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Traditional African Society

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Presentation on theme: "Traditional African Society"— Presentation transcript:

1 Traditional African Society

2 1000 different languages; 1000+ different tribes

3 Stateless Societies

4 Early African Societies

5 Early African Societies
Anthropologists think that the first humans lived in East Africa. Over thousands of years, people spread out over the continent, forming distinct cultures and societies. During early phase of their history, Africans lived as hunter-gatherers About 9,000 years ago, some began to grow native crops In some parts, pastoralism, practice of raising herd animals, arose before farming Early Farming Societies First farmers likely pastoralists of Sahara—wetter 8,000 years ago 5,000 years ago climate changed, Sahara became drier As land became desert, people migrated to Mediterranean coast, Nile Valley, parts of West Africa Pastoralists in Sahara By about 2500 BC many people in these regions practiced herding and mixed farming.

6 Stateless Societies Stateless societies  cultural groups in which authority is shared by lineages of equal power instead of being exercised by a central government; no one executive ruler Community rule over individual rule Usually the community that made the decisions consisted of male family heads


8 Stateless Societies Function of mobile population, underpopulation, and land as resource Even when dense population, there was no state Hunters valued over warriors Ideal was the large complex household with Big Man surrounded by people Control happened laterally, not hierarchically (secret societies, age-grade societies, ritual experts as mediators)

9 What are some characteristics of a stateless society?
Society divided into lineages – group traces its collective ancestry to a common ancestor Authority is balanced among the various lineages – families. No single group holds a majority of power. Operate through sharing of ideas and possessions, and cooperation is how they assume that society will operate.

10 HOME Stateless Societies
Lineages share power Elders negotiate conflict No centralized authority Age-set system continued . . .

11 Characteristics of Traditional Tribal Life

12 Tribes a political group that comprises several bands or lineage groups, each with similar language and lifestyle and occupying a distinct territory

13 Common Traits or Characteristics of Traditional African Tribal Life
The good of the group comes ahead of the good of the individual. All land is owned by the group. Strong feeling of loyalty to the group. Important ceremonies at different parts of a person’s life. Special age and work associations. Deep respect for ancestors. Religion is an important part of everyday life. Government is in the hands of the chiefs [kings].

14 An African’s “Search for Identity”
1. Nuclear Family 2. Extended Family 3. Age-Set 4. Clan 5. Lineage (ancestry) TRIBE (communal living)

15 Social Structures Common Features
Many societies developed village-based cultures At heart, extended family living in one household Families with common ancestors formed clans to which all members loyal Age-Sets In some areas, people took part in type of group called age-sets Men who had been born within same two, three years formed special bonds Men in same age-set had duty to help each other Specific Duties Loyalty to family, age-sets helped village members work together Men hunted, farmed; women cared for children, farmed, did domestic chores Even very old, very young had own tasks; elders often taught traditions to younger generations

16 Structure of African Society
Kinship – Relationship to individual relatives Family – Related members of a group Clan – Group made up of related families Tribe – Group made up of related clans

17 Definitions Tribe- group of people that share language, customs, traditions, geographic location Clan- group of related families Extended family- parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents (common in Africa) Nuclear family- parents and children (not common in Africa )


19 Kinship and Family Ties

20 How people are related in traditional African society?
Kinship: means a relationship that binds two or more individuals Blood relative Marriage

21 What is kinship? Sense of being related to another person(s)
Set by rules (sometimes laws) Often taken for granted as being “natural” rather than cultural Cultures define “blood” relative differently

22 Kinship Includes relationships through blood and through marriage.
Functions: Provides continuity between generations. Defines a group on whom a person can rely for aid.

23 Family Ties Farming and herding societies consisted of extended families Kinships created strong bonds and a sense of community

24 Lineage: Lines of Descent

25 Matrilineal versus Patrilineal

26 Lineages •Some societies group people in lineages—those with common ancestor Members of a lineage have strong loyalties to one another In some African societies, lineage groups take the place of rulers These stateless societies balance power among lineages Stateless societies—no centralized system of power

27 Lineage Means line of descent or family tree

28 Traditional Societies: Family Descent
Patrilineal  trace ancestors through fathers Matrilineal  trace ancestors through mothers 20% of African societies are matrilineal today

29 Inheritance and Descent
The Ashanti people believed the child’s blood came entirely from the mother Uncle is more important than the father Matrilineal Oldest son is the head of the family Oldest son was the inheritor Patrilineal

30 Patriarchal: Male-Dominated society very common in African tribes

31 Patrilineage Descent is traced through male lineage.
Inheritance moves from father to son, as does succession to office. Man’s position as father and husband is the most important source of male authority. Example: Nuer or Sudan.

32 Patrilineal Descent Found among 44% of all cultures
Kinship is traced through the male line Males dominate position, power and property Girls are raised for other families Found in East and South Asia and Middle East

33 Matriarchal: female Dominated society uncommon

34 Matrilineage Descent is traced through the female line.
Children belong to the mother’s descent group. The inclusion of a husband in the household is less important. Women usually have higher status. Example: Hopi.

35 Matrilineal Descent Found among 15% of all cultures
Kinship is traced through the female line Women control land and products Found in the Pacific, Australia, small parts of Mediterranean coast Declining though capitalism

36 Status and Roles of Women

37 Status of Women Societies that valued women
Women could be leaders Women were the teachers of the family Were respected because the bore children Bride Wealth paid to brides family Societies that did not value women Women did the planting, weeding, and harvesting In some societies men married many women [polygamy] Viewed a wife as property of the husband

38 Roles of Women An African woman's roles are as life bearer, nurturer, and source of generations. For an African woman in a traditional rural community, the chief measure of success in life is her ability to bear many children. The very existence of the family and clan depends on women's ability to bear children, who will provide security for their parents in old age and who will continue to nourish the spirits of the ancestors through sacrificial offerings. As a result, much African art is directed toward encouraging the fertility of women. Many shrines are devoted to spirits that provide the blessings of fertility, and these frequently contain sculpture and other objects devoted to the concept of fertility.

39 Many traditional African societies are polygamous
Marriage customs Many traditional African societies are polygamous Polygamy: having more than one spouse Men may only have multiple wives if he can support them Bridewealth- payment a man gives a woman’s family before marriage (land, cattle, cloth, tools) Dowry- payment a woman’s family before marriage (land, cattle, cloth, tools) Some tribes allow divorce, some do not

40 “No marry’d Women, after they are brought to Bed, lie with their Husbands till three Years are expired, if the Child lives so long, at which Time they wean their Children, and go to Bed to their Husbands. They say that if a Woman lies with her Husband during the Time she has a Child sucking at her Breast, it spoils the Child’s Milk, and makes it liable to a great many Distempers. Nevertheless, I believe, not one Woman in twenty stays till they wean their Children before they lie with a Man; and indeed I have very often seen Women much censur’d, and judged to be false to their Husbands Bed, upon Account only of their suckling Child being ill.” --F. Moore (European trader) on the River Gambia in the 1730s, Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa (London, 1738), pp

41 Bride Wealth Part of Roles of Women

42 Bride Wealth It has been argued that such a system commodifies the bride and thus dehumanizes her, but others also make the argument that the system defines her value to the marriage in a concrete way and that it contributes to the stability of the marriage, because were the marriage to end in divorce the "bride-wealth" must be returned to the groom's family, and if it has already been invested in "bride-wealth" for the bride's own brothers this can be difficult indeed. The "bride-wealth" creates a bond between the families which forces them to invest in the success of the marriage. When there is trouble between husband and wife the relatives on both sides intervene to find a solution. The male-female couple from the Dogon people of Mali represents the ideal of pairing that is necessary for procreation. The linking of the male arm around the woman's neck emphasizes the bond that is created by marriage.

43 Age Grade or Set

44 Traditional Societies: Age-Set System
Age-Set System  a cohort of young people within a region who are born during a certain period Pass through life stages/rites of passage together At each life stage the age group inherits different responsibilities Boys and girls are generally separated

45 Age Set Group of boys or girls born in the same year
Go through rituals together Transition into adulthood together i.e. Manhood initiation Circumcision ceremony for boys Scarification- ritual markings for tribe

46 The Age Grade System Definition
Includes all boys or girls born in the same year This same age group works together for their entire lives Purpose To Learn about community and shared duties Together they take part in special age ceremonies Effect This group usually thinks similarly and works together quite well

47 What are some advantages of an age-set system?
Each member can help others to pass through the various stages of life – they can also help each other obtain the specific individual benchmarks of each stage. Teach discipline, community service, and leadership all together

48 Problems of Tribalism Today

49 Problems of Tribalism Today
1. The tribe is more important than the nation. 2. Communication problems. 3. Inter-tribal warfare  civil wars. 4. Tribal favorites for government jobs: Nepotism Breaks down tribal traditions. Urbanization: Tribal intermingling on the job.

50 Tribalism problem Tribalism is often a stronger force than nationalism. Political parties based on tribes Problem of creating nationalism artificially. Globalization & Diversity: Rowntree, Lewis, Price, Wyckoff

51 Griots

52 Musician, Storyteller, Tribal Historian
African Griots Musician, Storyteller, Tribal Historian

53 Griots, pronounced "greeohs", are storytellers of West Africa who use poetry and rhythm to teach villagers about their history. Their home is the territory of the Mandinke people in the country of Mali where their tradition is alive to this day. "Griot" is the French term for this class of musicians; the local term is jeli.

54 Modern Role of the Griot
Historian Genealogist Orator, artist, musician Counsellor Spiritual Leader

55 Historical Role of the Griot
tutored princes and gave council to kings. used their detailed knowledge of history to shed light on present-day dilemmas. would memorize significant events, like births, death, marriages, hunts, seasons and wars, ensuring that the collective heritage, culture and lineage of the clan continued.

56 Griots Many early societies did not develop systems of writing Maintained sense of identity, continuity through oral traditions Included stories, songs, poems, proverbs Task of remembering, passing on entrusted to storytellers, griots Music and Dance In many societies, music, dance central to many celebrations, rituals Carving, wearing of elaborate masks part of these rituals as well Early Africans excelled in sculpture, bronze as well as terra cotta Traditional music performed with variety of wind, stringed instruments

57 West Africans have preserved their history through storytelling and the written accounts of visitors. Writing was not common in West Africa. People passed along information through oral histories, a spoken record of past events. West African storytellers were called griots. They helped keep the history of their ancestors alive for each new generation. In addition to stories, they recited proverbs. These were short sayings of wisdom or truth. They were used to teach lessons to the people. Some of the griot poems are epics that are collected in the Dausi and the Sundiata.

58 Proverbs Griots passed on more than stories, they also recited proverbs Proverbs are short sayings of wisdom or truth

59 Griots: Oral Storytelling
Tradition passed down by storytelling Two forms of tales Human characters Animal characters Human tales dealt with creation, death, success & love Animal tales focused on small creatures vs. larger beasts

60 West African Proverbs “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“Talking doesn't fill the basket in the farm.” “Rats don't dance in the cat's doorway.”

61 The griot profession is inherited, passed on from one generation to the next.
Griots are very different from the rest of society, almost a different ethnic group. They are both feared and respected by people in West Africa for their wisdom and talent with words.

62 Griot singer Suso is playing the kora (note his name on the instrument).

63 Traditional Societies: Griots
Father of the poor people Husband of beautiful ladies At whose absence the city is not interesting At whose absence the people are not happy… Be our mother Be our father Provide us with clothing Be the salt we need for our gravy Be the oil we need for our porridge… You are our eyes You are our mirror You are our hands and legs That we use to walk.

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