The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary

The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary

The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary

The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary

Synopsis

Recent historical events make it clear that the world is in for a long-term continuation of ethnic rivalries that have been going on for centuries. The short-term hegemony of the European empires, the Soviet Union, and the United States temporarily subdued some of those conflicts, but older identities are now reasserting themselves. The most complicated, diverse ethnic setting is in Africa, where several thousand languages provide powerful identities to as many ethnic groups. The Peoples of Africa provides a brief description of more than 1,800 individual ethnic groups living today in Africa.

Excerpt

Reports out of Africa frequently make the front pages of American and European newspapers and become sound bites on nightly television programs. Occasionally, the news is good. In 1994, apartheid died in South Africa, and black majority rule became a reality. Millions of people celebrated the triumph of democracy. Far more often, the news is not so good, ranging from the dismal to the apocalyptic. Drought, famine, war, civil war, genocide, ethnic discord, deadly diseases, and poverty appear to stalk the continent. But beneath the horrific headlines is another reality. Africa is home to more than 700 million people, all of whom are trying to make the most of their lives, worshiping their gods, raising their families, building their communities, and supporting themselves. In terms of cultural diversity, it is the richest of continents, a bewildering kaleidoscope of thousands of discrete ethnic entities whose group identities are focused and distinct.

In The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary, I have tried to provide a brief introduction to most of these individual groups. It has been, of course, a daunting task. When years separate anthropological field research from the publication of results, the data often become quickly dated. Defining ethnicity is never easy, and, in Africa, an ethnic group can also be divided and subdivided by regional, dialect, and clan classifications. Ethnic groups are never static entities fixed in time, especially in Africa, where a population explosion, rapid urbanization, and political instability have worked to blur ethnic lines. In the cities, intermarriage between people from different ethnic groups is accelerating, so the emergence of new ethnic groups is occurring constantly. Many of the new groups, as well as a good number of the older ones, have not yet been studied by scholars. For these reasons, I cannot say that this book is truly comprehensive. No doubt, many groups have been overlooked, largely because they have escaped the attention of scholars. Nevertheless, I have tried to provide a brief description and, where possible, a population estimate of more than 1,800 . . .

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