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Women's Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa

Women's Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa

Christine Saidi
Volume: 44
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 205
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  • Book Info
    Women's Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa
    Book Description:

    This study of more than two thousand years of African social history weaves together evidence from historical linguistics, archaeology, comparative ethnography, oral tradition, and art history to challenge the assumptions that all African societies were patriarchal and that the status of women in precolonial Africa is beyond the scope of historical research. In East-Central Africa, women played key roles in technological and economic developments during the long precolonial period. Female political leaders were as common as male rulers, and women, especially mothers, were central to religious ceremonies and beliefs. These conclusions contribute a new and critical element to our understanding of Africa's precolonial history. Christine Saidi is assistant professor of history at Kutztown University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-757-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Women’s Authority and Society in Early East-Central Africa is a long-term social history of a major African region. Its geographical scope is the wide expanse of savannahs extending across Zambia and into Malawi, the southeastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the far southwestern edge of Tanzania. Its time frame is the span of eras from the first arrival of farming peoples in the late first millennium BCE up to the nineteenth century CE. As social history, it contributes to an important new field in the study of early African history, exemplified in such recent works as Kairn...

  6. 1 The Patriarchal Myth: Deconstruction and Reconstruction
    (pp. 7-22)

    The inclusion of women and women’s roles in the study of the long precolonial eras of African history is overdue. Even after a half-century of professional study of African history in universities in Africa and elsewhere, the precolonial eras remain historical spans on which little research into gender and gender relations has been undertaken. Numerous studies exist on colonial and postcolonial African gender relations and even a few on those of the late precolonial period; but the present work is the first to seek to uncover gender dynamics going back more than two thousand years in Africa. In recapturing these...

  7. 2 Correlating Linguistics and Archaeology in East-Central African History
    (pp. 23-51)

    The first step in recovering the developments of the long term of East-Central African history and revealing gendered aspects of social, cultural, and political history is to establish the historical and chronological framework. A dual approach is required. First, the succession of languages and their speakers who have occupied the historical landscape of East-Central Africa must be identified, and a linguistic periodization of this history established. That is the task of the first part of this chapter. Second, the archaeological sequences must be similarly mapped and periodized and compared with the linguistic history. That task occupies the second part of...

  8. [Figures]
    (pp. 52-59)
  9. 3 The Early Social History of East-Central Africa
    (pp. 60-74)

    This chapter is both a review and a preview. It recapitulates, from the earliest to the most recent periods, the broad developments in the history of earlier societies across the five periods of the East-Central African past identified in chapter 2 from the linguistic and archaeological records. It adds to this chronology of historical periods an overview of the major developments in the social and gendered history of the different eras, in this way previewing findings more fully considered in chapters 4–7.

    For several millennia before the closing centuries BCE, two broad groupings of gatherer-hunter peoples predominated in East-Central...

  10. 4 Women’s Authority: Female Coalitions, Politics, and Religion
    (pp. 75-100)

    This chapter is the first of four that look more closely at the evidence and the kinds of historical change that came about in women’s lives and in the gendering of authority, politics, social roles, and work during the long periods of East-Central African history since the late first millennium BCE. The chapter begins by considering four themes: the sororal group in East-Central African history; the history of the gendering of social, political, and work roles; the differing encounters of political authority with women’s authority over the long term in East-Central Africa; and gender in religion and religious thought.


  11. 5 Women’s Authority and Female Initiation in East-Central African History
    (pp. 101-127)

    Developments in the institutions and rites of passage form an important set of themes in East-Central African social history from the beginning of the First Age of Farming, two thousand years ago, up to the nineteenth century. These themes have much to impart about the playing out of gendered authority over time. Both female and male ceremonies of initiation have a long history among Bantu-speaking peoples, going back well before the proto-Eastern Savanna society from which the later Bantu-speaking societies of East-Central Africa all drew a great deal of their cultural heritage. A striking early development of East-Central African history,...

  12. 6 Pots, Hoes, and Food: Women in Technology and Production
    (pp. 128-146)

    Women’s authority in the history of East-Central Africa had a broad scope in the economic as well as the social and religious spheres. Technology and production, and not just social relations, were highly gendered in precolonial East-Central Africa, and long-term continuities in gender patterns persisted in some areas of work and technology while new relations developed in other areas. Moreover, in the making of material culture, ritual activities, themselves gendered, could be as important as performing the actual technology. Because the economic responsibilities gendered as female were essential to the survival of the societies, by necessity they often cast women...

  13. 7 Sacred, but Never Profane: Sex and Sexuality in East-Central African History
    (pp. 147-161)

    A final set of narratives of social-historical change in East-Central Africa over the periods from the First Age of Farming through the Age of Political Reconfiguration can be written around the themes of sex and sexuality. This story is a broad one, in which certain long-lasting developments can be discerned, but the more specific elements of change often prove difficult to situate in time.

    Over the many precolonial centuries of East-Central African history, sexual relations between women and men intersected with custom, ritual, and production in a variety of ways. East-Central Africans of the nineteenth century viewed sexuality as normal...

  14. 8 Kucilinga na Lesa Kupanshanya Mayo
    (pp. 162-166)

    East-Central Africa presents a multifaceted history of change in gendered social and economic roles over the long periods from the late first millennium BCE to the nineteenth century CE. The Bemba proverb that is used as the title of this concluding chapter expressively evokes the depth of the matrifocality of social history in the region, above all among the Sabi peoples. Gender shaped history in East-Central Africa in many long-term ways. The questions this history raises relate to the theories and discoveries of other scholars working on early human history and offer new perspectives on ways to grapple with the...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-180)
  16. Index
    (pp. 181-187)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 188-191)