Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History

Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History

Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History

Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History

Excerpt

This book does not present a distillation of long and intimate familiarity with the African continent. The author has had field experience only among indigenous peoples in North America and Oceania, and his first-hand knowledge of Africa has been limited to three brief visits--a week in Egypt in 1921, four days in Cape Town in 1945, and a fortnight in Kenya and Tanganyika in 1957. His interest in the area stems primarily from the accident of having undertaken, about eight years ago, to offer a graduate course in African ethnology. Exposure to the descriptive literature raised problems of unusual challenge and engendered a mounting enthusiasm. In contrast to regions which man has occupied for only a few thousand years, Africa offers the fascination of a continent inhabited, in all probability, from the very dawn of culture history, a continent in which diverse races have interacted in complex ways for millennia and in which survivals of extremely archaic cultural adjustments still emerge here and there only slightly masked by subsequent developments.

The book does reflect the difficulties encountered by the author in acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the peoples and cultures of Africa. He early discovered the virtual absence of reliable guides to a preliminary orientation. With rare exceptions, general works are incomplete in geographic scope, naïve in theoretical perspective, and inaccurate in factual detail; historical reconstructions reflect racial biases, outmoded concepts of the mechanics of diffusion, and undisciplined imagination; classifications of cultures and of languages are often impressionistic and technically defective; and regional summaries and analyses are fewer and less satisfactory than for most comparable ethnographic areas. From these strictures the author must hasten to except three generalizing anthropologists whose work has proved so extraordinarily helpful that he must single them out for a special accolade: Hermann Baumann, who, in Völkerkunde von Afrika, with R. Thurnwald and D. Westermann as coauthors, has made an invaluable scholarly contribution in sifting and organizing the descriptive data on the peoples of Negro Africa; Daryll Forde, whose monumental editorial enterprise, the Ethnographic Survey of Africa, has assembled and summarized masses of material, often from scattered, inaccessible, and unpublished sources, on a large number of . . .

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