Early African Culture Africa Unit HOME 1 1. Look at the graphic to help organize your thoughts. List characteristics of stateless societies. Lineages share power Elders negotiate conflict Stateless Societies No centralized authority Age-set system continued . . . African Societies • Africa so vast and diverse neither universal states or religions characterize it history • Stateless Societies: these are societies that organize authority around kinship or other obligations. – Sometimes these stateless societies were quite large while others were small. – No need to tax people if you don’t have a large government. – Authority only affected small parts of peoples lives. • Secret Societies: West Africa, group controlled customs and beliefs and were able to limit the authority of rulers. Maintained stability within the community. • Problems: outside pressure, mobilizing troops, organizing building projects, and long term stability to support trade 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 10-40 people • Control happened laterally, not hierarchically (secret societies, age-grade societies, ritual experts as mediators) North and Central African Societies Hunting-Gathering Societies Hunters and Gatherers • Studying hunting-gathering groups today can give clues to the past Forest Dwellers • Efe live in forests of Democratic Republic of Congo • They live in groups of 10 to 100 related people • Women gather vegetable foods, men hunt Social Structure • An older male leads, but each family makes its own decisions • Problems within group are settled by discussion; no written laws Stateless Societies 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 Continued . . . Early Societies in Africa Societies Organized by Family Groups • Extended families made up of several generations • Families with common ancestors form groups known as clans Local Religions • Early religions usually include elements of animism—belief in spirits Keeping a History • Few African societies have written languages • History, literature, culture passed on by storytellers called griots • Cultures in West Africa are advanced long before outsiders arrive Family Ties • Farming and herding societies consisted of extended families • Kinships created strong bonds and a sense of community Social Hierarchy: Kinship Groups • Extended families and clans served as the main foundation of social and economic organization – Villagers functioned in society first as members of a family or clan • Notion of private property ownership did not exist in sub-Sahara Africa – Communities claimed rights to land and used it in common • Villages consisted of several extended family groups • Male heads of families jointly governed the village On your Left Side: • Draw the following pyramid on the next slide and add the information to the diagram. 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 Patterns of Government Local leaders are chosen Leaders listen to arguments Problem arises Public Discussion Consensus is reached Gifts exchanged continued Stateless Societies Tracing Family Descent • Some societies are patrilineal—trace ancestry through fathers • Others are matrilineal—trace ancestry through mothers • Lineage determines how possessions are inherited Age-Set System • Age set—group of people born about same time who form close ties • Age sets go through life stages together, such as warrior or elder • Ceremonies mark the passage to each new stage The Age Grade System Definition Purpose • Includes all boys or girls born in the same year • This same age group works together for their entire lives • 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 Social Hierarchy: Age Grades • Members of age grades performed tasks appropriate for their development and bonded with one another socially and politically • Age grades offered some integration to a society otherwise organized based on family and kinship Economic Organization • Most villagers were subsistence farmers – They produced only enough food for their own needs with little or no surplus • Fallow – allowing the land to regenerate important minerals needed to grow crops • Land was community property Natural Resources [water / land] Human Resources [labor / knowledge] Subsistence Farming Capital Resources [seed / tools] Distribution [family / friends] Inheritance and Descent Matrilineal • The Ashanti people believed the child’s blood came entirely from the mother • Uncle is more important than the father Patrilineal • Oldest son is the head of the family • Oldest son was the inheritor Social Hierarchy: Sex and Gender Relations • Sex largely determined work roles – Men usually did the heavy labor – Both sexes participated in planting and harvesting – Women tended to domestic chores and child rearing • Men largely monopolized public authority but women in sub-Sahara Africa generally had more opportunities than their counterparts elsewhere – Women enjoyed high honor as the sources of life – Women acted as merchants – Some women engaged in combat and formed all-female military units – Even the arrival of Islam did not drastically curtail opportunities for women Status of Women Societies that valued women Women could be leaders Societies that did not value women Women did the planting, weeding, and harvesting Women were the teachers of the family Were respected because the bore children Bride Wealth paid to brides family In some societies men married many women [polygamy] Viewed a wife as property of the husband 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. On your Left Side: • If you were a women in a African society at the time, how would you react to the treatment and roles placed upon you by the society? Why? Little Girl’s Dolls-Preparing for Role of Adult Woman • • • • • • Like children everywhere, African children play with toys that help them visualize their roles as adults and teach them the skills of parenting, hunting, and farming. At the end of a day of trading and shopping a parent may stop at the blacksmith's stall in the market to buy a small carved doll with which his daughter can play. She may dress the doll in new clothes she has made, feed it, and tuck it to bed under a tiny blanket in the corner of her room at night. The carved figure is called biiga ("child"), but it represents a mature women with developed breasts, an elaborate hairstyle, and the scarification patterns that mark passages in life. The doll represents the child, as she hopes one day to be. In the same way American girls play with dolls such as "Barbie" that represent an ideal or a stereotype to which the child hopes to conform. Initiation into Adulthood • • • • • • Both young men and young women pass through initiation. For Mende women, this life passage prepares them for life as adult women in Mende society, teaching them the skills of child rearing, cooking, trading, sex education, and much more. It is especially important as a means of communicating knowledge of healing medicines and the spirit world from one generation of women to the next. At the end of the initiation period the young women are ritually bathed, their bodies are oiled with cosmetics, they are dressed in their best clothing and are presented to the community, ready to receive the gifts of potential suitors. Their reintegration into community life is accompanied by the appearance of masks such as this one, worn by the middle aged women who supervise the initiation, and which represent the ideals of feminine beauty among the Mende. The Mende are very conscious of personal appearance and value a glossy black skin, beautiful hairstyles, and a well-fed and prosperous physical condition. Marriage • Marriage is a key moment that follows immediately after initiation among many peoples because both events serve to break the bonds of the individual with childhood and the unmarried state and to reintegrate the individual into the adult community. • Among the Woyo people a young woman is given a set of carved pot lids by her mother when she marries and moves to her husband's home. • Each of the lids is carved with images that illustrate proverbs about relations between husband and wife. • If a husband abuses his wife in some way or if the wife is unhappy, she serves the husband's supper in a bowl that is covered with a lid decorated with the appropriate proverb. • She can make her complaints public by using such a lid when her husband brings his friends home for dinner. • The carved figure on this lid represents a cooking hearth with a pot on three stones. • Divorce requires only the scattering of the stones, and it takes three to support the pot. 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. Becoming a Parent • For an adult in Africa success in a traditional community is measured by his or her ability to find a partner, raise a family, and provide for the children that guarantee that the family will survive through the generations. • Every adult is beset by concerns about the health of her children, his ability to secure and hold a means to earn a living, about his own health and that of his partner, and about the many uncertainties that we must confront throughout our lives. • For a Baule man or woman to fail to marry, bear numerous children, and provide for his family is considered a serious problem. • She may visit a diviner who may prescribe the carving of a figure that represents the spouse s/he had in the spirit world before birth. • The spirit spouse takes possession of the figure, and care and attention as well as prayers and offerings are lavished on it to please it, so that it will permit its realworld spouse to fulfill his gender role. • This figure pair represents the female larger than the male, and so it may have belonged to a Baule man. On your Left Side: • What is the following primary source saying about women in traditional African society? “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. 132-3. Becoming an Elder • The respect that is accorded both men and women who have attained positions of authority and honor is made visible among the Dan people (Liberia) by the large wooden ladles known as wunkirmian. • The spoon bears an idealized portrait of the owner as a young woman, at the moment she began her role as mother and wife. • The spoons are carved for women who are recognized by other women of a town as the most hospitable persons in a community. • The spoons serve as symbol of that status and are used as a kind of dance wand when the honored women dances through the town accompanied by her own entourage of women. African Culture • Painting and Sculpture – Rock paintings, wood carving, pottery, metalwork • Music and Dance – – – – Often served religious purposes Wide variety of instruments Integration of voice and instrument Music produced for social rituals and educational purposes • Architecture – – – – Pyramid Stone pillars Stone buildings Sometimes reflected Moorish styles • Literature – Written works did not exist in the early traditional period – Professional storytellers, bards – Importance of women in passing down oral traditions 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. Visitors’ Written Accounts The people of West Africa left no written histories of their own. • • Much of what we know about early West Africa comes from the writings of travelers and scholars from Muslim lands such as Spain and Arabia. • Ibn Battutah was the most famous Muslim visitor to write about West Africa. • His accounts describe the political and cultural lives of West Africans in great detail. Through art, music, and dance, West Africans have expressed their creativity and kept alive their cultural traditions. • Of all the visual forms, the sculpture of West Africa is probably the best known. – The sculpture is mostly of people. – It was made for religious rituals. – Artists were deeply respected. • Artists carved elaborate masks, which were used mostly for rituals as they danced around fires. • They wove cloth such as kente, a handwoven, brightly colored fabric. •Music and dancing were important. •These activities helped people honor their history and were central to many celebrations. On your Left Side with your partner: • In a T-Chart, compare and contrast the role of the arts in traditional African society to that of American society. Native Religion • Many African recognized a creator god as the single divine force responsible for setting the world in motion and providing it with order • Beneath him were many lesser gods associated with the sun, wind, rain, trees, rivers, and other natural features – Unlike the supreme creator god, these lesser gods actively participated in the workings of the world • Diviners were religious specialists who had the power to mediate between humanity and supernatural beings African Religions • Supreme being had created everything • Supreme being was a distant figure • Many are monotheistic • Oral traditions and myths • Ancestors could help or harm them • Every object on earth was filled with a living spirit (Animism) Animism Animism is the belief that all living and nonliving things in nature have a spirit. Animism was the belief system of many early civilizations. Animism in early civilizations was often combined with ancestor worship. The Roots of Religion Animism (Shamanism) - the belief that all objects, animals, and beings are “animated” or possess a spirit and a conscious life. Also called shamanism because of the prominence of a shaman. • Such beliefs are common among hunter- gatherers. • 10% of Africans follow such traditional ethnic religions. • These beliefs are losing ground to Christianity and Islam throughout Africa. Nigerian Shaman • Animism dates back to earliest humans and still exists. • It can be practiced by anyone who believes in spirituality, but does not proscribe to an organized religion. • Animist gods and beliefs often explain natural earthly things. • The presence of holy men or women, visions, trances, dancing, sacred items and places are often characteristic of animist societies. • Animism exists in traditional African, Asian, American and Aboriginal cultures. Animism • The term animism is derived from the Latin word anima meaning breath or soul. • The belief of animism is probably one of man's oldest beliefs, with its origin most likely dating to the Paleolithic age. • From its earliest beginnings it was a belief that a soul or spirit existed in every object, even if it was inanimate. • In a future state this soul or spirit would exist as part of an immaterial soul. • The spirit, therefore, was thought to be universal. Most of world’s remaining Animists – But missionaries spreading Christianity and Islam Diviners and Healers • Rooted in Tradition • Their purpose was to explain the cause of misfortune • Experts in herbal medicine • Today, doctors study the roots and herbs used in traditional African healing Islam and Christianity in Africa Muslim Influence in West Africa • Muslim traders came on land routes which allowed Islam to spread wherever they traveled • Rulers like Mansa Musa supported Islamic scholars which spread the religion through religious schools and education Mosque at Djenne Islam • Cities and territories in N. Africa had been an important part of the classical world: Carthage and Egypt • 640-700 followers of Muhammad swept across N. Africa • 670 Muslims ruled (Tunisia) Ifriqiya • 711 Berbers into Spain. Stopped in 732 by Charles Martel in Poitiers (battle of Tours) • Many N.Africans converted to Islam b/c of message of equality & umma • Abbasid unified territory for a while • Almoravids: (11th century) reform movement in Islam grew among Berbers. They launched a jihad or holy war to purify and spread Islam. They moved south to the African kingdoms and also north into Spain • Almohadis: (1130) reformist group The Coming of Islam • African Religious Beliefs before Islam – Common beliefs • Single creator god – Sometimes accompanied by a pantheon of lesser gods • Most believed in an afterlife in which ancestral souls floated in the atmosphere through eternity • Closely connected to importance of ancestors and lineage • Rituals very important – Challenge by Islam but not always replaced; synthesized The Coming of Islam (cont.’d) • North Africa – Arab forces seized the Nile delta of Egypt in 641 – New capital at Cairo – Arabs welcome due to high taxes and periodic persecution of Coptic Christians by Byzantines – Arabs seize Carthage in 690, called Al Maghrib – Berbers resisted for many years • The Kingdom of Ethiopia: A Christian Island in a Muslim Sea – Axum began to decline – Shift in trade routes and overexploited agriculture – Muslim trading states on the African coast of the Red Sea transforming Axum into an isolated agricultural society • Source of ivory, resins, and slaves – Attacked by Muslim state of Adal in early 14th century – Became a Christian state in mid-twelfth century Muslim Influence of the Swahili Coast • Islam arrived on the African coast in many waves, at different times, rather than in one great sweep – Because Muslim traders came via ship, penetrations were very localized compared to in west Africa • The Great Mosque at Kilwa built in the 12th Century is the oldest remaining mosque on the east African coast Great Mosque at Kilwa Islamic Invasions Developments • Islam brought large areas of Africa into more intensive contact with the global community • Although Islam was to bring equality to the people it brought more stark divisions • Many locals retained their beliefs or mix Islam with local traditions like in India • Royals were Muslim • Muslims controlled trade and were very wealthy and becoming a Muslim opened up doors for individuals involved in merchant activities. • Kongo and Great Zimbabwe were examples of statebuilding that development independently! • In the 15th century, the Portuguese found well development and powerful kingdoms • European advances to seek alternative routes to Asia due to Ottoman Turk advanced shutting down Constantinople/ Istanbul Religion: Christianity • Around the middle of the 4th Century, Christianity established a foothold in the Kingdom of Axum, in the highlands of modern Ethiopia – Missionaries later established monasteries – From the 12th through the 16th Century, Christianity was especially strong in Ethiopia – As Islam spread, Ethiopian Christians became isolated from other Christian lands and therefore retained much of the original theology and rituals – Not until the 16th Century did visiting Portuguese mariners expose Ethiopian Christians to Christians from other lands Church of St. George at Lalibela, Ethiopia Christian Kingdoms: Nubia and Ethiopia • Developed in Africa along the Nile prior to the Romans making it their official religion • Egypt (Coptic-language of ancient Egypt) connect to Byzantine empire • Copts able to maintain religion in Egypt after Arabs conquered b/c they were dhimmi • Muslim tried to penetrate Nubia/ Kush and were met with resistance. Remained an independent Christian state until the 13th century • They were cut off from Byzantium due to Arab conquerors • 13-14th centuries dynasty in Ethiopia traced it roots back to Solomon and Sheba. Continued being isolated. On your Left Side: •What effects did the Islam culture have on the African societies?