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How societies are born : governance in West Central Africa before 1600 /
Jan Vansina.
imprint
Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, c2004.
description
xiv, 325 p. : maps ; 24 cm.
ISBN
0813922798 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
author
imprint
Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, c2004.
isbn
0813922798 (cloth : alk. paper)
catalogue key
5220412
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [285]-309) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Jan Vansina is Professor Emeritus of History and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Reviews
Review Quotes
Even scholars who know better tend assume without thinking that the people the Portuguese found had been the same since time began.
" How Societies Are Born is an extremely valuable contribution to western African history and prehistory. I was impressed by the depth and variety of Vansina's historical and anthropological sources, and found his use of historical linguistics to construct arguments about systems of governance, marriage, and inheritance patterns and other details fascinating.
" How Societies Are Born represents a political and agrarian history of a period and region for which absolutely no scholarly histories have been written, and Vansina possesses rare and unmatched skills in marshaling a recalcitrant and multilingual body of historical sources.
"" How Societies Are Born is an extremely valuable contribution to western African history and prehistory. I was impressed by the depth and variety of Vansina's historical and anthropological sources, and found his use of historical linguistics to construct arguments about systems of governance, marriage, and inheritance patterns and other details fascinating." -- James DenbowUniversity of TexasAustin, author of Uncovering Botswana's Past
"" How Societies Are Born represents a political and agrarian history of a period and region for which absolutely no scholarly histories have been written, and Vansina possesses rare and unmatched skills in marshaling a recalcitrant and multilingual body of historical sources." -- David SchoenbrunNorthwestern University, author of A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity between the Great Lakes to the 15th Century
This item was reviewed in:
Reference & Research Book News, November 2004
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Summaries
Main Description
Like stars, societies are born, and this story deals with such a birth. It asks a fundamental and compelling question: How did societies first coalesce from the small foraging communities that had roamed in West Central Africa for many thousands of years? Jan Vansina continues a career-long effort to reconstruct the history of African societies before European contact in How Societies Are Born. In this complement to his previous study Paths in the Rainforests, Vansina employs a provocative combination of archaeology and historical linguistics to turn his scholarly focus to governance, studying the creation of relatively large societies extending beyond the foraging groups that characterized west central Africa from the beginning of human habitation to around 500 BCE, and the institutions that bridged their constituent local communities and made large-scale cooperation possible. The increasing reliance on cereal crops, iron tools, large herds of cattle, and overarching institutions such as corporate matrilineages and dispersed matriclans lead up to the developments treated in the second part of the book. From about 900 BCE until European contact, different societies chose different developmental paths. Interestingly, these proceeded well beyond environmental constraints and were characterized by "major differences in the subjects which enthralled people," whether these were cattle, initiations and social position, or "the splendors of sacralized leaders and the possibilities of participating in them."
Main Description
Like stars, societies are born, and this story deals with such a birth. It asks a fundamental and compelling question: How did societies first coalesce from the small foraging communities that had roamed in West Central Africa for many thousands of years?Jan Vansina continues a career-long effort to reconstruct the history of African societies before European contact in How Societies Are Born. In this complement to his previous study Paths in the Rainforests, Vansina employs a provocative combination of archaeology and historical linguistics to turn his scholarly focus to governance, studying the creation of relatively large societies extending beyond the foraging groups that characterized west central Africa from the beginning of human habitation to around 500 BCE, and the institutions that bridged their constituent local communities and made large-scale cooperation possible.The increasing reliance on cereal crops, iron tools, large herds of cattle, and overarching institutions such as corporate matrilineages and dispersed matriclans lead up to the developments treated in the second part of the book. From about 900 BCE until European contact, different societies chose different developmental paths. Interestingly, these proceeded well beyond environmental constraints and were characterized by "major differences in the subjects which enthralled people," whether these were cattle, initiations and social position, or "the splendors of sacralized leaders and the possibilities of participating in them."
Short Annotation
Vansina continues a career-long effort to reconstruct the history of African societies before European contact.
Unpaid Annotation
Vansina continues a career-long effort to reconstruct the history of African societies before European contact. In this compliment to his previous studies, Vansina employs a provocative combination of archeology and historical linguistics to turn his scholarly groups that characterized west central Africa from the beginning of human habitation to around 500 BCE, and the institutions that bridged their constituent local communities and made large-scale cooperation possible.
Table of Contents
Preludesp. 25
Late-stone age foragersp. 26
Of pots, fields, and flocksp. 33
Proto-Njila speakers and their societyp. 41
The dissemination of the Njila languages and its consequencesp. 52
Metallurgyp. 60
Toward the formation of West Central Africap. 67
Early village societies, 700-1000p. 69
Divuyup. 69
Agriculturep. 74
Bovine cattlep. 81
Overarching institutions : corporate matrilineages and dispersed matriclansp. 88
Becoming food producersp. 98
Of water, cattle, and kingsp. 107
Nqomap. 108
Cattle nomads and their societiesp. 117
Agropastoralistsp. 132
Networksp. 153
History, environment, and collective imaginationp. 156
Of courts and titleholdersp. 160
Feti : an Angolan Zimbabwe?p. 170
Principalities on the planaltop. 174
An inner African frontierp. 182
In the around the lower Cuanza Basinp. 186
Jaga Marauders and their governmentp. 196
Ladders of power and the dynamics of centralizationp. 201
Of masks and governancep. 206
Villages, vicinages, and sodalitiesp. 210
Collective governmentp. 226
Local leaders, chiefs, and palaversp. 234
From vicinage to dynastic webp. 244
The Rund kingdom and the Lunda commonwealthp. 255
Environment and collective imaginationp. 259
A coming togetherp. 261
Collective imagination, tradition, and the dynamics of historyp. 265
The Njila group of languagesp. 273
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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