A History of East Africa

A History of East Africa

A History of East Africa

A History of East Africa

Excerpt

The early history of East Africa is still largely a matter of conjecture. A few isolated but important records carry the story of the coastal region back to the first century A.D., but anything approaching continuity in the written sources can only be claimed for the period since the late fifteenth century. Written records concerned with the interior are still more recent, dating back only to the nineteenth century. So it is to the archaeologist, the anthropologist and the linguist that the historian must turn for assistance in filling out his story. Progress in these fields has been not inconsiderable. Dr. L. S. B. Leakey in Kenya and Mr. J. S. Kirkman, Dr. G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville and Mr. N. Chittick on the Kenya and Tanganyika coasts have investigated a number of archaeological sites. Valuable anthropological studies have been made of a number of tribes, and Dr. W. Whiteley has made recordings of coastal legends which may prove to be important sources of information. But much remains to be done in all these fields.

Even in the coastal area where archaeological investigation has provided a fuller guide to chronology there is practically no information about what happened before the thirteenth century. In some parts of the interior, meanwhile, tribal legends have been handed down orally from generation to generation. They embody in uncertain proportions a mixture of genuine history, mythology, dogma and self-justification. To the north and west of Lake Victoria these and other themes are incorporated into genealogies of ruling families which, by cross reference, might provide the rudiments of a continuous story growing ever more slender in content as it delves further back in time. Preliminary investigations by Dr. Roland Oliver have suggested that legend and archaeology might go hand in hand towards the clarification of the historical story. The association of certain personalities and events with known sites offers an opportunity to archaeologists to see if it is possible to confirm or add to the accounts of the lives of the rulers of the north western lake region. The establishment of an accurate chronology of events which took place in the interior of East Africa before the nineteenth century is still, therefore, a task for the future.

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