underwent profound change during the century of colonization and foreign rule, whose civil institutions were accompanied by economic stagnation. Land development and the process of giant urbanization supplanted—sometimes even eliminated—the sedentary element, with the result that the bedouins suffered a probably irreversible loss of status. The pastoral rhythm that united the life of the interior with that of the littoral was broken. The exodus toward the cities and the emigration of workers to the métropole, a kind of proletarian transhumance, had become substitutes for bedouinism. The contrast between a prosperity monopolized by a small number and the indigence of the masses became sharper.

The modern economy developed a structure in which the fundamental alternation of the country, though partially modified, transposed, or conserved, was still discernible (see Figure 1).

The labor requirements of the principal crops grown in north Africa are known fairly exactly. If for a given group we describe these labor requirements on the circumference of a circle whose radius is proportional to the disposable time, that is, to the number of people in the group, we are struck by the relatively small amount of time spent in production. Even if we add to the sum of necessary intensive labor (e.g., arboriculture and irrigation) the sum of the extensive labor (e.g., traditional tillage and guardianship), an interior sphere remains. This sphere corresponds to infraeconomic

activities (e.g., searching for and gathering windfalls) and to ritualistic, sexual, cultural, vegetative, and amusement activities. It contrasts sharply with the peripheral belt of productive activity.

This internal sphere, with its overabundance of unproductiveness, is considered of little value by the economist and is even seen as an obstacle to progress. But its importance is nevertheless considerable. Inaccessibility and resistance to change make of this sphere the seat of collective continuity and identity par excellence. While the sensitive circumference responds to external stimuli by action and reaction, the internal sphere allows the group what I shall call the use and enjoyment of itself. Historical activation resides on the one side, and anthropological immanence on the other.

Figure 1 has more than the advantage of reproducing the shape of the bedouin campground, or duwār, which was once so widespread. On a Maghreb-wide scale it represents the alternation of an extensive system, tied to bedouinism, and an intensive system, which in turn supports the two variations, traditional peasantry and town dwellers. The Western impact dislocates the intensive system both in its urban and peasant forms. It rejects the extensive in every field. It breaks the former complementarity by downgrading the two old types with relation to the imported types, agricultural colonization and urbanization. Its action, furthermore, coincides in time with the growth of industrial technology and its social relationships: the wage appeal of commercial enterprise; growing proletarization of the masses; disruption of tribal affiliations and stratification of classes; and an alienation and depersonalization that are more and more strongly felt.

Beginning steps of the independent Maghreb

The Maghrebi system, never self-aware, was shattered by foreign domination and disfigured by industrial civilization. Still it survived. It has persisted as a structure of individual and collective behavioral patterns, a symbolíc reference but with altered content. Westernization largely dislocated, modified, and disintegrated the dual patterning of extensive-intensive alternation of lifeways. And when the new nations were faced with the responsibility of reconstructing Maghrebi culture on this side of the colonial impact, there was great uncertainty, not at all limited to the difficult problems of modernization.

But if this is the trial of new nations in general, and not only of the Maghreb, it is also their strength. They appear, both to the observer and to themselves, to be in a searching and potent phase. The restructuring of their disintegrated parts and the redefinition of value systems can today build on a technology and way of thinking inherited, as it were, from the colonizers but increasingly assimilated. Their apprenticeship to modernity endows them with a sense of possessing an effective instrumentality, both in tools and in concepts. Their collective will and motivation, hardened by the struggle, strive to make the necessary adaptations to the surrounding world. The steps they take, which are both instinctive and deliberate, carry them to all the thresholds of historical creativity, from the most elementary to the most complex.

The king of Morocco, Mohammed v, perched on a tractor a short time after independence, himself inaugurated “operation tillage.” Thus mechanization was given solemn approval in an agricultural setting that up to then was dependent upon an archaic set of tools. This also struck at the traditional system of land allocation, which, especially in the limited size of the cultivated plots, was a major obstacle to agrarian reform. The way was thus simultaneously opened to technical advance and to a redistribution of land parcels, perhaps even to collective working of the soil. All this would have been impossible to accomplish without the élan of unanimity which swept the people forward toward modernization in agriculture. Similarly, when an independent Tunisia systematically cut down the cactus that hedged in its fields, eliminated the wheeled carts from its roads, and drowned the old site of Kairouan in a forest of eucalyptus, it accelerated the disappearance of the colonial countryside and the creation of new relationships between man and the soil. In a similar manner, the building of a cellulose factory in the steppes of Frashish at Kasserine inaugurated an effective new relationship between the people and their fields and crops. In Algeria “volunteer days” are organized to accomplish land projects in an atmosphere of social service combined with collective jollity. This was the case with the 18 hectares of terraces dug by 10,000 young volunteers in four hours on September 20, 1963, on the slopes above the darn of Oued-Fodda.

Almost everywhere in north Africa there is a well-popularized emphasis on improving soils, forests, and grazing land. Seen from the air, the newly terraced hills, spotted with nascent green and slashed with concentric curves, seem marked with the fingerprints of history in process.

These activities are all the more instructive in that they spill over from the agricultural sectors into the still uncultivated and too often neglected areas which, in an excess characteristic of the Maghreb, surround them on all sides. Only onethird of the land in Morocco is cultivated; a third is in forests, and a third in grazing land. The steppes, maquis, and rocky areas increase as one climbs the slope of the mountains or the Hauts-Plateaux and moves toward the desert. They constitute the region of extensive economy, which becomes more and more diluted as one moves away from the coast. This geographic contrast is easily interpreted in terms of underdevelopment and development or as an irremediable dualism between the traditional and the modern. The present period of reconstruction will direct attention to these regions of extensive economy and their unique balance of man and land.

Effort and obstacle

In attempting to understand the restructuring of relations between Maghreb man and his land, we must use both ethnological and ecological information.

A tautological underemployment

The turbulent and impoverished city dweller of the postcolonial period is none other than a transplanted country person. But the dimension of time availability that characterizes the bidonville, although it is the lineal descendant of bedouinism, has acquired a pejorative meaning. The “dormant” time of the country dweller, so favorable to the development of the cult of the self, is now “lost time,” the wasting of human resources, degradation in every sense. Gone is the old cultural polarity between city dweller and bedouin. Its disappearance is all the more pronounced because the end of the colonial order, against which the Maghrebi personality so forcefully hurled itself, created new social relationships as a new structure emerged. Functionally centered upon collective efficiency, the new order is paralyzed by all kinds of “brakes” and “complications”; the vigorous and sometimes total denunciation of both the immediate and the distant past is unnecessarily destructive.

It is with these factors in mind that one must attempt to place north African underemployment in perspective.

In Kabylia, a particularly industrious Algerian region of 800,000 people, which furnishes a large contingent to the worker emigration, the number of unemployed is 30,000, or one-fifth of the heads of families. Of the 400,000 inhabitants of Oran, of whom nearly one-half represent a massive migration from the bled, one-third of the heads of families are said to be unemployed. The total number of persons affected by partial employment is estimated at two million. The situation is no more favorable in Tunisia and Morocco, where one-fifth of the men of working age are said to be without employment.

Beyond the degree of unemployment and its disastrous consequences, the problems it poses interest not only the economist and the politician but also the sociologist because of the kind of strategic change it effects in the relationships between these people and their dependence on the land. The massive tide of uprooted country people which tended to “ruralize” the Maghreb’s cities also urbanized the country in the sense that it not only increased the number of communities but also introduced into them the same kind of competition between human numbers and available space that had until then been peculiar to the cities (Descloitres 1961).

The colonial economy suffered from contradictions that in the end were fatal; thus, the contradiction between social values and the profit motive led to the pauperization of local masses, permanently removing them from the sphere of consumption. The national economy that has succeeded the colonial one in the Maghreb must, as in other parts of the world, face the problems of a growing population and increasing settlement density, juxtaposed with the need for conservation of the natural resources. It also enters into a contradiction which is peculiar to our times: that between the natural setting on the one hand and culture on the other. The contradiction will not be resolved with formulas, indispensable as they may be, but rather through a fundamental reclassification involving both technological invention and a revolutionary change in qualifications.

Research against hunger

The government work project, such as road grading or eucalyptus planting, is becoming a familiar sight in north Africa. It can probably contribute in an appreciable way to substructural work and make a substantial contribution to peasant welfare in the agricultural season. But it also presents serious difficulties. It is aid from above, not a creative investment. In Morocco, where such government projects have been more or less institutionalized under the name promotion nationale, they have been the subject of vehement criticism (Tiano 1963). Some of these criticisms are most certainly justified. In all three countries the attraction the projects have for a peasantry living on tiny plots of land is quite understandable, but it diverts them in large numbers from their agricultural work. If the tendency were to become aggravated, a well-intentioned work project could act as a drain upon basic vitality and diversity.

This characteristic combines with others, either peculiar to the Maghreb or more generalized, to emphasize a phenomenon that is already observable in numerous areas: the waning of local spontaneity and national identification.

While the work project is a makeshift solution, the governments of the three Maghreb states are conducting substantive research into the sociology of agriculture, and statistical material is being gathered on such matters as the caloric values and labor costs of a given crop, the correlation between man-hours and the area of their employment, between investment and labor costs, and so on. Although this research is in general of a highly technical nature, it has given rise to numerous practical applications in agriculture and industry. Thus, whether or not the Maghreb becomes in certain respects a gigantic experimental laboratory is not a matter for theoretical concern only. The deliberate and scientifically deduced passing—undoubtedly incomplete and very tenuous—of large social units out of the area of traditional or imputed formulas into that of reasoned judgments is already observable. At the very least, this transition is the objective of certain long-range and short-range plans—for land improvement, creation of “industrial complexes,” and so on.

The effect of this transformation on the morphology of the society, its values and attitudes, manifests itself in theoretical research, political debate, and public opinion. The data are not always encouraging; this is the case with the anticipated relationship between progressive exploitation of resources and demographic growth. It is not the function of the present study, however, to inquire into the success or failure of these plans. What must be realized is that in a society until recently disrupted by a traditionalist archaism and colonial dependency something new and irreversible has been introduced: the need for reason in things and for things in reason.

Rationalization of fields

One of the first areas in which the need for rationalization will work itself out is that of the agrarian regime (Colloque sur les conditions … 1963). At the time of independence foreign interests owned more than four million hectares of the best lands. Whatever the technical or financial successes, these only benefited an outlander minority and, secondarily, a native bourgeoisie. The seizure of these lands dislocated previous internal patterns: the drainage of labor and profits overseas, foreign control of bank credit and of the agricultural societies, the contrast between the magnitude of the operations undertaken and the narrow individualism of those responsible for them, the paralyzing influences brought to bear upon the state. The average area held by these entrepreneurs exceeded one hundred hectares, while the average for the fellah barely reached ten, the minimum threshold of subsistence. In a manner more tolerable politically but less defensible economically, the native latifundia bore with the same weight upon a rural world gripped by the evils of precarious climate, technical stagnation, and fragmentation of the land, without reconciling the fundamental opposition of the extensive and the intensive (Charnay 1965).

The Tunisian three-year plan for the coastal area north of the mountain ranges has estimated that the area a peasant family needs in order to produce a decent income is roughly 8 hectares of wheatland, 6 hectares of unirrigated orchards, 10 of enriched grazing land, and 27 of natural grazing land. These facts, which are, unfortunately, incontestable from a technical point of view and probably valid for the rest of the Maghreb, make the maintenance of the peasantry in its present numbers problematical, considering the saturation of the agricultural lands.

To the vividly felt need of the dispossessed masses to repossess were added, in Algeria’s case, ideological presuppositions that were either implicit or formulated in the Tripoli charter. In Morocco and Tunisia, by contrast, tendencies more respectful of private property have held sway—at least up to this time. Even in Algeria it was the pressure of circumstances, beginning in the autumn of 1962, that placed upon the state the responsibility for more than one million hectares of “vacant lands” and brought on, at first empirically and later systematically (decree of March 29, 1963), collective management. Self-management committees were set up on the abandoned farms, sometimes at the initiative of the party, sometimes of the union, sometimes of the workers themselves. These committees guided the work of the agricultural season in such a way that with the aid of a good harvest the results appeared generally encouraging to the Congrès National de l’Autogestion Agricole, which met at Algiers on October 25–27, 1963. But serious questions of both a practical (division of profits) and a theoretical (devolution of the property right upon groups of workers or upon the whole society) nature nevertheless arose. The orientation of the regime will depend upon the answers given to these questions.

While Algeria has set up its self-management committees, Morocco and Tunisia have for the moment nothing that resembles this machine for building the new Maghreb. This doctrinal prudence, employed by choice by these regimes, will perhaps give way to the same collectivist motivations that have inspired Algeria. In the meantime, however, prudence has not delayed the implementation of several interesting technical ideas which are more or less colored with cooperativism. In two large bureaus, those for irrigation and for rural modernization, Morocco possesses an effective administrative apparatus which itself generates studies and local projects. However, instead of local land-improvement projects (cellules de mise en valeur) Tunisia has created a structure (unités économiques) that combines the technical cooperation of the participants with the maintenance of private rights.

Finally, there persists the problem of the economic and social dualism created by the contrast between a sector of modern economy (even “self-managed”) and the traditional peasantry on the poor lands of the south. Here we find again the decongestion of the countryside. But the rural exodus, which is already massive, only transfers to the urban faubourgs and the edges of industrial complexes a large part of the Maghrebi difficulties, hopes, and potential.

Petroleum and trade unionism

The Maghreb countries, especially Algeria, contemplate with optimism the petroleum and natural gas resources of the Sahara, which have the capacity to supply the energy and finances for a radical modernization. It is not our place here to consider either the complex international influences or the strictly economic aspects of this anticipated qualitative and quantitative change. Nevertheless, the exploitation of these resources, which was already underway at the end of the colonial period, furnishes the north African nations with the means for an industrial “take-off” similar, except for its proportions, to those which produced the industrial rise of the Western nations at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is comforting, moreover, to note how determined the Maghreb is to make the exploitation of petroleum the instrument of an integrated development rather than a source of royalties—a European “coal,” rather than an Oriental “black gold.”

Together with the acceleration of industrialization, resulting from the reinvestment of cash income, north Africa will, with the exception of Algeria, draw on increasing amounts of electrical power in the years to come. The quotient of available energy per inhabitant grew in Tunisia from 388,000 therms in 1938 to 632,000 in 1958 and 773,000 in 1962. Thus, a slight decline during the independence crisis of 1954–1958 has been largely overcome. In Morocco the consumption of energy between 1956 and 1961 increased from 2,013,000 to 2,303,000 therms.

The systematic attention the question of economic development has received in the different governmental plans should be emphasized. The degree of radicality of these plans or the energy with which they have been applied is of little importance. These political variations and the controversies that variously mirror them show how strongly the goal of planned development has entered into governmental thinking. The plans are already much more than administrative programs. They aspire to become schemes for total rebuilding; hence the kind of primacy enjoyed in Tunisia, for instance, by the ministerial organs related to them. The years to come will show to what extent this effort, up to now centralized, is balanced by popular support. Government conflict with a rejuvenated merchant bourgeoisie in Morocco or an improvised bourgeoisie in Tunisia is clearly perceived, but interference with popular sentiment is not so clearly seen. This confrontation of government with collective representation at the local level is a critical threshold of Maghrebi insight and action.

The modernization of the productive forces will without doubt bring correlative modifications of the social structure. In addition to a French-speaking or bilingual intelligentsia expressive of the new values, a group of technicians is growing up in apposition to what could be the beginning of an entrepreneurial class; its chances of success grow as the state-controlled sector increases sharply at the expense of the private sector. A small middle class of functionaries is taking over the place of the colonizers in the bureaucracy and, in so doing, at times arouses bitter rancor from the less favored levels of the population. Finally, the growing importance of the working class springs from the progress of technical modernization in both industrial and agrarian sectors. This importance is reflected in the growth and strength of trade unionism in the three north African countries.

In 1956–1957 the Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) obtained through collective bargaining in the agricultural arena a daily wage per worker of 300 francs, which amounted to a great innovation in the country. At the same time in Tunisia the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens (UGTT), which, besides having an already long tradition, had benefited from the prestigious leadership of Ferhat Hached, set forth a remarkably lucid economic plan. In Algeria the Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens (UGTA), which was separating at this moment from the French Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) already had 300,000 members, and in August 1962 in an article in its newspaper, Ouvrier algérien, it proclaimed itself not only an organ for workers’ demands and betterment but also a vehicle for social transformation. When independence came, this ideology led the unions to take over public services such as power and communications deserted by European personnel. Naturally, Algerian trade unionism is obliged to take into account the present conditions of the country. These include the singleparty system, the need for organized building, cooperation with the ruling power, which is sometimes more delicate a situation than opposition, and so on. These same conditions variously affect the two other north African union confederations, but not to the same degree. Worker management, affecting a certain number of factories, for example, remains the distinguishing trait of Algerian trade unionism.

It is also from this country that the emigration of workers to Europe reaches its largest proportions. There exists, in effect, a veritable overseas Algeria. Drawn from the bedouin country and the mountain fastnesses, this emigration acquires from its contacts with a more developed industrial milieu new attitudes which the worker, when he returns to the country, carries into the farthest reaches of the bled. Except for its proportions, this is a kind of urbanization similar to that which affects many Maghrebis at home (Chleuhs, for example), when they become concentrated in a city such as Casablanca, but it is what might be called a second-degree urbanization. The psychological changes of these mass influences, directly affecting the interior populations, bring about an acculturation the exact importance of whose effects has yet to be evaluated.

New debates on integration

We thus come back again to a problem we have already met. This problem concerns the relation between basic spontaneities, which are stimulated by wide-ranging experiences, and the organization with which a renovated Maghrebi society must imbue them if it is to keep control of that which affects it and avoid losing its identity once again. Recovered nationhood is one of the forms of this response, trade unionism is another, and so too are the “new” cities created by the influx of the native element into the mold left by the outlander, while the militants and those in charge worry about the new inequalities and try to save for the national history the pauperized masses of the faubourgs.

The interrelating of the north African countryside with the new economic and social life with which it is experimenting; the educative role exercised by function, habitat, and in a general way by the sort of container which is the modernized state; concerted and total revamping through economic development plans; the resistances encountered in these efforts; disappointments and faltering in the fight—such is the tumultuous climate of north African life. But these ups and downs operate for the most part at a level of modernity, technology, and decision making very far removed from the levels at which the major part of the country’s realities remain. Undoubtedly, general enthusiasm, coupled with the prestige of the leaders or parties, is producing a certain juncture of the levels. But the problem of everything that remains outside, below, or behind still arises, and this problem concerns especially the bled, the “flat country,” the opposite of the city.

Bedouin life is in many respects the anthropological immanence of the Maghreb. Although avoided and downgraded by contemporary history, it remains a reserve of interiority and a mistress of values. Almost everywhere, however, these traditional structures seem ruined or discredited. In Morocco, for example, the tribe, on which the government of the protectorate had leaned for support, is crumbling. In Tunisia, where the tribal structure has remained strong only in the south, the cumulative effect of economic precariousness and social erosion is bringing about an irreversible dispersion. Will the same occur in Algeria, where a communal organization that is juridically analogous to the tribe has been developed, at least in legal form? In general, is the spontaneous, albeit oligarchical and old-fashioned, democracy that attended the life of the jamā’a as recently as twenty years ago salvageable in a modern system, or will it crumble before new kinds of entities?

Government projects, such as the commune rurale of Morocco in 1959, did not carry conviction on this point. More promising appear to be the Algerian self-management committees, to the extent that they succeed in linking large numbers and homogeneous modes of life to the unit of production in the broad sense. This development would be deprived of much of its impact if the agronomists were to fail to incorporate within the intensive production cells the vast segments of land and population still devoted to extensive systems such as grazing. Colonization, even when it is national, is still colonization. If it be defined according to the scheme outlined earlier as a cleavage between the activated periphery and the internal sphere of the Maghrebi being, an effort will have to be made in the future to select modes of action that will bring these latencies into play. Only very active research in the matter, however, both at the economic and the sociological levels will determine what is desirable and what can be achieved. Undoubtedly, certain aspects of the social structure will be radically transformed in the future, even those which were formerly made imperative by the constants of the country. Utopias such as the “jamā’a on a tractor” would in this case have had their day.

At the time of the preliminary studies for the establishment of the communes rurales in Morocco, which broke up the tribal unit in favor of cantonal districts, it appeared that the suggested figure of ten thousand inhabitants for each administrative unit corresponded to the number of customers at a rural market—the open country sūq, which weekly assembled the neighboring populations around piles of grain, harness animals, and improvised displays of goods. The administrative program in this field agreed with what one might call the crude quotient of human concentration of the countryside.

There is nothing surprising in this. Even in Algeria, where the atrocious wartime regroupements (Planhol 1961) changed the rural habitat in a way that one might have thought permanent, an observer flying over Kabylia just at the time of the cease-fire was surprised “to see rebuilding by an almost independent reflex, in the most impossible corners and on desert peaks, the lost mashta alongside the former destroyed one. Seen from the sky, the rectangle of these establishments kept exactly the same shape as the destroyed one, and the material, piled nearby by men and women at work, was the same. “Another observer compared this self-building society” to those olive trees of the Temouchent region, which were cut down in 1956 by the FLN [Front de Libération Nationale], and which by 1960 had sprouted new branches from their cleanly cut-off trunks.”

In the Maghreb, as elsewhere, history is both innovation and continuity. But history’s appraisals of its own successive stages vary widely. Every decolonization appeals to its own history for the sources of its dynamism. Thus, Maghrebi society charts its course from its own reality. But to have validity its plans must proceed from its deepest reality.

Values and devaluations

The search for cultural identity in the Maghreb goes beyond political combat, economic competition, and appeals for social justice. Decolonization has fostered new values—formerly imposed through colonial manipulation of the technology but now intensified and “original” as the Maghreb adapts to the industrial world.

The structural role of violence

There is no reason to be surprised at the vehemence accompanying the transformation of the Maghreb. Beyond the epithets such as “revolutionary,” beyond emotional enthusiasm, with its demands for political and social justice, the present phase of the Maghreb, as of other decolonized countries, is one of reintegration. A great release of anger, enthusiasm, and diffuse violence characterizes the process and makes it possible (Fanon 1961). The collectivity is not content with acclaiming or inveighing against its present. Retroactively it does the same with its past; everything is re-evaluated. But the affective polarity which opposed foreign usurpation to native emancipation gradually changes as internal rivals emerge: the “bourgeoisie” and the “people,” the “conservatives” and the “progressives,” the “patriots” and the “traitors.” These antitheses are rich in moral judgments and affective élan. Going beyond their historical framework, they take from the unity of enthusiasm that bathes them, and also perhaps from the habits of religious belief, something of the absolute. Decolonization has made the Maghreb a paradise for culpabilities.

But this fact tends to hide another, more constructive phase of the transformation. Although the presence of violence is certainly a question of resentment, it is even more a question of anger. Violence characterized the reaction against a situation of dependency and loss of identity; however, as the colonial period recedes farther and farther into time and the people of the Maghreb learn to feel through action their new responsibility, a positive affirmation of “self” replaces imitation of the “other.” Actually it was never totally absent from the colonial debate, especially in the Maghreb, where Islam transcended the dispute.

Let us recall the figure presented earlier. A movement proceeding from an insulated inner core, influenced by the outside only slightly, if at all, is perhaps of greater significance than the peripheral response of the group affected by external stimuli. In fact it has taken north Africa only a few years— months in the case of Algeria—to shift the emphasis from the debate against the colonial partner to the internal debate. This shift has occasioned no loss of vehemence, but exactly the contrary. For this vehemence has a structural basis in the renewal of direct exchanges between the group and its territory. The dynamics of the thawra, most often translated “revolution,” go beyond the English or French meaning of the term and include the quality of “liberation” which pervades life during the transformation. The first task of independence is to harness these liberated energies to the process of social reorganization. Failure to do this constitutes a grave danger. The collectivity arms itself against the eventuality of failure through a great release of passion and a simple predetermination of good and evil. Enthusiasm for the future, yearning for the fundamental, schooling of the will, the cult of cathartic violence, and a constant watchfulness—these are the values through which Maghrebi society, along with other Islamo-Mediterranean societies, fights to salvage its identity.

It is certainly natural that as calm returns and the requirements of order and work begin to win out, a reconstruction will take place. The social ethic will be severe with everything that sidetracks, opposes, or slackens the historic forward movement. The collective effort, through partisan trials, seeks a middle road between the excessive and the tepid. The rearrangement is in relation to this axis, which is itself uncertain because the Maghreb is looking for its place in a world setting to which it is peripheral.

Activation and inertia

It is against the background of violence and watchfulness that one should evaluate a situation in which the call for “true socialism” is contrasted with tenacious manifestations of “neocolonialism” and historical movement is contrasted with inertia. But this inertia is not only the result of internal or external resistance to change, of checks ascribable to mistakes or excesses, and still less of conspiracies between the “feudalists” or “bourgeois” and an ever-lurking “imperialism.”

The inertia also proceeds from the limitations of the historical process itself, or at least from the persistence of geographical, social, and ideological preserves that are in large measure indifferent to the historical spirit. It is true that measures such as planning, industrialization, and agrarian reform stimulate intense activity, create new groupings and alliances, and out of the friction between the social group and the individual orient groupdirected events. But they also create divergences of which the ideologies are often only a distorted reflection. Radicalism may well at times be inspired by foreign experiences; in contrast, a certain liberalism may be suggested by religious ideals; but these are only incomplete and perhaps fallacious formulations. Certainly we have noted a direct relationship between the concrete achievements of independence and value conflicts. But this relationship becomes less direct, even nonexistent, for those segments of the culture that the historical process touches only lightly.

Our figure encompasses many of these areas in the internal sphere, where they are linked with certain social and psychological “preserves” as well as with certain land areas of north Africa. I have spoken of the decay and disavowal that presently invest these areas with a negative quality. Thus it is, for example, with bedouinism throughout Mediterranean Islam. But although bedouinism is excluded from the visions of Arab modernization and is a pejorative term for a consciously repudiated social grouping, it nevertheless still exists; it does so both because of its statistical weight and because it corresponds with the extensive exploitative system, which remains appropriate to a whole section of the Maghreb (Poncet 1962). The persisting values and real importance of bedouinism make suspect any application of the idea of “underdevelopment.” Nevertheless, under the influence of foreign examples, this idea is becoming daily more widespread. The concept of underdevelopment is used to explain the archaic survivals, which are in fact functionally related to the physical and cultural requirements of the extensive system, and the more recent decline, which is related to impoverishment and disintegration.

One of the first measures taken by the government of Ben Bella was for the re-education of the yaouled’s of Algiers. But if some of these olvidados, shoeshine boys, and newspaper vendors have thus been enabled to leave the ranks of juvenile delinquency and enter vocational schools, other disturbing silhouettes have not disappeared from the sidewalks of the big cities. The adult “hoodlum” bothers passing couples. Bands of unemployed block the public thoroughfares and fill the cafés maures. A flood of human life dissipates itself at card games and jacquet. Despite the strictness encouraged by revolutionary morality, alcoholism is growing in the countryside, as if the throwing off of colonial restraints entailed casting aside all restrictions. Although it is not the scourge it has become in Egypt, the use of hashish is beginning to plague the country. The administrators of public assistance and employment projects start from a premise of pessimism concerning their ability to absorb unemployment, which in the last analysis they ascribe to the growth of population. Thus, in Tunisia birth control counseling has become a public policy, even though it is completely contrary to the family ethics of the rural population.

There is a contradiction between Maghrebi lifeways and technical advancement. According to economists, the “underemployed” include not only the partially or wholly urban and rural unemployed and the day or seasonal workers but also the farmers of tiny plots, the nomads, and the transhumants. Step by step the whole essence of bedouinism, labeled as “traditional sector” or “underdeveloped,” is being swallowed up in the technicians’ Hades. The colonial period had disowned the national culture. Are the independent states now going to do the same? If so, they will perpetrate an even more serious denial, for there is no power of appeal. Through hasty application of external lessons, there is a risk that the ancestral will be classified with that which is shorn of status and downgraded. It is hoped that the people of the Maghreb will make a deeper analysis of themselves and thus dissipate this too easily accepted contradiction.

Islam and secularism

Other values, which are part of the century but which relate to the transcendental, are involved in the Maghreb. Sometimes these converge with, sometimes conflict with, and sometimes remain untouched by, the values of changing historical processes.

One of the areas of involvement is the relationship between the theological and civil societies. In Tunisia the fast of Ramadan was abolished and became the object of a governmental campaign because of its negative economic effects. The popular reaction, especially at Kairouan, has subsequently brought about a more subtle policy, but one which still reflects the growing secularism. In addition, at Tunis and at Fez, the cathedral mosques of az-Zitouna and al-Qarawiyin have ceased to be seats of learning as this function has become more and more the province of the national universities. The Koran schools, which were once very specialized, also tend to be gradually absorbed into the national school system. This integration, which the colonial regime did not want and could not have accomplished, appears today as a normal and irreversible development. The sermons from the pulpit, wal’z, khutba, and irshād, are subject to the same tendency. The sermon on the 27th night of the 1964 fast of Ramadan was, most significantly, preached by the mufti of Tunisia in the auditorium of the Grand Théâtre and not in the mosque; the Islam expressed under such circumstances is a modernist Islam. Also in Tunisia, the canonical magistracy of the qādi has been absorbed by the common-law judiciary. The wealth accumulated by the foundations, or hubu’s, has been returned either to their beneficiaries or to the public domain. It is true that in Morocco the Ministry for Islamic Affairs has demonstrated the opposite tendency, related to the school of the Salafiya. In contrast with the secularism of Bourguiba in Tunisia, the canonical reform of former Islamic Affairs Minister Allal el-Fasi has materialized in political and scientific action, extending even to juridical condemnation of apostasy, as demonstrated in the 1963 affair of the Bahais; nevertheless, it does not seem to have captured the masses as a counterbalance to the strong opposition it has met from the avantgarde.

The situation in Algeria is more complex. The young republic wrote Islam into its constitution. The role of the faith during the resistance was conspicuous, and after independence, the prominent place of Islam led to demands that it have cultural and moral leadership, demands that were naturally contested by the lay state. What one might call a clerical position, supported by the Algerian cultural association al-Qiyām, was thus significantly brought up against a secular and socialist orientation. But compromises could be found. No matter how much the revolutionary enthusiasm may draw for inspiration upon international models, it cannot ignore the mores that are rooted in faith and ritual. This is why the republic was able to accept Tawfiq al-Madani and his religious tendencies within the Ministry of Habous. Semiofficial campaigns to collect the canonical tax, zakāt, have been launched and have met with some success. Mosques have been dedicated with promising names such as Liberty and, at Mostaganem, Revolution. But modernization, which is in fact the secularization of life, is accelerating. As it does, it leads even the faithful to question customs surviving from the past, such as those attending the status of women. Practices such as polygamy and unilateral repudiation are already disavowed by the popular morality; at times they have been officially discouraged and even abolished, as in Tunisia in 1956. More and more these customs appear as archaic characteristics and are rejected as readily by the believer as by the progressive.

One after another the social implications of the creed are losing importance as the colonial situation that utilized them to set people apart disappears. Although individuals still fear starting debates on such questions, they tend to merge them with problems which go far beyond the Maghreb and Islam. The division between the temporal and the spiritual in behavior no longer invariably entails fixed formulations. The new ideology of the intelligentsia tends to avoid dogmatic disputation. Socialism does not always appear as a rival of Islam in thought, and even less in behavior.

In search of the self

By the very fact of challenging the established order, even the one it has itself created after destroying the colonial order, Maghreb society is seeking a part of its identity in the uncultivated or little understood zones of its nature and culture. Often these are zones which in the past were feared by all officialdom. Like the mahāram, “lands it is forbidden to cultivate,” which surround the tilled acres of the Moroccan encampment, they envelop the established, the recognized “self.” But the forces of emancipation and the promise of the future are to be found in part in these preserves. These societies in their efforts at self-realization have been led astray by their failure to incorporate the ambiguous power, diffuse vehemence, and spontaneity of the “uncultivated” zones of culture. It is almost always the regularities and the constants that the new states worry about and with which they busy themselves. Of necessity drawn by schematized formulas of development, they allow many a discordance between the tide from which they flow and the projects they enter into to persist and even to become aggravated.

But this lack of completeness leads to new problems. Attempting to solve them is the most valuable contribution of independence: all is research in the new Maghreb. From the new-born self-consciousness of groups to the reports swarming around the social planner, from the gropings of collective behavior to the questioning reflected in the arts, the search continues.

The search is first of all a look. But this look is obviously not limited to the pseudo objectivity of the mirror or recording machine; rather, it strives toward a dialogue with the model. It is not by chance that a school of painting, a theater, and a romantic literature have exploded simultaneously into the art life of present-day north Africa. The coming of independence to the three north African countries, spread as it was over ten years, is not a chronological point of departure, but a climate which one particular artist may have sensed before another. Still, independence provides the impetus for an event such as the exposition that took place at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Algiers on November 1, 1963. “We shall have the courage of our own riches.… In this abundance we see once more the sun of our own consciousness.” All of the painters —abstract, representational, naive, baroque—were trying through the immediacy of their vision to reflect the collective “me.” The homme de l’œil, whose advent characterized the Western renaissance, makes his appearance here. His first look is naturally directed toward himself. The public is being attracted en masse to the theater in order to engage in a dialogue with its own image. Thus Ali ben Ayed of Tunis attempts to combine the popular playlet in dialect—in the commédia dell’arte genre —with the nobler play in the classical vein. The surprisingly youthful dramatic patterns of Shakespeare and Moliére are being made available to a public that little by little will endow them with a Maghrebi content.

In the novel, an art form most highly developed in Algeria, a Kateb Yacine and a Muhammad Dib, forsaking the naturalism that provided Algerian literature with its initial rise, are committing themselves to a new kind of realism. Herein the collective myth, transfigured history, and verbal alchemy have produced two powerful encounters, in Nedjma (1957) and Qui se souvient de la mer (1963). In the latter work one finds the grotto of Keblout, from whence the hope of the tribe will spring. In the former, one finds Algiers, or perhaps Tlemcen, with tall houses sent crumbling down by an earthquake. These are telluric links of a history in quest of consciousness.

The language dispute

Most of the current works, including the two significant ones mentioned above, make use of the French language, a fact that has not failed to arouse concern and controversy. If emancipation is the rediscovery of the authentic, to what level should the Arabic language be resurrected from beneath the alluvia of the French?

Even in music this search and this ambiguity are manifested. It is true that Morocco has its Andalusian melody and its Berber songs, and Tunisia its mālūf, which is still the object of delectation and a degree of snobbishness. Algeria has its sha’bī, which compete with the invasion of Egyptian records on the radio. But will a classicism come out of this? Classicism, says Bachir Hadj Ali, must be drawn from popular feeling rather than from artificial imitation (Hadj Ali 1963). But this effort to achieve uniqueness and involvement must not succeed at the expense of style. If the Maghreb’s music confronts us with such a dispute between the inherited and the nameless, the spontaneous and the organized, what can be said of the spoken language and the formidable practical associations it involves? The dispute cannot help but become grave, considering that it involves the creation of an educational system, an efficient bureaucracy, and international relationships.

In many north African circles the French language has been more assumed than endured, and independence has increased rather than decreased its diffusion. Moreover, “this Arab land, in spite of all impregnated with French culture,” as Ben Bella, the first Algerian chief of state, described it, inclines toward plurality. The depth of its attraction to French culture seems to have carried the country beyond the lexicon upon which the research of the Arab academies has been based for a generation. To avoid creating a form as a mere disguise for an alien content, some believe that the Arabicization of the language should follow rather than precede the rise or the resurrection of a civilization. Here again we encounter the need that recovering nations have for self-realization. In language, as in technology, there are many methodological conflicts because of the practical effectiveness of importations that are already part of the scene.

In this connection independence has in many respects already given the problem a healthier complexion. In effect, the larger place assumed by bilingualism in the modern educational systems— not endured, but governed according to the needs of the individual or collective personality—permits some optimism. In spite of the liveliness of the polemics on the subject, the maturity of the practical approach to these problems in such sectors as educational programing substantiates this hope. Western culture can only gain as the sense of a national personality replaces the disequilibriums of colonial education. In this regard it may be said that the use of French will diminish as the people of these countries become re-Arabicized.

Besides the role of art, we must also note the role of sociological research. Planned change in the Maghreb has required the preparation of studies which are important contributions to knowledge, but more significantly, it has been necessary to devise a methodology, whose successes and failures are equally revealing. The broad exposés undertaken by the parties themselves, such as those by the Néo-Destour and the FLN at the time of their respective foundings, aimed also at the analysis of the societies. Research is beginning in the universities of Tunis, Rabat, and Algiers, and this has already provided some interesting material. It would be premature here to place too much emphasis on these accomplishments, although future studies should be devoted to them.

The future

Perhaps the language dispute in the Maghreb is indicative of other contradictions. Insoluble on a superficial basis, they are amenable to solution through reference to the depths of Maghrebi life. That is why it is important to emphasize the basic areas of confrontation of the spontaneous with the organized and of nature with culture, for it is there that one encounters the collectivity in search of itself. It is equally important to correctly evaluate and understand that core of the Maghrebi personality which historical vicissitudes, in spite of their violence, have succeeded only in transposing rather than destroying. To its native internal pattern of alternation, the Maghreb now adds the patterns of industrial civilization, a variation ambiguous in its origins and prospects but whose power daily increases. For henceforward this new variation is not only an external element but a hypothesis of the self. It can remake the Maghreb, integrating it with the world from which it had been separated. However, it is reacting upon the most ancient of bases to a point where it threatens to destroy them. Is this the price of modernization? Maghrebi man is looking into himself in order to maintain through modernization—and despite it— another kind of self.

Jacques Berque

[Directly related are the entriesColonialism; Islam; Modernization; Near Eastern society.


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In traditional Africa, south of the Sahara, there were from eight hundred to one thousand societies; in modern Africa there are some forty or fifty. Society, in the present analysis, will refer only to that social unit which is global in that the activities of all its members are organized in such a way that the survival and the development of the whole unit is made possible. The global society encompasses the networks of social relations in which individuals interact with one another during the entire course of their lives; identified by a name, it is perceived as a unit by its members and by the outsiders who belong to neighboring global societies. Usually a global society has its political expression in a single, but not necessarily centralized, system. Relations between rulers and subjects are organized across the whole society according to the same patterns, and there is no permanent contention within the rulers’ group.

Global societies in traditional Africa. “Traditional Africa” is a cultural period which began with the neolithic revolution (the development of agriculture and/or cattle herding) and ended with the industrial revolution. The traditional period did not begin all over sub-Saharan Africa at the same time. It is certain the agricultural techniques spread from Egypt, where they had been introduced from adjacent southwest Asia in the fifth millennium B.C.; it is probable that they had been independently invented in the Upper Niger Valley and diffused from there at about the same time (Murdock 1959, pp. 64–68). From these centers, agriculture finally reached every part of the continent south of the Sahara, although the transition was still in progress in the nineteenth century. The beginning of the modern period can be more precisely determined. Although some nonagricultural societies persisted until modern times, most of the societies upon which the industrial revolution later impinged were agrarian and/or pastoral. Political colonization of the interior of Africa was at the same time a consequence of European industrialization and the starting point of the process of African industrialization. The Berlin treaty in 1885 set the diplomatic rules for the partition of Africa among European powers. It is thus convenient and justifiable to choose this date as symbolic of the beginning of the modern period in Africa.

From the point of view of societal analysis, the modern period must be divided into the colonial period and the period of independence. The first states to achieve political independence did so in the 1950s (the Sudan in 1956, Ghana in 1957) but the movement culminated in 1960, the year in which 17 independent states emerged. Thus we take 1960 as the end of the colonial period.

Global societies in colonial Africa. In traditional Africa the hundreds of global societies were kingdoms or tribes, “federations” of bands or “unions” of villages. During the 75 years of colonization, we do not find clear-cut units which may be called global societies. Kingdoms and tribes continued to constitute the framework in which the great majority of Africans lived most of their lives; the social organization of production and consumption, marriage and inheritance, religious and community relations were regulated by traditional institutions. However, the networks of social interaction transcended the boundaries of the tribes or kingdom and involved the entire colony (no distinction need be made between crown colonies, protectorates, mandate territories, trust territories, and overseas “provinces”).

Systems of political, administrative, educational, commercial, and juridical relations were based on the colony as a social unit. The governor was at the apex of a single structure in which everybody was included; tribunals and courts were integrated into a single system. Everyone had to pay taxes calculated according to the same schedule; every child was, in theory, expected to take part in a colonywide school system; the same imported goods were usually available throughout the colony and were paid for with the same kind of money. It should be noted, too, that as the decades progressed from 1885 to 1960 the proportion of the interactions circumscribed by the colony increased, whereas the tribe-framed or kingdom-framed interactions diminished. On the other hand, a psychological identification with the colony was never achieved. There were obvious reasons for this: the colonial society was a white man’s creation, imposed by force; the African populations understood more or less clearly the social stratification of a colonial society—a privileged minority supported by an exploited majority—and were not inclined to feel a deep attachment to such a society. Except for the very last years of the colonial period, there was no African participation in government, no recognized political discussion, no political parties, no elections.

One could analyze this fluid, and somewhat confused, societal situation in terms of a polarized continuum: at the traditional end, the global society is the tribe or kingdom; at the modern end, the global society is the nation. On the continuum, the colony is a historical stage between traditional society and national society, nearer to the latter than to the former. During the colonial period there was a certain overlapping of global societies or, to avoid contradiction, let us say that each individual belonged to two societies, neither of which succeeded in being fully global. Each individual was an actor in several systems of interaction, some systems covering only the tribe and others the whole colony. Since the precolonial traditional societies were global, that is, had complete sets of relational networks, there were conflicts between the duties of individuals as actors in the traditional and modern systems of politics, education, commerce, and so on.

Global societies in independent Africa. With independence, the importance of the sector controlled by the larger society has grown. The reality of the colony as a social unit has been proved by its persistence through decolonization and independence. As has often been pointed out, boundaries of the colonial territories were drawn with little or no attention to the boundaries of traditional societies. For example, the traditional Kongo kingdom found itself divided among three large territories: Portuguese Angola, Belgian Congo, and French Equatorial Africa. In spite of these frequent discrepancies, however, the new states that succeeded the colonies have rarely attempted to modify the colonial frontiers. The new African states are built on these artificial colonial units, although the national qualification of these units has been questioned.

Several processes have acted, since independence, to accelerate identification with the larger societies at the expense of the traditional units. Each citizen of the new state is increasingly involved in nationwide systems of interaction: he participates in the election of representatives to the national assembly; he is submitted to the propaganda of one or several nationally based political parties; he is urged to make his contribution to the country’s economic development; if he is a wage earner, he may seek employment outside the area of his traditional society.

Once these extended systems of interaction and, consequently, of a common interdependence have been established, what remains to develop is the awareness of these patterns. Identification with the societal unit larger than the traditional society was born with independence and develops slowly. Some of the obstacles to that recognition—the colonial conditions mentioned above—have disappeared or at least have considerably diminished with independence. Of course, other obstacles remain: the memory of past tribal conflicts; the use, by some politicians, of the former tribal identifications; and regional interests. Certainly, traditional societies are still functioning in some respects, but the global societies of modern Africa are the nations embodied by the new states. Statehood has preceded nationhood, whereas in Europe the opposite occurred.

Civilizations. The term “civilization” has been used with so many different meanings that one feels free to use it to designate a specific concept. A civilization in the present discussion is an integrated cultural totality that is not linked to a particular global society. Its content may be induced from several social heritages: it summarizes what we believe to be common and essential to several societal cultures (Maquet 1962, p. 18). What is formulated on the basis of induction is an abstract construct, which may be applied not only to the specific cultures where it has been observed but to others as well.

As integrated totalities expressing what is thought to be essential, all civilizations are elaborated on an identical structure. Indeed, it is with reference to a structure that what is essential will be distinguished from what is not, that the integration will appear, and that it will be possible to compare different civilizations.

The concept of civilization is a useful tool for the analysis of African societies. It enables us to reduce the great number of global social entities and permits analysis of broadly articulated systems. These systems are composed of three levels. The first level concerns acquisition and production of goods. These processes depend on a natural factor, environment, and on a cultural one, the techniques through which food and other goods are obtained. As culture is made by men who have material needs, material adjustment is basic to all other cultural achievements. The second level is made up of social institutions that regulate the different systems of interaction: the economic system, through which goods are channeled to consumers; the political system, which organizes the relations between rulers and subjects; the kinship system, according to which descendants of a common ancestor and affines pattern their behavior toward one another; associations, in which people congregate on a voluntary basis to reach, by their common action, certain targets. On the third level there are collective representations, or systems of ideas and symbols shared by all the members of a society. These include religious and magical beliefs, ethical conceptions and world views, philosophy and art, language and poetry.

The principal previous attempts to delineate African cultural units larger than societal cultures have given priority either to temporal dimensions (Baumann et al. 1940; Murdock 1959) or to spatial distributions (Herskovits 1930; 1962). Although history and geography are taken into account, this classification is based on cultural criteria. Fundamental are the techniques for the extraction of food and other goods from nature. When, as in traditional Africa, these techniques are not very efficient, the environment plays a very important role in production. Thus, in the present classification, culture “types” will be found to correlate with similar ecological conditions, in substantial agreement with Herskovits’ division of Africa into culture areas.

The acquisitive or productive techniques characteristic of the six main types of civilizations are (1) hunting and gathering, (2) forest horticulture based upon root crops, (3) savanna agriculture based upon cereal, (4) cattle herding combined with agriculture, (5) exploitation of natural resources for handicrafts and external trade, (6) industrial techniques.

In the analysis of each civilization, we shall proceed according to the categories set forth above: in each case, we shall describe the pattern of acquisitive and productive techniques, the structure

of institutions, and the pattern of collective representations (see Figure 1).

The civilization of the bow

Acquisitive techniques

The technology involved in hunting and gathering activities is not productive: the goods necessary for the life of the society are obtained from the environment without modifying it. Subsistence depends more upon collecting vegetable foods (roots, berries, mushrooms, leaves, fruits) and small animals (tortoises, snails, frogs, lizards, ants, locusts) than on hunting large game. The primary tools of the gatherers are digging sticks and stone knife-blades; the weapons of the hunters are bows and stone-tipped arrows, nets, traps, and snares.

Obviously the success achieved by these techniques depends very much on the resources of the environment; these range from the rich equatorial forests to the humid savanna, in which large animals are abundant, to the dry semideserts, where every resource is scarce. Hunting and gathering are indeed the least efficient ways of exploiting the environment: the land area required to feed an individual is considerably larger than that required in cultivated areas.

Marginal peoples

It is difficult to estimate the numbers of hunters and gatherers in Africa at the end of the traditional period; one century later, around 1950, there were probably between 200,000 and 300,000. They were, and still are, found only in the refuge areas to which they have withdrawn: the equatorial forest, particularly in the eastern part; the mountains of east Africa, particularly in the region of the Congo-Nile divide; the deserts of southwest Africa; and, until the end of the nineteenth century, the highlands of southern Africa. Almost never are these peoples able to live a self-contained economic life, but they establish relations —frequently symbiotic—with groups of cultivators: through a permanent arrangement, a band of hunters and a village of cultivators living very near one another will carry on a constant exchange of goods and sometimes even enjoy common rituals.

Most African hunters are either pygmies or bushmen. Physical anthropologists consider the two groups to be very different genetically. The former are classed as Negrito (or pygmoid), and the latter are classed as Khoisan. All they have in common physically is their short stature. These racial characteristics have, of course, no relevance to our sociocultural analysis.

There has been a cultural continuity from the African preagricultural hunter to the marginal gatherer of the nineteenth century: the typical prehistoric art of rock painting was still practiced in 1869. Before the appropriation of most of the continent by agriculturalists, hunters and gatherers had occupied much more favorable environments; the description of the hard life of their descendants, limited to the marginal areas, should not be taken as applying to all preagricultural hunters and gatherers.

The band—the economic unit

The low returns of their acquisitive techniques do not provide a basis for a broad choice of social systems for marginal hunting and gathering peoples.

The working unit of the economic system is composed of all the adults who hunt (the men) and gather (mainly the women) together. The number of adults who constitute the unit is limited by the subsistence factor. The elementary family (a hunter, his wife—or wives—and their unmarried children) is too small to constitute an economic unit of acquisition; if one of the adults of the group were unable, for whatever reason, to carry on his search for food, even for a few days, the survival of the unit would be threatened. Many hunting techniques—for example, beating the game toward traps or nets or killing a large animal—require a team. A too intensive exploitation of a certain area of forest or savanna would very rapidly exhaust it. Thus, there is an optimum size for the working unit which varies with the vegetal and animal resources of the environment; even in the best of situations, these units do not exceed one or two score of adults.

The unit of consumption is identical to the working unit with the addition of young children and old people. Distribution follows very strict rules which take into consideration the patterns of authority, of kinship, and the differential participation of the hunters in the successful operation.

The camp—the residential unit

The residential arrangements for the band are dependent on the essential requirement of mobility. A camp cannot become a sedentary settlement: when the area that can easily be reached in less than a day’s walk no longer supplies enough food, the camp must be moved.

The internal organization of the band is largely structured by relations established through descent and affinity. When the sons of a hunter marry and remain in their father’s band the ties of filiation prevail. Also important are the ties of affinity, which determine the roles of persons linked through marriage. (Affines are understood here as including the kin of one’s spouse and the spouses of one’s kin.) Since all the members of one camp may not be related through kinship or affinity other systems of interaction are also present.

Nonpolitical decision making

There is in the group a system of authority. As is well known, even in small, temporary groups leadership arises: one person gains influence over others and his opinions are usually influential. In the band such influence is wielded by an individual who exhibits competence in hunting, an ability to deal with tensions within the group, wisdom in difficult situations, or by one who has seniority, or numerous offspring, or magical powers. All decisions concerning the group will in fact be made by these influential persons: in a general discussion, their opinion will be accepted by the group, particularly in fields in which they are recognized as especially competent. In the small hunting and gathering group, this fluid pattern of authority is sufficient to ensure that the necessary decisions will be made.

In such societies the process of decision making does not require the existence of a political authority—that is, a ruler who has coercive means at his disposal. In this sense, there is no political system in African hunting bands.

In addition to making decisions, political authorities ensure conformity to the rules of social behavior. In a small society this may be achieved by other than political sanctions. Turnbull describes how the pressure of community feelings on the deviant is usually sufficient to oblige him to resume accepted behavior (1961, pp. 97–110). If he should resist, community disapproval may mean banishment. No physical coercion need be exerted; the refusal of others to cooperate with him is enough. In addition to community pressure, beliefs in magical powers provide other efficient sanctions: when someone does not behave properly the forest spirits may cause game to escape him when he hunts.

To be effective, nonpolitical sanctions require the unanimous support of the group. In African assemblies generally, the importance of unanimity, as opposed to simple majority decisions, has often been stressed: a decision is reached when, after long discussions, everybody finally agrees. Of course, some individuals carry greater weight; where societies are more differentiated politically, agreement becomes, to a greater extent, a passive acceptance of the opinions of people of prestige. Among hunters, where there is no political authority, unanimity is required in the execution as well as in the making of decisions, and this requires a deeper level of agreement in the community. If only a tiny minority does not apply the sanctions of social avoidance toward the deviant, this ruins the effectiveness of the process. Consequently, reactions to nonconformity to the rules are rarely extreme: moderation is imperative when every member of the group, including the relatives of the deviant, must apply the sanctions.

Global societies—the matrimonial criterion

Although the band encloses most of the systems of interpersonal action, the hunter’s network of relations extends beyond the camp in some important respects. Among the southern hunters, several bands congregate at certain periods for common celebrations; everywhere, a hunter may leave his band to join another; if a group becomes too numerous it may split into two bands, between which ties will obviously remain. When bands of hunters have contacts with agricultural people, they become aware of their own cultural distinctiveness.

The most important links between bands, however, are matrimonial. Incest prohibitions within a camp composed largely of the descendants of a single ancestor compel members to look to other groups for spouses. Among the equatorial hunters, marriage is virilocal; the wife lives in her husband’s camp, although she may return for long stays to the camp of her parents. Among some of the southern hunters, marriage is uxorilocal, although, again, relations between the young man and his father’s band are not cut off.

Thus, the limits of the global society in the civilization of the bow are not clearly defined. It is larger than the band: it includes all the bands among which matrimonial exchanges take place.

Marriage by exchange is common among hunters. In its simplest form, a brother and a sister of group A marry a sister and a brother of group B. Thus, when a man wishes to marry, he must at the same time arrange a second marriage between a girl of his kinship group and a kinsman of the girl he wishes to marry. This form of marriage, which in many African societies seems to be older than marriage by bridewealth, is directly related to the technological arrangements for the acquisition of goods. A small group living in a difficult environment finds the problem of generational continuation a severe one; the child-bearing capacity of a girl concerns her whole group. To give away a girl to another group is to lose a potential mother. Marriage by exchange, in which the donor group receives a potential mother from the receiving group, is a very good adjustment to the demographic requirements of a band, obliged by ecological conditions to remain small and yet to maintain minimal membership.

Collective representations

The world views of African hunters have been the object of many studies and speculations. Catholic anthropologists of the Vienna school were eager to disprove evolutionary theories according to which men arrived at the conception of a high creator-god after having passed through animistic and polytheistic phases and to show that, on the contrary, mankind had “degenerated” from an original monotheistic faith. Since the hunters were thought to be most similar among contemporary peoples to our earliest ancestors, the Vienna anthropologists sought to find in their idea of divinity a kind of primitive monotheism.

Equatorial as well as southern hunters may be said to believe in a high divinity, but it is impersonal to the point of not being clearly distinct from the forest. It is benevolent but has “to be kept awake” so that nothing may go wrong. This idea seems to result from a projection of the everyday experience of men who are entirely dependent on what their environment offers them. They see the environment as good, but indifferent; they hope that the indifference is not deep and that, if kept “awake,” nature will actively be good to them. It could be argued that many of the hunters’ stories personalize the divinity and that the translation of its name as “god” is therefore justified. Most of the time, however, his adventures are quite undignified and “god” plays the role of a not-so-clever hero.

The ordering of relations between the hunters and their gods is straightforward. Rituals express through offerings and prayers the attitudes consistent with their world view: recognition of the weakness of man before the powerful gods, which are identified with natural forces, and the demand that they favor men by granting them abundance of game and fecundity of women.

In the system of values of the civilization of the bow, social harmony has, perhaps, the first place. The reason is obvious: hostility or tensions within a group threaten the group’s survival. As soon as a possible cause of disagreement arises, it is removed at the cost of individual comfort or even equity. In a conflict between two members of the band, the aim of the influential men is the restoration of peace rather than exact assessment of rights and wrongs (Thomas 1959, pp. 22,115–117).

This culture has a form of art that is unique in traditional Africa in both medium and style. The rock paintings and engravings, which have been found by the thousands, reflect in their subject matter the focal interests of the civilization of the bow: in representational style they portray games, the hunt, battles against pastoral and agricultural peoples, and punitive expeditions of white soldiers.

The dating of these pictures has been much debated. The balanced opinion of Clark (1959, p. 280) is that most of the rock paintings are not older than two thousand years, but that they belong to an artistic tradition which may go back as far as the middle Stone Age, that is, from twelve thousand to seven thousand years ago.

In the perspective of such antiquity and continuity, the way of life represented by the few scattered bands of hunters and gatherers remaining in the nineteenth century deserves to be counted among the great African civilizations.

The civilization of the glades

The traditional period, we have said, began with agriculture. It is very unlikely that agriculture began in the rain forest: the plants of the Nile and Niger valleys, from which the first agricultural complexes of sub-Saharan Africa were derived, were not suited to forest conditions. Agriculture probably spread to the forest areas in relatively recent times, perhaps with the migrations of the Bantu-speaking peoples in the first centuries of our era. That the forest agriculturalists are discussed after the hunters and before the savanna peasants is not meant to suggest an evolutionary sequence, for the production of goods by the techniques of forest cultivation does not provide people with a supply of food significantly more plentiful than that obtained from the environment by hunting and gathering. There are many similarities between the cultures built upon these two material bases, which provide approximately the same amount of food.

Forest agricultural techniques

The rain forest environment is homogeneous. It covers approximately the region extending from the fourth parallel north of the equator to the fourth parallel south and from the Rift Valley to the Atlantic Ocean. There, it stretches along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea up to Sierra Leone, with the exception of the Bight of Benin hinterland, a less densely forested area that has permitted the growth of another civilization, that of the cities. Vegetation is heavy; under very high trees, part of whose roots are above the soil, there is a dense undergrowth of shrubs, creepers, weeds, and grass. Swidden agriculture is practiced in the forest region.

The main tool is an iron ax (iron working is believed to have been introduced south of the Sahara from the kingdom of Meroë, in the Sudanic Nile Valley, during the last three centuries b.c.), used to cut the underbrush and to fell trees, which are left to dry for a few weeks and then burned.

The cleared spaces are cultivated with an iron hoe. Crops include plants with edible tubers (such as cassava, sweet potatoes, yams); bananas and plantains; and some cereals (corn, sorghum, millet, rice).

In spite of the abundance of natural vegetation, the soil of the rain forest is poor; deforested soil is of low fertility and is rapidly leached by the heavy rains. There are additional obstacles to cultivation in the forest: insalubrity breeds endemic diseases (malaria, sleeping sickness, various intestinal diseases), which diminish the working capacity of the agriculturalists; cattle breeding is impossible in many regions because of the tsetse fly, which transmits animal sleeping sickness. The technology is able to produce barely enough to ensure the subsistence of those who live in the glades of the equatorial forest.

The clearing team

Forest agriculture calls for a certain kind of social organization. Nearly every year some new part of the forest must be cleared. This is a communal activity, requiring the cooperation of a team of men; cultivation may then be carried on by the women of each elementary family. The residential unit—the village—comprises several elementary families. The lower limit to the population of a village is set by the labor requirements of slash-and-burn agriculture.

Because of the poor soil, large areas of land, either actually under cultivation or lying fallow, are required to feed a small group of people. Ecological factors limit the size of the village of forest cultivators, just as they do that of the hunters’ camp.

There are two other social consequences of the low fertility of the soil. When the soil is depleted it is economical in time and effort to move the village. Agricultural nomadism does not imply, as does pastoral nomadism, the moving of the community over great distances. The village moves to the nearest unexhausted land and may return to its earlier location after several moves. A second consequence is the relative isolation of villages: villages in the forest are rather distant from their nearest neighbors.

Economic and residential patterns are thus closely interconnected. Members of the clearing team, with their dependents, constitute the residential unit, the village. The unit of production, which is also the unit of consumption, is the elementary family. It is a subsistence economy, since there is no significant surplus. There is very little exchange, the family producing what it consumes, except for iron tools and, in some cases, wood carvings and pottery made by specialists.

Kinship organization

Relations between individuals are almost exclusively based on descent and marriage rules. Most of the societal cultures of the forest are patrilineal, and marriage is generally virilocal.

The main subgroups of the forest global societies are exogamous, corporate lineages and the nonlocalized combination of lineages—the clans.

There is more than one clan in a global society. When all the members of a society consider themselves descendants of the same ancestor, the society becomes a tribe, as in the case of the Mongo of the Congo Basin forest, who number more than one million.

Kinship roles and groups supply the framework for almost all social interaction among the people of the glades. As among hunters, decision making and conformity to the social rules do not require either the sanction of potential physical coercion or a specialized office of authority. The sanctions of community pressure and ancestral influence are sufficient to maintain order. In any case, the low productivity of forest agriculture does not offer the material basis necessary for the emergence of a system of political relations.

The residential unit, the village, usually does not, however, correspond to a single lineage—although this occasionally occurs. Village concerns are discussed, and disputes arbitrated, by the elders of the different lineages. The patriarch of the lineage that first settled in the village will be primus inter pares, but he will not have a direct authority over members of lineages other than his own.

A kinship philosophy

The paramount importance of the kinship principle is reflected on the level of collective representations. The lineage unites the dead as well as the living offspring of the ancestor. The individual is never alone: a link in a series of generations, he transmits the life and the force of his prestigious ancestor and of all his ascendants to his children and to all his descendants. The idea of group destiny provides the central meaning of life; the idea of personal destiny is not congruent with the experience of everyday social relations, in which the individual is nothing outside the kinship groups of which he is a member. In this perspective, death is not seen as an absurdity or a tragedy: the lineage has continuity and the individual will survive with it. Among the Kissi of the Atlantic coastal forest, the first grandson of a man is given the name of his grandfather because the grandfather’s shade, one of the three elements of the living being, which has left the body at death, is reincarnated in the grandson (Paulme 1954).

Such an idea of reincarnation is not universal in the civilization of the glades, but the belief in the influence of the dead on their descendants is to be found everywhere. The ancestors are not always benevolent: their after-death existence is a diminished one and they resent not being properly honored. The cult is thus prominent in religious ritual. Kinship regulates not only relations among the living but also those between the living and the “spirits” of the dead.

Kinship also pervades art. The rain-forest region is an area rich in sculpture. The statues, often called fetishes—an unfortunate term, since they are not worshiped—represent ancestors or even, one is sometimes inclined to say, the kinship principle. They are not portraits; they express a certain conceptual image, not a visual impression, of the men and women from whom the group traces its origins. They are figurative, but abstract: the natural proportions of the body have been purposely modified in order to convey a certain idea of the ancestors. The head, the seat of life, is enlarged up to a third of the total height; the sexual attributes, which evoke the fecundity of the lineage, are stressed. In spite of the relatively small dimensions of the carvings (they rarely reach one meter), they give an impression of strength, of great dignity, and of an austere vitality. The art of the civilization of the glades, discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century by the amazed and admiring painters and sculptors of the Western world, was the mirror of the main values of the small societies of the forest cultivators.

The civilization of the granaries

South of the equatorial forest and of the lower Zambezi Valley, there is a savanna zone which extends down to the southern end of the continent, with the exception of the Kalahari and Namib deserts and of the eastern highlands. The farther from the equator, the more and more marked become the seasons, which impose their rhythm upon the life of nature and of men.

The threshold of surplus

The soil is not very rich. As in the forest, land must be left fallow for long periods; the topsoil is very thin and cannot be plowed. Agricultural returns, however, are higher in the savanna than in the glades.

Savanna agriculture rises above the subsistence level and yields a surplus. Output of savanna agriculture, however, should not be compared with the returns of such fertile lands as those of classical Egypt or the modern American Middle West. It should be added that the notion of surplus is to be related to the culturally determined level of consumption in a society and not to a physically desirable nutritional level. A producing unit may be undernourished, yet not consume all it produces.

The sorghum, millet, peas, and beans may be preserved and may be easily measured and transported. Kept in granaries, the surpluses constitute a reserve of wealth. The surplus may be exchanged for other foods (meat from pastoralists, game from hunters) or for tools and services. It may also be transferred to a beneficiary without any return in goods.

The emergence of political power

The man who accumulates in his granary the surplus produced by the members of his community may become their chief: he may devote all his activity to government, since he himself is not obliged to take part in the productive processes. Still more important, he may support agents who will see that his orders are executed, using physical coercion if necessary. Such a society may exhibit the political relation: the coercive relation between actors who, through it, become rulers and subjects.

It is not implied that the concentration of the surplus, in totality or in part, in the chiefs granaries constitutes a unilateral appropriation. As is often pointed out, the functions of the political rulers—decision making for the whole community, maintenance of peace and order within the society, defense against external dangers—may constitute real returns in exchange for the surplus; but they do not constitute economic returns.


Political systems of interaction are thus possible in the civilization of the granaries. Full advantage has been taken of that possibility, and a variety of political organizations has developed in the southern savanna. The smallest is the chiefdom, limited to a few neighboring villages or even to a single village; the chief, assisted by his followers, governs his subjects directly. Even when the subjects are few, the chief’s power appears to be clearly of a different order from that of the lineage elders of the forest villages. In her analysis of the Bemba chiefdom, Richards (1939) indicates that the Bemba chief’s power rested on four bases: (1) wealth in labor provided by villagers, war captives, and condemned delinquents and in such goods as elephants’ tusks and meats provided by his hunter-subjects; (2) a staff of followers, some to arrest criminals, execute sentences, and collect taxes; (3) the adjudication of disputes; (4) the power of the guardian spirits and magical force inherited from his predecessor, whose name had been assigned to him. Even in a small Bemba chiefdom, we find not only political power (recognizable by the criterion of coercion) but also the main characteristic of a state structure: specialization and permanence of the ruler.

There is, apparently, a tendency for each chief to extend the network of political relations of which he is the beneficiary, that is, to increase the number of subjects who pay him tribute. When such attempts are successful, and when other villages recognize the power of the chief by sending him laborers and the produce of their fields, an organization more complex than the chiefdom becomes necessary. The two commonest forms are the kingdom and the hierarchical union of chiefdoms.

A king delegates his ruling power to representatives who govern parts of the state territory on his behalf. These province or district governors collect taxes, maintain order, and adjudicate in the name of the king. Nominated by the king, they are directly responsible to him and do not have an inherent right to their positions; they may be moved and replaced by other appointees. The succession of kings—dynasties—usually entails some form of historical recording of names and events. In the Lunda kingdom, for instance, there were people entrusted with keeping the oral traditions concerning the past.

Through such traditional history, sometimes confirmed by archeological discoveries, we know that several kingdoms flourished in the region now making up northeastern Angola, the southern Congo (Leopoldville), and northern Zambia. These developments were probably contemporary with the European Middle Ages. The first kingdom was Luba in population, but the rulers were Songe, who still reside in the Kasai region; after freeing themselves, the Luba founded what some historians call the second Luba kingdom, which extended its influence to the present-day Katanga province. In the seventeenth century the Lunda, their neighbors, dominated a very large area from Kwango to Lake Mweru and, at certain times, subjugated the Bemba chiefdoms, the Rotse kingdom of Zambia, and the Ovimbundu chiefdom of Angola. In the nineteenth century, a new power, the Chokwe, arose in the region.

At the western end of the savanna, near the Atlantic Ocean, the kingdom of Kongo was already declining when the Portuguese reached the mouth of the Zaire River in 1482. From Mbanza Kongo, the capital, the king ruled over the six provinces of his state. The first Portuguese, traders and missionaries, seem to have been well received. The kings became Catholics and allied themselves to the kings of Portugal. Young noblemen were sent to study in Lisbon, a Kongo ambassador was appointed to the pontifical court in Rome, and the first Congolese bishop was consecrated in 1521. During the last decade of the fifteenth century, blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, farmers, and even two German printers were sent to Kongo by Portugal. The traditional Kongo state had sufficiently strong political institutions to play the part of Portugal’s partner even if that partnership was in some respects more fictional than real.

In the Katanga region, the Yeke kingdom is an interesting example of the way in which political domination may be rapidly established. Because these events occurred in the nineteenth century, the process of state formation is well documented. Msiri, the son of an ivory trader of the Sumbwa chiefdom near Tabora, in Tanzania, came with a caravan to the chiefdom of Katanga around 1850. He wanted to obtain copper, which was mined by the subjects. The trading party was very similar to a band of warriors: Msiri’s comrades had guns, obtained from the Arabs, and this gave them a significant superiority over the Katanga population. By intervening in local struggles, Msiri eventually established himself as king of a certain territory. Other Sumbwa men joined him and married local girls. With their aid, he organized a kingdom by extending his domination over neighboring chiefdoms. He gave a new name—Garenganze—to his kingdom, created a ritual complex, set up a capital at Bunkeya, and continued his trading activities. With the Arab merchants of Lake Tanganyika he exchanged ivory, copper, salt, and slaves for guns, powder, cloth, and pearls. When he died in 1891, killed by a Belgian officer of the Congo Free State Army, he left a large and prosperous kingdom built in less than forty years by a small group of warriors who had come from a place some eight hundred miles away.

Another form of large political unit is the union of chiefdoms, in which each component part retains its own ruler. All the rulers recognize the paramountcy of one of their number and pay him tribute. This was the situation among the Bemba chiefs, who admitted the pre-eminence of the Citimukulu, and among the Kuba chiefs, who obeyed the Nyimi.

Although political relations are important guidelines to behavior in the societies of the savanna, kinship and affinity continue to regulate large fields of social interaction. What has been said of kinship roles and groups in the societies of the glades remains applicable here, with the difference that in the savanna the mechanisms for decision and sanction are primarily political, whereas in the forest they are based on the influence of the elders and on community pressure.

Marriage by bridewealth

Marriage is considered to be more a lineage matter than an individual one. The initiative for arranging a marriage belongs to the relatives of the future spouses; if either the man or the girl rejects the choice, he or she may, with ingenuity and energy, escape their decision. The interest of the lineage in the marriage is also evident in the institution of the bride-wealth. The bridewealth consists of a certain quantity of goods, and sometimes of services, given by the future husband’s relatives to those of the future wife. In the author’s view, marriage by bridewealth is a development of marriage by exchange. There are disadvantages in exchange marriage: when one marriage is contracted, it is not always easy to find counterparts available for the second marriage. This difficulty is avoided if the group providing the wife receives privileged goods which later on can be used to obtain a wife from any other lineage. Thus, the circulation of women is no longer restricted to two lineages but may link, through matrimonial ties, many lineages within a global society. Bridewealth is thus not a price but a claim: through it the donor lineage is given the means with which it may ensure another marriage and thus the offspring.

Luxury and prestige art

The art of the civilization of the granaries clearly expresses, on the level of ideas and images, its characteristic values: political power and wealth. Statues of the Kuba kings are not portraits; although they are personalized they primarily symbolize an important event of the reign. Among the Kongo, the Songe, and the Luba scepters, walking sticks, axes, and adzes are carved in a very refined manner: these are insignia indicating that the persons who possess them command much more power than ordinary men. Drinking cups, powder boxes, neck rests, seats, pipes, and other secular luxury objects made by professional craftsmen attest to the existence of an affluent group—a ruling minority who, disposing of the excess production of the global society, could afford to have specialists working for their pleasure.

Except for the hunters and a few pure pastoralists, agriculture is an experience common to all Africans. This is why the world view rooted in that experience extends beyond the borders of the civilization of the granaries. The cultivator observes, anticipates, and hopes for the recurrent growth of crops. He does his part, but after that he must depend upon the processes of growth, an experience very similar to that of human procreation, which means so much for the continuity of the descent group. For what matters most to him— crops and children—the African peasant feels dependent on a kind of energy present in all living beings but not limited to any of them. This precious energy, which is active in all processes of natural development, is conceived as something that may be communicated to the living. Those whose strength proves that they are recipients of an abundance of that energy—such as the great ancestors with many descendants, the kings who command many subjects, the tall isolated trees with opulent foliage—are respected. Some men, through their secret knowledge, control the flow of some sources of energy; by magical means they may communicate it to those who need it most— those who are ill or sterile.

This world view is rarely, if ever, openly expressed; it is an implied or covert philosophy, which an observer may grasp only through an inductive method. Fagg and Plass (1964, pp. 148–158), for example, have shown convincingly that a visual symbol of the growth principle—the exponential curve—is found in the sculpture of the Kuba and many other groups.

The civilization of the spear

Cattle herding as a technique of production opens possibilities on the levels of institutions and ideas which are very different from those based on agriculture. Few African societies, however, have purely pastoral economies. The economy of the nineteenth-century civilization that we shall call the “civilization of the spear” possessed a pastoral component, but in reality agriculture played the major role in subsistence activities.

Cattle herding has flourished in the eastern part of the continent: in the marshland of the White Nile, on the highlands east of the Great Lakes, and in the hilly grasslands south of the Limpopo River in southern Africa. There, the minimal environmental requirements for cattle are realized: grass and water are to be found even during the dry season; it is possible to move from one grazing ground to another; the tsetse flies, which transmit animal sleeping sickness, are absent.

A herd of cattle is a remarkable instrument for the production of goods. It requires little investment of labor: a few experts in cattle breeding and a few herdsmen who know the grazing grounds are sufficient to ensure good returns in milk, meat, blood, and leather. If properly kept, a herd will increase, even if an important part of its products is consumed. A herd can directly supply a group with all that is necessary to its subsistence.

For all these reasons, cattle raising is a very efficient technique of production for the group that possesses it. Of course, pastoralism without stall feeding requires very large land areas, but when advanced agricultural techniques, such as irrigation and fertilization, are not available and when the soil is poor, a small group of pastoralists enjoys a distinct advantage as compared with a similar group of peasants.

Cattle, a form of natural capital

The link between a group of people and their fields in traditional Africa has often been called collective ownership. In contrast to the Western concept of private property, the use of land was distributed among various individuals and groups; the right to allocate a plot for cultivation and, if not used, to take it back, belonged to the lineage elders or to the chief; the right to cultivate and to collect the harvest belonged, as long as it was effectively exercised, to an elementary family. Rights of usage were sometimes further divided into the right to grow certain crops, to plant trees, to build a dwelling. Alienation was seldom included among these rights. A plot was in fact freely granted to anyone who needed it.

The value of noncultivated land lay in the labor which had to be applied to it to make it produce crops. A herd of cattle, on the other hand, was never a free good: it was valuable in itself, since it was inherently productive. For this reason, it has been likened to a capital good. It was indeed a “natural” form of capital in the sense that the returns it gave were not founded on a complex economic system but were inherent in its nature.

Patterns of residence

Cattle herding as an economic activity had consequences for the systems of interaction of pastoral societies. Pastoral production in Africa did not support dense populations. Herds had to be scattered over large areas during the dry season and even during the rains, since the threat of overgrazing prevented heavy concentrations of cattle.

Nomadism was thus a necessity. Sometimes the pattern of movement was transhumant—a seasonal shifting of herds through a fixed series of grazing grounds; sometimes it was a true migration—a slow displacement of the whole range over a long distance. The latter was the case with the Luo: starting from the Rumbek region, in the south of the present-day Republic of Sudan, the Luo pastoralists migrated slowly—first to the north, then to the east, and finally southward; eventually in the late fifteenth century they reached the interlacustrine region, where they set up the Nyoro kingdom. The migration probably took a couple of centuries, and several Luo groups settled down along the way.

Kinship was one basis of communal life: the units controlling cattle were lineages; women and bridewealth, paid in cattle, were exchanged among lineages. But there was another basis: the fighting unit.

The bands of warriors

It was not by chance that pastoral societies were also warlike societies. Cattle, the most desirable form of capital, had to be defended against raiding; if it were stolen, one had to be able to retrieve it; if the opportunity arose to raid another group for its cattle or a village for its granaries, one had to be ready to take advantage of it. Pastoralists were able to devote time and effort to their training as warriors. The unit of people moving together with their herds was organized around a group of warriors numerous enough to constitute an efficient fighting unit. Within the group of warriors and their dependents, authority was based on status deriving from kinship position, warlike achievements, and pastoral wealth. In spite of the possibilities offered by the surplus production of large herds, it seems that there was no system of political relations within the warriors’ bands, probably because of the restricted size of the bands and their constant mobility. Among homogeneously pastoral Nilotic societies of the present day, such as the Nuer, Dinka, and Shilluk, there is no distinct political structure.

The interlacustrine mixed societies

In the mixed societies composed of herdsmen and peasants there existed an extremely developed political system. Societies in the eastern part of Africa were not exclusively pastoral. Villages of hoe cultivators were scattered through the highlands, and bands of warriors passing through the region occasionally raided them. When herders decided to settle, however, as happened in the Great Lakes area, raiding was no longer a good policy. In some cases, we know the history of what happened.

The herders slowly occupied the noncultivated grassland between the villages. They had two advantages over the peasants: their warrior’s training, tradition, and spirit, and that impressive form of natural capital, their cattle.

Two or three hundred years later, at the end of the nineteenth century, we find global societies organized as kingdoms that included the descendants of both herdsmen and peasants. The former had been able to establish and maintain a privileged position. In two interlacustrine kingdoms, Ankole and Rwanda, this was achieved by the clever manipulation of three systems of social interaction: the political, the stratificatory, and the feudal.

The political system established asymmetric relations between rulers and subjects, but the ruling function was in fact monopolized by the pastoral group. The king, the chiefs residing at the royal court, the province chiefs, and all their executive agents belonged to the pastoral minority. The instrument of physical coercion, the army, was manned exclusively by the young descendants of the nomad warriors. (The term “ruler” is not restricted here to the king or even to the important chiefs who had the right to make decisions; it includes all those who, as officers of governing agencies, had a certain share in the surplus collected by imposition of tribute.) Not all members of the pastoral group were rulers, but all of them benefited from the fact that the government was exclusively in the hands of members of their group.

Social stratification

The descendants of the pastoral invaders and the descendants of the conquered tillers constituted two ranked strata, horizontally cutting across the entire global society. They were called, respectively, tutsi and hutu in Rwanda and Burundi; huma and iru in Nyoro, Toro, and Ankole. In some cases the strata constituted “castes,” since their memberships were entirely hereditary; in other cases, in which it was possible for an individual born in an inferior stratum to be admitted to a superior one on certain conditions, “class” is a more fitting term. Whether castes or classes, however, the strata in each society had different and unequal statuses.

In Ankole and Rwanda, where the system was particularly rigid and where the strata were castes, it may be said that each of them had a particular subculture within the societal culture of the global society. Huma and Tutsi, like their conquering ancestors, were cattle owners and warriors; Iru and Hutu tilled the soil, and even if they took care of the cattle, they could not own them. Marriages across the caste line were exceptional; dietary habits, leisure activities, religious beliefs, were all different. Huma and Tutsi had a genetic origin different from that of the Iru and Hutu, and in the nineteenth century a certain proportion of them continued to display distinct physical characteristics: a tall, thin build contrasted with the stockiness and medium stature of the peasants. Around these physical characteristics the superior stratum built caste stereotypes, assigning to themselves noble physical and psychological qualities and to the peasants the characteristics of, at best, good manual laborers. Thus, the differences between the strata were stressed because they justified the privileged position of the Huma or Tutsi.

The privileges of a member of the superior stratum were not automatic; he was not necessarily either a ruler or a rich man. But it was only to members of the superior stratum that the opportunity to become a ruler was open; members of the inferior group were excluded from governmental office. Men of the upper stratum, irrespective of personal abilities, were in a position to exert various kinds of pressure on inferiors to oblige them to provide services and agricultural goods. The stratified global society thus operated to maintain, over many generations, the superiority of the pastoral invaders over the peasants of the Great Lakes region.

Feudal institutions

In some of the interlacustrine societies—Ankole, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ha —feudal institutions developed in the stratified political and social systems, intensifying the social status quo so profitable to the upper caste. The feudal relation, based on voluntary agreement, established between a lord and his dependent a set of reciprocal obligations which offered protection to the dependent in return for services and products supplied to the lord. The economics of this exchange were not reciprocal. Such institutions channeled goods upward for the benefit of the Huma or Tutsi, just as political institutions channeled taxes from the subjects for the benefit of the rulers.

In 1871 an impressive complex of ruined stone buildings was discovered near the town of Victoria, in Rhodesia. When the Portuguese came to that region in the sixteenth century, the descendants of those who had built part of the constructions were no longer in Zimbabwe but in the kingdom of Monomotapa, a powerful monarch. The similarities in the political and dynastic institutions of the Zimbabwe-Monomotapa culture and of Ankole and Rwanda are such that some historians think that they have a common origin. If this is so, the architectural remains of Zimbabwe would be the ultimate stage of development for societies of the spear, very different from their pastoral and warlike austere beginnings.

War as an institution

In most of the societies of the spear, war was not a factor of social disequilibrium, a tragic crisis, but rather an institutionalized phenomenon, integrated into the political and economic organization. Among the Masai and the Kikuyu, raiding expeditions—which caused few casualties—were organized for the purpose of gaining cattle, which would then be shared according to well-defined rules. The Zulu under Shaka, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were a notable exception to this pattern—their object was to dominate vast territories. The conquered peoples did not continue as distinct social and cultural units: the young men were recruited into the army and the rest of the population was scattered or killed.

Collective representations

The human qualities admired in the societies of the spear were those of individual self-assertion, courage, self-confidence, self-control. Myths concerning the origin of mankind or of a particular global society (often the two were not distinguished) explained and justified the privileges of the superior stratum. Their founding ancestor, because he was more clever than his brothers, was given by their common father, sometimes deified as a creator, power and authority over his brothers and their descendants, the people of lower strata. Stratification was thus based on a belief in inherent capacity and confirmed by the decision of the most respected beings: the spirits of the ancestors.

The plastic arts were little developed in this region of Africa. Aesthetic values were expressed in ornamentation, music, and, above all, the verbal arts. Elongated and austere patterns on weapons and basketry seem to convey very well in aesthetic form the aristocratic outlook of warriors. The music was also restrained: songs and stringed instruments were as important as—in some places, more important than—the rhythm of drums. Poems extolling the great warriors of the past and their opulent herds of cattle were memorized. In the interlacustrine kingdoms, the accomplished “superior” men were expected to be able to compose poems, to speak eloquently and elegantly, and to enjoy as connoisseurs the sweet love tales sung in the evenings by their wives and sisters, the ladies of leisure of the civilization of the spear.

The civilization of the cities

The traditional cities with which we are concerned here were situated over a vast area extending from the southern fringe of the Sahara to the Atlantic and equatorial forest (and even to the Bight of Benin) and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Nile. The environment is very similar to the one found in the southern savanna: grassland with low bushes and trees, except in the coastal area of Yorubaland, which is covered with a not too dense forest.

Scarce materials and skilled craftsmen

The environment of this cultural complex is varied but is everywhere suitable for cereal agriculture and herding. The abundant wild game was hunted. Gold in dust and nuggets was found in relatively large quantity not far from the Niger’s northern bend. High-quality timber exists in the region. Ivory and feathers, pelts and leather, were also available.

The originality of the civilization of the cities was not based on hunting, cultivating, and herding but on other techniques permitting new uses of the potentialities of the environment. The specialized utilization of raw materials through new techniques resulted in a system of production that provided the foundation for an original civilization.

The term “technique” is used here, as it has been consistently in this article, to mean a relationship to natural resources. Except in the case of gold, the new uses of raw materials did not require new tools. What then stimulated the people of the northern savanna to develop these new patterns of production? First, there developed a new internal demand for the craftsmen’s products; second, and more important, the establishment of external trade produced an external demand for these goods, either as raw materials (gold, timber, ivory, kola nuts) or as finished objects (jewelry, “Morocco” leather goods).

The demand for Sudanic goods (goods from the whole sub-Saharan savanna belt—called the “country of the Negroes” by the Arabs) came first from the Maghreb and then, via the Maghreb, from the whole Mediterranean world. To the commodities already mentioned as objects of this trade may be added slaves. Like the other items, they were luxury goods, expensive and prestigious, since they were used not as laborers in a plantation system but as domestic servants in the households of rich Muslims and European aristocrats.

International trade

Men and commodities from the Sudan reached the Mediterranean fringe of Africa through the Sahara via several caravan routes, the three main ones being the western (Fez and Marrakesh to Timbuktu and Gao), the central (Kairwan to Kano), and the eastern (Tripoli to Abéché and the Lake Chad region). Horses and camels, introduced from the north, made possible the trans-Saharan crossings.

The traffic in commodities between the Sudan and the Maghreb was not one-way. From the north, caravans brought salt and copper, beads and cowries, figs and dates, cloth and fabrics, weapons and horses. Commercial profits on these transactions were high. In the south this trade was not carried on exclusively by private merchants. Sudanic rulers very closely controlled the exploitation of natural resources and trade. According to an Arab report written by al-Bakri in 1067, all the gold nuggets from the Ghana mines belonged to the king, whereas the gold dust was left to the gold washers. Duties were also levied on exported and imported goods.

Despotic kings

Political power in the civilization of the granaries was founded on the agricultural surplus produced by the peasant-subjects. In the civilization of the cities, the agricultural surplus is present, but it is supplemented by taxes on the exploitation of raw materials and on trading activities. The dual origin of the rulers’ income gave to the societies they governed a very distinctive societal and cultural structure. Disposing of a very considerable amount of wealth, kings and chiefs commanded important means of coercion: soldiers, weapons, horses. Consequently, the royal power was in theory absolute and in practice despotic.

The king was very remote from his peasant-subjects. He did not rely exclusively upon their agricultural tribute and labor, as did his counterparts in the civilization of the granaries. On the contrary, his most significant wealth was entirely alien to the peasants; it consisted of objects imported or made for the ruler by highly specialized craftsmen. The social distance between the governors and the governed accounts, at least in part, for the cruel punishments and the huge human sacrifices reported by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers and explorers. It may also help explain the sale of African men and women to the slave-ship owners who supplied the New World plantations from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. European slave traders did not capture Africans; they bought them from the rulers of the coastal societies, who were accustomed to consider strangers and subjects as people so different from themselves that they could be treated as mere commodities.

International trade was the specific component in the kings’ income that gave them such overwhelming political power. The commercial centers that developed at caravan terminals were also political capitals: merchants needed the support of kings and chiefs to obtain raw materials and manufactured goods; rulers wanted to be where they could exert profitable control over the transactions. Around the ruler’s residence and the merchants’ stores, other activities developed: craftsmen set up their workshops; peasants from the neighboring villages came to sell the food required by the city dwellers; in some places, such as sixteenth-century Timbuktu, Koranic scholars gathered and were respected and well paid for their teachings.

The urban phenomenon was so characteristic of the societies of the northern savanna that their civilization deserves to be called the civilization of the cities. These cities were quite different from the capitals of the kingdoms of the granaries and of the spear. Their prosperity resulted mainly from their situation in a network of international trade relations and only very secondarily from their dominance over the surrounding territory. Like the medieval seaports of western Europe and the Renaissance cities of northern Italy, the Sudanic centers were city-states. As a result of the primary orientation of the ruling groups of each city toward one another, many peasant communities in the intervening rural areas were left undisturbed. Thus, the civilization of the area we are considering may be thought of as a dual structure, combining quite distinct peasant and urban elements.

In the peasant villages were lineage heads, whose authority was based on ancestors, and local chiefs, who lived very close to their subjects and collected from them the surplus of their agricultural production and exercised authority and sanctions against deviant behavior. Another institution for social control that flourished in the savanna was the masked association. The masks of the Sudanic savanna— of the Bambara, Mossi, Dogon, Senufo—are as familiar to Westerners interested in African art as are the ancestral statues of the civilization of the glades. But the masks were not meant to be seen motionless in the daylight; it was rather at night that they came to life, their wearers dancing to the accompaniment of music and song. The men who carried them were not merely masked men: they lent their bodies to the spirits symbolized by the carved wood. The masked associations acted as agents of social control when other sanctions were not operative, either because the ruler was not strong enough to deal with some habitual offender or because the deviation involved belonged to a field outside the ruler’s authority.

The ideology of urban culture reflected its distinct economic political institutions. As trade oriented them toward the distant cities of the Maghreb, the reigning dynasties of the savanna belt kingdoms, such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, adopted Islam. For this reason these kingdoms are often said to have been set up by “Arab invaders.” This assertion is not supported by historical evidence. On the contrary, it seems that Ghana existed as a kingdom before the establishment of contact with the north. Except for short periods the rulers of these kingdoms have for centuries been African Negroes. The coastal cities of Yorubaland, Dahomey, and Benin were flourishing when the first European ships landed at the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century. They were not Islamized; they traded primarily with other non-Muslim peoples. Thus, these were not Arab conquest-states, although Islam contributed substantially to the culture of those states which were in closest commercial contact with the Maghreb.

Professional craftsmen and artists

The artistic traditions of the urban layer of the civilization of the cities are rich. The bronze heads of Ife are universally known. Made in the twelfth or thirteenth century, these heads are realistic in the sense that the features are represented according to their anatomic proportions, yet they are idealized. As in classical Greek sculptures of the fifth century B.C., they exhibit more harmony, more serenity, and more intensity than is found in reality, indicating that these beautiful heads are not portraits. Numerous copper plaques in high relief were made in Benin from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. In the cities of Abomey and Kumasi bronze figurines were used to weigh gold dust.

These artistic creations tell much about the societies in which they originate. Metal casting was done by the lost wax process, which requires great professional skill, to produce masterpieces such as the perfect Ife heads. The Benin copper plates portray warriors, kings, and royal symbols and were obviously made to decorate public buildings. It is known, on the other hand, that the founders were not allowed to work for anyone but the king. From the number of gold weights to be found today in museums and private collections, we may safely infer that transactions in gold dust were very common.

Thus, over a period of several centuries, an urban civilization based on the exploitation of scarce and precious raw materials, on professional craftsmanship, and on international trade developed in many global societies of traditional Africa, some of which were contemporary with very similar European centers of the late Middle Ages.

The civilization of steel

Industrial centers are not numerous in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. The largest are situated in south Africa, in the copper belt of Zambia and Katanga, and in west Africa. All are dominated by mining rather than by industrial production proper, although industrial workers and their dependents constitute a tiny minority among present-day Africans. Yet industry as a technique of production is the basis of a new civilization which coexists with the traditional ones, which transforms them, and which is in the process of superseding them.

Industrial techniques

As a technique, industry is a method of production which, using nonhuman sources of energy and advanced mechanical equipment, obtains a much higher output than does handicraft production. This technological revolution, first introduced in Britain in the eighteenth century, has continued to unfold its societal and cultural consequences throughout the Western world and beyond.

The first impact of the new techniques on sub-Saharan Africa was indirect: the industrialization of western Europe created in the nineteenth century a colonial expansion into Africa. Because consumer goods had been the first products of industrialization, the increased output required a broader market than Europe could offer; it also required cheap raw materials. Later, when industrial techniques were applied to the production of such capital goods as heavy machinery, engines, and railroads, these expensive commodities also had to be exported. To organize Africa as a producer of cheap raw materials and as a consumer of industrial products ranging from Manchester cotton to heavy equipment, it appeared necessary at the end of the nineteenth century to effectively occupy the interior of Africa to establish political dominion. The result was the establishment of administrative networks covering the territories granted to England, France, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal by the Berlin treaty of 1885.

The more direct impact of industrialization followed: mining concerns, processing plants, roads, ports, and railways were built, and for these projects African labor, both unskilled and skilled, was needed. Schools were provided, urban centers developed. Once begun, the colonial process, like many other historical currents, spread in many directions not intended by its initiators or even recognized: the missionary movement, the establishment of European agricultural settlers, the growth of scientific research institutes were all by-products of the colonial endeavor.

The new societies

Like other societies in the world into which industrial techniques have been introduced, the African societies have been deeply affected. New technique of production, whether organized by a capitalist or a collectivist economic system, opens for a society a broader range of potentialities on the levels of social institutions and collective representations. It also rules out certain possibilities which are incompatible with the requirements of industrial production. Slowly a new societal culture emerges that is the ever-changing result of the conflict between the forces of tradition, which tend to maintain institutions and representations corresponding to a partly discarded system of production, and the forces of the new system, which tend to create institutions and representations coherent with the new material basis of the society.

If the modern civilization of Africa is called “industrial,” in spite of the fact that relatively few Africans are directly engaged in the process of industrial production, it is not only because the industrial revolution has been the cause of colonial expansion and the result of colonial occupation but also because the new states of independent Africa are shaped by the necessities of the industrial era.

Urban habitat

On the level of societal organization, the civilization of steel—the metal characteristic of the industrial technique—is expressed by urban patterns of residence. Except for the traditional cities previously discussed, urban aggregations were born in Africa during the colonial period and grew up around administrative, commercial, and mining centers. Since those who live there are more influenced by modern patterns of behavior and thought, urbanization may be considered a principal characteristic of the new civilization.

The new towns permit one to locate on a map the civilization of steel. But it is not, like other civilizations, closely linked to particular natural environments. Except for extractive activities, obviously situated near the underground natural resources upon which they are based, neither industrial techniques nor their consequence, the urban habitat, require a specific kind of environment. The distribution of urban centers south of the Sahara indicates that the civilization of steel is widely spread. The density of towns is higher in some regions than in others, but the phenomenon is obviously general. According to the estimates of demographers, some 22 million Africans—about 10 per cent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa—were living in urban centers in 1961.

Many of these towns are not large: often their population does not number more than twenty thousand. But even in such small centers the individual leads a life very different from that of the peasant, the herdsman, the traditional craftsman, or the hunter. Often his dwelling is provided by his employer: he does not build it himself with the help of his lineage. If he attempts to do so on the outskirts of the town, the result will often be not a traditional dwelling in which the traditional good life can be led but, rather, a slum shanty. The urban African seldom grows crops. He receives wages and from these must buy all that is necessary for his subsistence, although by maintaining connections with his kinsmen in the countryside he may sometimes supplement his wages with agricultural produce. His dwelling and income permit him, at best, to care for his elementary family, his wife and children. They do not allow him to fulfill his duties to share with his lineage-mates. Polygyny, which in traditional Africa was wealth producing, since each wife cultivated her own fields for herself, her children, and her husband, is not easily practiced in urban conditions, where it is often an economic liability for the husband.

Traditional villages constituted very homogeneous communities where many kinsmen lived, where often one spent all one’s life, from birth to death, where everyone knew everyone else personally. Elders were respected and obeyed, and their authority was a powerful deterrent to any deviant behavior. An urban population is heterogeneous and mobile and requires strict control by coercive agencies. The legitimacy of a village chief rested in large part on heredity: he was chief because his father had been chief of that village. This principle cannot be applied in towns with their heterogeneous populations; local authorities are either appointed by the central government or elected. The functions of the local authorities, too, are different in the two settings. Chiefs could administer the village directly because “public affairs” did not include such specialized activities as primary education, medical services, garbage disposal, water supply, and the like.

The global societies of the industrial civilization are larger than traditional global societies. Except for the Rwanda republic and the kingdom of Burundi, there are no independent states whose boundaries coincide with those of traditional global societies. This is due partly to the legacy of colonial organization—independence has been gained by colonial territories, not by traditional societies—but also to the necessities of industrial civilization: to be viable in the modern world, a state must be of a certain size in territory, population, and national income.

Outside influences and internal dynamism

On the level of collective representations, the industrial system of production has also brought many changes. On the one hand, the profound experience of being a citizen of a modern state living in a monetary economy generates new perceptions of the world; the industrial era has opened sub-Saharan Africa to world cultural currents, which until the end of the nineteenth century had not penetrated into the interior of the continent.

We have already mentioned two conflicting forces shaping the new societal cultures of Africa: tradition and the dynamism of the new productive techniques that tend to create institutions and representations coherent with techniques. Both forces operate within the framework of a societal unit and, for that reason, may be said to be internal to the unit. The third force we refer to here comes from outside, but it converges with the inner dynamism to bring about continuous change. It consists of systems of thought, such as socialism and liberalism, which have been developed in the West to explain and assimilate the industrial revolution; of political theories concerning the proper organization of the commonweal; of religions with universalistic ambitions.

Painting, music, and literature

This complex interplay of conservatism, inner dynamism, and outside influences may be observed in the field of art. Painting is very popular in the largest towns: Dakar, Abidjan, Brazzaville, Leopoldville, Kampala, Nairobi, Elisabethville. In traditional Africa, painting hardly existed and easel painting not at all. Some of the most gifted painters have been trained by European artists who refrained from a formalistic teaching, even avoiding art history. They have almost reinvented painting in an African setting. Traditional wood carving still subsists in some places where ancestors’ statues are needed for rituals, but with the decline of the old cults, which during the colonial period have been persecuted by European administrators and missionaries, the necessary skills tend to die out. Other carvers, established in towns, produce poor substitutes of traditional masks and statues to be sold as art objects or curios.

Music obviously much more influenced by Latin American rhythms and by jazz than by the traditional music of the region is very much alive in the barrooms of African towns. This influence is not restricted to Africa, of course. The popular music of all the industrialized countries of the world presents the same characteristics. In the case of Africa, one should stress that the universal popular music adopted now had one of its original sources in Africa’s own traditional music: brought to the New World by the slaves, traditional African music is one of the sources of the Latin American dances and of jazz.

In the realm of literary creation, we also find the three social forces at work: the form itself has been introduced from outside, while the themes are sometimes suggested by traditional tales, sometimes by new problems faced by African intellectuals in the situation in which they live.

In this article, societal phenomena—global societies and, within them, systems of interaction— have been approached from a cultural perspective. This has been done, first, because to consider societal phenomena apart from their cultural matrices would have been artificial. As has been shown, their interrelatedness with all aspects of societal culture is such that to abstract them would have prevented us from grasping their full significance. Second, the cultural approach permits us to discern, among the multiplicity of global societies in traditional and modern Africa, a limited number of basic cultural complexes, a number of themes upon which particular societal cultures may be seen as variations. Where, as in Africa, cultural and societal boundaries do not neatly coincide, this approach seems a useful one.

Jacques Maquet



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