The Nature of African Customary Law

By T. Olawale Elias | Go to book overview
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THIS book is intended primarily as an introduction to African legal theory within the wider framework of general jurisprudence. Accordingly, it is concerned, not with a comprehensive description of the various customary laws of the African peoples, but with an analysis of the basic concepts underlying African law and the interpretation of these against their social and juridical background.

The comparative approach is often adopted whenever it is thought that this will illuminate the text or point a parallel in the familiar fields of English (or any other type of) law. But it is not so much an exposition of a new theory as a synthesis of existing evidence, supplemented here and there perhaps by my own personal views and inferences. The general thesis it seeks to establish is the simple one, that African law, when once its essential characteristics are fully appreciated, forms part and parcel of law in general. It is thus no longer to be set in opposition to what is frequently but loosely termed 'European law', and this notwithstanding a number of admitted differences of content and of method.

Practical problems of the legal administration of African colonies have except in Chapters XIII and XIV been touched on only incidentally, as this is a book of basic principles of law, not a handbook for the solution of current administrative conundrums. But it is hoped that what has been here attempted will be found of interest as well by colonial administrators as by students of African law generally. Amidst the prevailing dearth of legal literature dealing with general legal principles it should supply some of the sorely-felt need of the jurist and the sociologist. It can at least be offered as an essay in comparative jurisprudence.

The book has been written during my tenure of a Simon Research Fellowship in the University of Manchester. Part of that time was spent in paying study visits to parts of West and East Africa, with a view to obtaining first-hand information as well as correcting perspective or confirming impressions of African customary law in esse. The purpose has been to reduce to a minimum the chances of wrong inferences or generalisations to which a too rigid adherence to books and monographs alone might


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