Beyond the Mountains of the Moon: The Lives of Four Africans

Beyond the Mountains of the Moon: The Lives of Four Africans

Beyond the Mountains of the Moon: The Lives of Four Africans

Beyond the Mountains of the Moon: The Lives of Four Africans

Excerpt

The life histories presented here were collected in the course of anthropological field work in Uganda during the years 1950- 1952. The four people--two men, Kihara and Mpuga, and two women, Lubangi and Kike, the wives of Mpuga--with whose lives we are concerned, are members of a group known as the Amba who live behind a great range of mountains on the western borders of Uganda.

When one first enters their universe it is as though one had walked through the looking glass. Their lives differ from those of the people with whom most of us are familiar in at least two important respects.

The situation in which they find themselves is different; different things happen to them and different things are expected of them. Over and above this they perceive situations and events in a way which is foreign to us. This different way of looking at things is most difficult for the student of primitive peoples to communicate to others. I believe, however, that in life histories of this sort the people themselves are able to convey some understanding of it.

For much of our knowledge of African peoples we are dependent upon the work of the social anthropologists. Broadly speaking, the task of the anthropologist, as it has been conceived by those who have worked in Africa, has been to observe the actions of the people in the societies which they have studied and to interpret these actions with the help of a slowly developing body of theory. In recent years the concept of social system, or social structure, has gained recognition as the organizing framework into which much of this data should be placed and interpreted. The result has been a magnificent series of studies which have immeasurably deepened our understanding of various African societies. Yet there have been complaints that these monographs which describe the highly complex anatomy of social groupings and the equally complex processes which operate within them fail to give their readers an immediate understanding of life in these societies. In rebuttal of this criticism, anthropologists can and do say that it is not their job to produce a photograph of African life; it is rather to go behind external appearances in order to understand the underlying mechanisms at work. Social anthropology has made progress in this direction only by becoming increasingly abstract and . . .

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