The Nature of African Customary Law

By T. Olawale Elias | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER I
PROBLEMS AND AIMS

IT would be both presumptuous and unwise to attempt within the compass of such a short work as this an adequately comprehensive study of the laws and customs of the polyglot peoples inhabiting the vast continent of Africa. There would be about as much wisdom in making such an effort regarding Africa as there would be in an attempt to issue even an abridged edition of the various systems of law and bodies of customs of the diverse peoples of modern Europe. The difficulty in the latter case would not be so much the lack of adequate materials as the resistance to such treatment of the bewildering quantity of available documentary data. The writer of such a book would be hard put to it to collate the various rules and conventions, already so well studied and minutely analysed and recorded, in the several constituent states of Europe. The Codes which form the bulk of the laws of Continental countries are not always susceptible of exact analysis or comprehension even by those trained in the Civil Law systems. But even if we suppose that the task of reducing European laws and customs to an orderly body of theories and principles were feasible, it is at least doubtful whether the product would be either very intelligible or very readable.

Far greater than these are the problems that beset the path of the writer on African laws and customs. The immediate trouble here is the obvious lack of material with which to build. In the first place, the extant available studies of the African situation are few and far between. Many areas of Africa are still virgin fields for research in so far as the social, political and cultural aspects of African life are concerned. These inadequacies make the writer's task somewhat unenviable when compared to that of his opposite number saddled with the compilation of European laws and customs; since it makes the African writer's statement of principles and methods so much more open to challenge by any single discovery contrary to the generalisations which he must perforce indulge in at this stage of his enquiry. This naturally places a special burden of responsibility on the writer on African

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