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Tribal/Ethnic/Language Groups


>>> Item number 270, dated 95/05/26 16:35:58 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 26 May 1995 16:35:58 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY:  tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Fri, 26 May 1995
From:           Richard Lobban, Rhode Island College
                <RLOBBAN@grog.ric.edu>

Yes, Ethnic or cultural group is vastly better. Tribe refers to a subordinated population..i.e., a tributary...who appears before a tribunal to pay his tribute or contribution (under duress). Before colonial subjugation peoples were termed nations, after conquest they became "tribes" and in the modern American context, some native Americans seek tribal status to make some advance in getting special rights, like gambling, but as long, only as long as they accept their own subordination. About 15-20 years ago a couple of us published a piece in Ufahamu at UCLA/African studies on the concept tribe and why it should be trashed. Bye, Have a great day,

>>> Item number 275, dated 95/05/27 15:42:26 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 27 May 1995 15:42:26 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY:  tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Sat, 27 May 95
From:           Gregory Barz, Brown University
                <ST403323@BROWNVM.brown.edu>

In response to the dialogue on "tribe"--yes, perhaps it is best to "trash" the concept/term/meaning behind "tribe. Yet, what (post-)post-modern fieldworker hasn't been challenged by informants/friends/research assistants in Africa to adopt the term "tribe." Yes, it's a post-colonial translation thing. "We are *not* an 'ethnic group.' We are a 'tribe.' Call us a 'tribe.'" Most of the people I worked with in East Africa cringed when I translated "kabila" into anything other than "tribe."

So, the question is: who do I be true to in my work? Academics who trash the term? Or, the people(s) who themselves embrace the term in translation without the baggage that others load it down with? I'm not saying I have the answer. But, I *am* aware that it's not as easy a question/issue to settle as some might think. Perhaps we should continue to approach the question/issue from different case studies--to the people themselves.

>>> Item number 277, dated 95/05/28 16:01:10 -- ALL

Date:         Sun, 28 May 1995 16:01:10 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY:  tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           Thomas M. Costa, Clinch Valley College
                <tmc5a@pluto.clinch.edu>
Date:           Sat  27 May 1995

I would like to comment on this issue from a slightly different perspective. Several years ago I was at an interdisciplinary retreat. Over lunch a colleague in political science happened to mention that when he lectured to students on the current situation in former Yugoslavia, he drew an analogy between the warring factions there (ethnic/nationalist groups??) and tribes in Africa.

A Croatian visting professor in international relations objected strongly but politely that the factions in Yugoslavia were definitely NOT tribes. I then interjected that there was a growing sentiment in academic circles that to use the term "tribe" to refer to African groups may also be problematic.

One thing that post-modern theory has taught us (I think) is that language is fraught with political significance. I too favor trashing the term "tribe" because it carries a connotation of submission/weakness.

>>> Item number 291, dated 95/05/31 08:03:57 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 31 May 1995 08:03:57 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Wed, 31 May 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby
                <S.Kasule@derby.ac.uk>

'Tribe' is as problematic as 'native' is in post-colonial studies.

The politcal reasons informing the argument of these people where they prefer being refered to as 'tribes' not 'ethnic groups' are that (and this is just a supposition) what are now nation states are a conglomeration of tribal states of the past. Each of these, although existing within the post-colonial state structure, still looks at itself as a state and any attempt to reduce it to an ethnic group is seen as an act of attack on its privileged status. Thus, the current (not suppressed?) demand by some members of the constitional assembly in Uganda that the country adopts a federal status where power will rest within specific regions.

Also, in response to another netter who witnessed a contraversial debate on whether the war in Yugoslavia could be regarded as a tribal war, it is worth noting that the colonialists loaded the two terms with new meanings in the context of empire:

`Tribes' only existed in Africa (and the new world) and not in Europe. And, there were no 'natives' in Europe, just people!!

>>> Item number 294, dated 95/05/31 10:29:44 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 31 May 1995 10:29:44 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Wed, 31 May 1995
From:           Nancy Jacobs, Fort Lewis College
                <JACOBS_N@FORTLEWIS.EDU>

My readings in US history, and my experience this year at a school with a 25% Native American student body, have raised some questions for me on the use of the terms "tribe" and "native" in African studies. Neither seems to be objectionable regarding indigenous Americans, either among the people designatied, or among academics who study them.

I think the reasons for embracing the term "native" in contemporary North America, and why there is no similar sentiment in Africa, are clear. However, the differing perspectives among academics studying different continents for the use of "tribe" to designate ethnic/language/political groups living under a modern state are less easily explained.

Perhaps it would be worth some exploration, looking at these terms and reactions to them around the world.

>>> Item number 295, dated 95/05/31 11:02:29 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 31 May 1995 11:02:29 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Wed, 31 May 95
From:           Claire Dehon, Kansas State University
                <DEHONCL@KSUVM.KSU.EDU>

That Europeans used the term tribe only to describe African groups is not correct. As as child I learned that Belgians were a number of Germanic tribes made of Eburons, Eduoniens, Menapiens, Nerviens and so on. The word was used also in South America.

I understand the position of African states that desire in the name of unity to ban the term. Yet, it is certainly useful to describe specific groups when writing history or anthropology. After all, Rome, where the word comes from, was divided in four "tribus" (I do not know the plural of the word, if there is one). Then it just meant an administrative division!

>>> Item number 306, dated 95/05/31 16:59:13 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 31 May 1995 16:59:13 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Wed, 31 May 95
From:           Harold_G.Marcus, Michigan State University
                <22634MGR@msu.edu>

It should be obvious by now that tribe does not hold a negative connotation for Africans, who persist in using the term. It is western academics of the 1960s and thereafter who demonized the word for emotional-political reasons. Our discourse and representation are clearly different from those of the people we seek to understand in scholarly terms. What does this divergence say about the value of our research and writing?

>>> Item number 309, dated 95/06/01 08:24:01 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 08:24:01 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           Peter Limb, University of Western Australia
                <plimb@uniwa.uwa.edu.au>
Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995

What should be kept in mind with regard to "tribe" is the whole question of translation. "Tribes" do not always think or talk of themselves in the vernacular as "tribes"-the word comes out in translation, or in various forms of colonial or post-colonial discourse. Hence you have a post-colonial subliminal force at work.

Of course the word has now passed into everyday use, by both academics and the general public so the whole thing is very much blended into language. But that does not mean that people refer to themselves as members of "tribes". More often it comes up about considerations of status, power etc. e.g. as in KwaZulu-Natal.

>>> Item number 315, dated 95/06/01 12:49:55 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 12:49:55 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           Immaculate Kizza, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
                <IKIZZA@netframe.utc.edu>
Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995

In Africa THE tribe means more than an administrative group, it means a way of life culture and all. Kwaheri.

>>> Item number 316, dated 95/06/01 12:53:54 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 12:53:54 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           Pekka Masonen, University of Tampere
                <hipema@uta.fi>
Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995

It is true that the concept "tribe" is rarely used in European context, at least nowadays. However, in current Finnish discussion we use this word ("heimo") frequently: our nation consists of three tribes and their mixtures. Yet this is only a cultural concept; there are no ethnic differences between these tribes.

In African (and native American) context we are increasingly preferring to speak about "peoples", for it sounds a little bit funny to call an African people "a tribe" if their number exceeds the population of our republic.

On the other hand, we have the colonial experience under the Swedish rule.

>>> Item number 317, dated 95/06/01 12:58:34 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 12:58:34 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995
From:           Guy-Maurille Massamba, Howard University
                <GuyRille@aol.com>

The positive view that Tribes have about themselves is not necessarily to be seen as a reaction against the colonial denigratory attitude of the colonized people. It is important to point out that the concept Tribe, in its incorporation of geographic and historical dimensions, has often reflected the assertion of greatness that people of a certain tribe have about themselves.

In many ethnic groups, the self-identification that gives the name of the group translates the notion of people or "Humans", as opposed to other tribes which they see as barbarians. For instance, in a more global or a larger context, the word "Bantu", which is a large ethnic group in Central Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, means "people" or "Human Beings".

>>> Item number 319, dated 95/06/01 16:10:39 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 16:10:39 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 01 Jun 1995
From:           Wolf Roder, University of Cincinnati
                <Wolf.Roder@UC.Edu>

I find there is really no good substitute for the concept of "tribe", ie. a cultural or ethnic group without a state. I insist that European "nations" in fact are generally tribes, in the same sense in which we apply the word to African tribes, i.e. the German speaking tribe(s), the Czech, the Croat, the Yoruba, etc. Europeans have decided each tribe is a nation, and have essentially settled their borders on the basis of tribalism. This has given us two great European wars, which we call world wars. Other tribal wars in Europe can be seen daily on your TV news. A warning to African countries not to go that way.

>>> Item number 321, dated 95/06/01 16:21:56 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 16:21:56 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 01 Jun 1995
From:           Richard Lobban, Rhode Island College
                <RLOBBAN@grog.ric.edu>

Still More on "tribe" I was thinking about Harold Marcus' point that the term is used in Africa by Africans...Well just becuasue that is the case does not make it right or wrong, but it is only evidence in the discussion. Naturally the word is not of African origin so they have only learned or incoporated the term as a result of colonizatrion/colonization and language (foreign) acquisition. True there is a danger of paternalism here.. i.e. we know what is good for you, but still this important discussion should continue.

>>> Item number 324, dated 95/06/01 20:55:23 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 20:55:23 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 01 Jun 1995
From:           Richard Lobban, University of Cincinnati
                <RLOBBAN@grog.ric.edu>

More on tribe: Europeans have used the word tribe either for non-western peoples, or only in an archaic sesne/sense for themselves, e.g. Germanic tribes, Jewish tries/tribes. Actually in anthropology, where the term is widely used, it is actually used in such an inconsistent fashion that it is almost hopeless e.g. Bushmen tribes and Yourbs/Yoruba tribes could not be more different in political organization.

Regarding the Roamn Roiim/Roman etymology the tri prefix related to Roman, Latin and Etruscan "tribes" hence the implicatin of three, as Rome expanded the political content of subordination was maintained and the requirement that there were only three was lost. Yes, administrative divisiion, but also a subvordiate "tribute" paying division brought before a "tribunal" if they protested. Anyway, fascinating stuff. Have a great day!

>>> Item number 325, dated 95/06/01 20:58:22 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 20:58:22 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995
From:           Eric M Washington, Michigan State University
                <washin34@student.msu.edu>

I question the use of "Bantu" by Guy-Maurille Massamba. From my readings Bantu is not an "ethnic group", but a linguistic group. Bantu-speakers make up the largest segment of Africa's linguistic family. However, we could hardly state that the Kikuyu and the Zulu (both Bantu-speaking groups) are a part of the same "ethnic group."

Also, Lobban makes a good point in response to Marcus' comment on the African use of "tribe." My question to Marcus is which Africans are using the term? Is tribe being used by academic Africans trained in Western institutions and reared on Western historical literature. As academics we must find out how "everyday" Africans refer themselves and others.

>>> Item number 326, dated 95/06/01 21:12:42 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 1 Jun 1995 21:12:42 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Thu, 1 Jun 1995
From:           Guy-Maurille Massamba, Howard University
                <GuyRille@aol.com>

Although there seems to be some consistency in Wolf Roder's argument that a tribe constitutes a nation, this view misses the point that a nation may also be seen as a more inclusive entity than the tribe. So your the from a conceptualization of tribe to the definition of a nation does not provide us with the analytical tools to incorporate all the elements that constitute a nation. Roder's view can be used as an analytical starting point though, in the sense that it evokes the dynamics that determine the making of a nation.

Are there such identities as Anglo-Saxons or Latin people ? One even speak of Indo-European languages, Semitic people. On the basis of what ? On the basis of the fact that as a group of people they have something--the language and the culture--which distinguishes them from other groups of people. The term Bantu, despite what Mr. Newman thinks, allows for the identification of a group of people whose languages--and certainly cultures--are "closely related".

The fabrication of the concept is one thing and the actual existence of a group of people and the cultural elements that characterize them is another thing. A reality forces us to identify this group of people by using a term. It could have been another term than Bantu. The point is that identification and differentiation are proper to the making of human societies. What may be problematic, however, is the origin of the concept we use to identify and differentiate people and their languages, the intentionality behind the concept and its interpretation.

>>> Item number 327, dated 95/06/02 08:36:47 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 2 Jun 1995 08:36:47 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           James G. Holley III, Jersy City State College
                <safuiga@pipeline.com>
Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 1995

For James Newman: Would you propose a new classification system for such languages? On what basis would you classify them? Would it be according to (a) geographical location and/or (b) discrete linguistic features?

I had thought that the word Bantu was linked historically to Swahili which is a creole language: a combination of classical Arabic and one or more East African languages. I think that the root of Bantu is taken from the classical Arabic word, aba (But, hey, don't quote me on it. I am a doctoral student and this will probably not be on my comps. Nonetheless, I oughta know it, huh!)

There is no Niger-Congo tribe per se, but there are Niger-Congo languages. In similar fashion, there is no Romance people in Europe; however, a romance languages, as you are probably aware, is a label given to certain languages in Europe.

As an applied linguist, I would be curious to know what neo-linguistic classification status you would give to these languages and why.

>>> Item number 330, dated 95/06/02 12:27:32 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 2 Jun 1995 12:27:32 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby
                <S.Kasule@derby.ac.uk>

I wouldn't agree with Peter Limb's statement that 'tribes do not always think or talk of themselves in the vernacular as "tribes". They do, but maybe we should say that some tribes don't. It is for this reason that some African national politics is bedevilled by `tribalism'.

A good example of a country where tribes talk and think of themselves as tribes is Uganda: the Baganda are always Baganda first before they are Ugandans. On the passport application forms there is a space where applicants have to write down their tribe & name their ancestors!! If you ask a person from Buganda what his/her origin is he/she will say that she is a Muganda (a person of the Ganda tribe); if that person is from Lango (northern Uganda) he/she will also say that he/she is a Langi etc. It is not a matter of status or power for most of these people.

>>> Item number 332, dated 95/06/02 14:05:58 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 2 Jun 1995 14:05:58 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language--the Bantu [2]

[1]

Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 1995
From:           Guy-Maurille Massamba, Howard University
                <GuyRille@aol.com>

I doubt the term Bantu comes from the classical arabic term "Aba". The term Bantu is only the plural form of the word Muntu, which means in Kiswahili and Kikongo: Homo, that is the human being, or to use a sexist term (which I am not at all): Man as opposed to animal. Muntu is the Human and Bantu are Humans.

The root of this word is a distinctive characteristic of many Bantu languages, since you see it in many of them. For instance, in Lingala (a language spoken in Congo and Zaire), it is Moto; in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi (respectively in Rwanda and Burundi), it is Umuntu; in Beti languages (a group of languages spoken in South Central Cameroon), it is Mot. Just to name a few. All these expressions mean the Human Being.

And the term Muntu (the singular form of Bantu) does not come from your classical arabic term Aba. You cannot have the plural form of the word to come from one language and its original form (the singular) to come from another. That's inconsistency. It may also be important to point out that many of those languages I mention here (especially those of the Central African region) don't have anything to do with Arabic. The people who speak them may not historically have received any influence from the Arabs.The kiswahili instance is a different story. I am not speaking about the contemporary sites of interaction between these people and the Arabs.

By the way does not the term Aba sound like the semitic term Abba, which means Father ? I am not sure about this. But I am just trying to emphasize the difference of meanings of these terms Aba and Bantu.

Moreover, what do you call Niger-Congo: tribe or language ? Your combination of these two entities (niger and congo) is not convincing to me. There exists a Kongo ethnic group (some would call it tribe) located in south-western Zaire, northern Angola and southern Congo-Brazzaville. This constitutes an ethnic and linguistic entity which belongs to the wider Bantu linguistic group.

[2]

Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby
                <S.Kasule@derby.ac.uk>

The root of abantu is '-ntu' not Ba-. Therefore you can have: omuntu or abantu or bantu. Simply translated in one African language:

omuntu = is a single person or a human being [read man] abantu = many people; a group of people; a community; people; men bantu = human beings; civilised people [not in the European sense

though]
bantu = people whose languages and mutually intelligible

>>> Item number 333, dated 95/06/02 14:10:56 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 2 Jun 1995 14:10:56 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 1995
From:           Wole Ife, Bowling Green State University
                <wife@bgnet.bgsu.edu>

Isn't this discussion about the term, "tribe" interesting! On one hand, many are seeking to compare and contrast it with the term "culture"/etc. in the West, while it is obvious that you can't compare different terms meaning different things. Hence, the term tribe, in the context of this discussion, seems to mean African group, while the term "culture" means Europeans (tribal) group.

Thus, while the same sociologically, the demonization of one of the two cultures, (the still-questioned civility of African cultures) allows for a different word to cover the same meaning/events/personalities in societies of vastly different levels of "advancement"...ei. Europeans and Africans.

Thus, the African can be taught that her/is ancestral knowledge/systems is "tribal," while the same ancestral knowledge/systems of Europeans can be termed "cultural!" Later, it is decreed that "tribal" is bad, while "culture" is good.

So, in this context, today's European nations are in fact kingdoms of unified "European tribes" who agree to be; while Africans are taught that seeking agreements among their tribes, or "cultures," is anti-modern. Thus, they fight to keep Euro-imposed boundaries from colonialism.

It is a play on words, around which stereotyped fears are formed to alienate. For example, take Voodoo culture and the African diasporia.

That is my personal, afrocentric-media studies position...Hope it sparks something up there...

>>> Item number 334, dated 95/06/02 14:15:23 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 2 Jun 1995 14:15:23 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Fri, 2 Jun 95
From:           Kelly Tucker, Indiana University
                <KETUCKE@ucs.indiana.edu>

I find the discussion on tribal/ethnic/language groups very stimulating. Over the past several days, the discussion has evolved from the use of the word "tribe" as an ethical/historical issue to even more complex issues of linguistics.

However, I have a burning question: as teachers, as well as researchers, how does one approach this issue in the classroom; say, in an introductory course for freshman and sophomores who know nothing about Africa, except the "tribal" images that they get from the media and from longstanding stereotypes about Africans?

I am a doctoral student who just finished as an Associate Inst. (discussion leader) for a course whose main focus is to tackle the myths and stereotypes of Africa and Africans by investigating a series of historical issues, and the important scholarly debates involved. The Professor assigned, in the beginning of the course, "A Tradition of Myths and Stereotypes" by Joseph E. Harris in the book *Africans and Their History*.

Overall, students found Harris' attack of the word "tribe" both interesting and acceptable--Harris provided sufficient evidence to get them to at least "think" about the connotations of a word that they formerly had no idea could be problamatic. But there were other students who were, to my surprise, blatantly HOSTILE to not using the term "tribe." One student confronted me after class and said that they "were" tribes, and he was not going to jettison the term from his discussion of Africans.

This is a frustrating issue when you take it to a university classroom where students cannot separate (I am not sure if they are actually so separate) debates about the word "tribe" and emotional contemporary issues having to do with race and race relations in the US which they are also confronted with on a daily basis.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? How does one introduce this issue in the classroom without setting off fires?

>>> Item number 338, dated 95/06/03 11:39:46 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 3 Jun 1995 11:39:46 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Fri, 02 Jun 1995
From:           Richard Lobban, Rhode Island College
                <RLOBBAN@grog.ric.edu>

Joe Harris and I have long been struggling against "tribe", and it is just simplest to use ethnic or cultural group which is balanced and neutral. Tribe carries too much extra baggeage and from a strict point of view of political anthropology it has been used in so many different ways that it just does not have any consistent meaning.

By the way, if anyone wants a reference to the journal article I mentioned in an earlier post on this topic, it is: Richard Lobban, Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Linda Zangari, Tribe: a socio- political analysis, *UFAHAMU*, 1976, Vol VII, No. 1, pps. 143-165 (published by African Studies, UCLA). Happy reading and I think you'll find it relates closely to our stimulating discussion.

>>> Item number 342, dated 95/06/05 08:36:45 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 5 Jun 1995 08:36:45 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Sat, 3 Jun 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby
                <S.Kasule@derby.ac.uk>

The word "Bantu" has always existed in my language (Luganda). But I would start any explanations by deconstructing the words: tribe, native, ethnic. Also give students a EuroAmerican as well as an African reading of the three. Use Edward Said's Orientalism.

>>> Item number 343, dated 95/06/05 08:52:57 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 5 Jun 1995 08:52:57 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

From:           Peter Limb, University of Western Australia
                <plimb@uniwa.uwa.edu.au>
Date sent:      Mon, 5 Jun 1995

In referring to the etymology of the word tribe, I was suggesting that African ethnic groups/tribes do not always refer to themselves in "trib-al" categories, even if, as Samuel Kasule correctly point out, many do indeed characterize themselves in ethnic terms which for historical reasons take the linguistic FORM of the word "tribe."

That a group refers to themselves as Baganda simply shows that the ethnic group/tribe/nation etc. is a way in which they visualize their identity in the polity. The term tribe with its ramifications was overlaid upon a more fundamental group identification. I certainly am not denying the existence of tribes: once something exists, even if only as an idea, it can take on a material power, as Marx stated.

That these categories can be fluid is evident from Terence Ranger's work in Zimbabwe, where some "Shona" peoples suddenly, overnight, transformed themselves into "Ndebele" so that they could make use of pastures reserves by the colonial power for "Ndebeles."

My own wife, who is a mixture of both these groups (in her words), used to say that the only way you could really tell these "tribes" apart was to look at the backside of the women..but that's another story!

>>> Item number 345, dated 95/06/05 22:11:39 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 5 Jun 1995 22:11:39 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Mon  05 Jun 95
From:           Chris Lowe, Reed College
                <Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU>

Nancy Jacobs inquired why "tribe" and "native" are more of a problem in African contexts than in North American ones. Regarding "tribe", I think the answer has to do with U.S. bureaucratic practice. Legally the U.S. treats (I think this is still the case) Indian tribes as "domestic dependent nations" which retain a form of sovereignty, and whose relationships with the U.S. government are governed by treaties and a history of treaty-making.

Such treaties and the sovereign rights which go with them or with the capacity to make them depend on being recognized as a corporate group, a "tribe". In the late 1940s and 1950s the U.S. government pursued policy with the rather chilling designation of "termination", under which they sought to persuade Indian tribes to accept the termination of their status as distinct tribes; in other words, to abandon a legally recognized (if limited) distinct national identity and citizenship in favor of a more generic ethnic identity.

Since the late 1960s the trend has gone the other way; increasing numbers of Indians have petitioned and sued for recognition as tribes. In essence, people have a choice: they can call themselves a tribe, and get certain things as a result, or not, and not get them.

There are several points here. One is that the determination of who constitutes a tribe in legal/bureaucratic sense lies with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Federal Courts.

Another is that for such purposes tribes are wholly modern, and give rise to modern forms of ethnic conflict, such as that between Navajo and Hopi in the Southwest.

A third is that neither of the preceding points necessarily contradicts or renders less genuine other forms of identification by individual Indians or groups of Indians as nations, tribes or in other English translations of their sense of identity.

On "native", I have noticed that Canadians tend to say "Native", and sometimes "First Nations", whereas in the U.S. it has seemed that "Native American" has been the more common usage involving "native" (although this may be changing). In the U.S., many Indians prefer to be called Indians, although political activists seem to reject the term in larger proportions than other Native Americans. In U.S. history we have additional complications such as uses of "nativism" meaning movements of earlier immigrants later ones.

In South Africa in the last few years there has emerged a strong movement among Africans to restrict immigration from other parts of Africa. At a certain stage the old government had a bureaucratic category "foreign Natives".

Will South Africa have a new nativism? How will it be defined - will all born there be "natives", so that there will be white and Indian natives, as well as those whom the pan-Africanists would see as sons and daughters of the soil? Or will it be more of a matter of native vs. foreign Africans, with descendants of immigrants from other continents remaining in a liminal limbo?

>>> Item number 346, dated 95/06/05 22:19:47 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 5 Jun 1995 22:19:47 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Mon 05 Jun 95
From:           Chris Lowe, Reed College
                <Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU>

About "tribe" as an analytical category and teaching the term:

Every term early in my courses I ask students to write anonymously on a notecard a short definition of a tribe and to name one African tribe of which they have heard. Almost invariably the specific answers include Zulu, Maasai and Bushman/ San,often Ashanti, Igbo or Ibo, and Kikuyu, plus various others (spelling erratic).

The short definitions vary a lot, some stressing awareness of the term as an outside label, others stressing kinship, others association with a village or face-to-face relationships. The general definitions usually bear no connection to the specific examples.

I use the results to explain to students why I think the term is *analytically* worse than useless and confusing. If a tribe is both a gatherer-hunter band of 40 people, a kin-group, a village, and an ethnic group or nation of 8 million (I focus on the Zulu example for reasons I will explain), what does it help us distinguish?

I also point out to them that the variation in their own definitions is going to make our discussions uncertain and confusing if we use the term. I have them talk about the problem I've posed for a while.

Only at that point do I bring up the historical background of the term in relation to colonialism (often this arises out of their own discussion). I return to the Zulu example, and discuss how the Zulu kingdom was formed by one chiefdom conquering and absorbing various other chiefdoms. I talk about how colonialists came to use the term "tribe" both for the Zulu as an ethnic/ political group, and for its constituent chiefdoms (according to the old South African government, there were well over 200 Zulu "tribes").

Relating to the idea of a tribe as a kinship group, I talk about how Zulu chiefdoms were made up of members of many different clans. I point out that we have three or four different key principles which are more useful to work with than tribe: locality, kinship, political units (chiefdom and kingdom), and language.

I usually put Zulu terms on the board and explain translation difficulties, making clear that students are not expected to remember the details. I try to have them talk about what the difference between "tribe" and "nation" might mean in a colonial setting.

Finally I make some observations about the pejorative connotations of "tribe" as associated with primitive, savage etc. (although often students have raised this already).

This sequence makes clear to most students that my objections to our using the term are analytical and intellectual, and aren't merely an arbitrary "p.c." imposition of my authority. Even the discussion of primitivism gets situated in a context of a wider discussion of the images of Africa which they bring with them to class, and where they come from.

This method takes place in a small-group discussion class and would not work in detail in all settings, I suppose, but I think the general principle of eliciting variant definitions and examples from the students themselves could apply pretty widely. I find that my students respond well. They are usually aware of their own ignorance and relieved to find out that they are not alone and to be able to talk about it.

BTW, for an interesting attempt to overcome rigorously the sort of analytical confusions alluded to above, see Isaac Schapera, _Government and Politics in Tribal Societies_. He argues that the only coherent use of the term "tribe" is for the group of people who adhere to a "chief", and explicitly *not* as a synonym for ethnic group or nation (which has to be larger than a chiefdom or tribe in his view).

My personal view is that the term "tribe" ought to be an object of study, but is worthless as a tool of study. Harold Marcus' point, that African use of the means that we shouldn't be hostile to the term per se, seems wise. Yet we should see such use as a translation, being retranslated back into its language of origin. Since the term has wide, naturalized colloquial meanings in Anglophone indigenous contexts, and moreover has a deep history of destructive and unjust exercise of power behind it, our usual caution about translation should be redoubled.

>>> Item number 348, dated 95/06/06 09:37:02 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 6 Jun 1995 09:37:02 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Mel Page <PAGEM@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date sent:      Tue 06 Jun 95
From:           Chris Lowe, Reed College
                <Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU>

About the meaning of "tribe" in Africa:

  1. To me, the key semantic objections lie in how "tribe" and "tribal" got incorporated into late 18th, 19th and 20th century cultural evolutionary schemata. "Tribal" was a stage societies evolved through (often associated with pastoralism - cf. 12 tribes of Israel). For some, barbarians came in tribes, savages in smaller groups, and some tribes could become kingdoms or empires (e.g. ancient Germans; Zulu & Ashanti. There's a Harvard-published article from 1910 or so comparing Zulu & ancient Spartan military organization).

Europeans recognized their ancestors has having had tribes, but centuries before, and they had evolved out of them. Africans had tribes in the present. Perhaps in centuries they wouldn't. Meanwhile they would be primitive, savage, in need of civilizing etc. George Stocking's *Victorian Anthropology* is good on all of this.

It is the association of "tribe" with ostensible primitiveness and savagery which is the heart of the problem. Yugoslavians become "tribal" when they start committing genocide, meaning they are regressing to a more primitive state, supposedly. Our media fail to acknowledge that this is civilized savagery, produced by an urbanized industrial culture (like the Nazis industrial death camps), just as the media emphasize ostensibly timeless ethnic conflict in Rwanda rather than use of radio to mobilize genocidal violence.

2) Africans who speak English use the word "tribe", as Harold Marcus observes. In isiZulu, the word is "isizwe", in siSwati it is "sive". A dictionary will give you as a translation "tribe" or "nation". The ANC called its army Umkhonto weSizwe - Spear of the Nation, not Spear of the Tribe, to be sure. Swazi political leaders have been quite definite for a century and more in translating sive as "nation", having come to understand that "tribes" had lesser claims to sovereign independence in English idiom.

How much African use of "tribe" in English reflects either what they were taught in school, or what they think will be understood in the expectations of foreign English-speakers?

But maybe that's too simple. In many multi-ethnic African states, efforts at nation-building try to define the nation as a collectivity identified with the state. So maybe people turn to "tribe" to speak in English of other identities, more localized, or split by "national" boundaries, or of a linguistic/cultural nature, arguably of deeper historical roots, as against the "nation".

I would still be very surprised if the indigenous terms for those identities, and the groups they assert, carry all (or any) of the pejorative connotations attached to the term in English. In that case, "tribe" is a poor translation leading to misunderstanding of a crucial real phenomenon.

Conversely, how often are African uses of "tribe" intended to discuss a form of identification regarded as destructive or unhealthy?

There does seem to be a strand of usage by some African intellectuals on the internet who want to re-appropriate the term to mean something like "indigenous collectivity, organized according to indigenous values and principles." Such a use has a lot of history to fight against.

>>> Item number 353, dated 95/06/07 14:11:15 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 7 Jun 1995 14:11:15 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

Date: Wed, 7 Jun 95
From: Mark Lilleleht <mllillel@students.wisc.edu>

On 1 June, Eric Washington wrote:

>Also, Lobban makes a good point in response to Marcus' comment on >the African use of "tribe." My question to Marcus is which Africans >are using the term? Is tribe being used by academic Africans trained >in Western institutions and reared on Western historical literature. >As academics we must find out how "everyday" Africans refer >themselves and others.

(HGM NOTE: Marcus sent a private e-mail to Washington saying that he was referring to ordinary people in the countryside or cities.)

Without wishing to seem too flip, what is meant by '"everyday" Africans'? Such gross generalizations are exactly what this debate is swirling about; and from the prior postings it seems to be what most academics are trying to avoid today.

Another (and personally more interesting) question is why "we," as academics, MUST discover how people refer to themselves? Such a prescription implies that "we" are somehow not everyday people. Who is the "we" that you talk about anyway? European and American Africanists? African Africanists trained in European and American institutions? African Africanists trained solely in African institutions? Non-Africanist African writers and critics? All? None? Others?

>>> Item number 357, dated 95/06/09 09:45:26 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 9 Jun 1995 09:45:26 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/language groups

The reference to "everyday" Africans was clear enough. However, to satisfy your inquiry allow me to explain. I spoke in terms of class and education. How do the peasant class refer to themselves? Or how do the working class and non-academic class refer to themselves? This is what I asked. Harold Marcus sent me an e-mail telling me that non-academic Africans use "tribe."

[HGM note: in the African language I know, people use a word or term connoting tribe, ethnicity or the other. I suspect this is the case elsewhere on the continent.]

To your second question: academics may have everyday habits, but their impact can be substantial; thus, academics, as a class, are not "everyday." Of course, there are exceptions, and I am not prepared or willing to argue on that point. Academics, especially historians, have a large responsibility to the people they write about. With the trend in historiography to write history from below (yes, "everyday" people), it is even more imperative to be accurate. This includes using the terminology these folk use in reference to themselves and others.

I apologize for not explaining this in clearer terms, but I welcome another response from you.

>>> Item number 358, dated 95/06/12 12:43:38 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 12 Jun 1995 12:43:38 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang...

Date: Fri, 9 Jun 1995
From: GuyRille@aol.com

In some african languages, the term "tribe" refers to the language, the region or the country -read the place where a certain language is spoken. It is interesting to see that in some languages, the word "language" itself has the same translation as the word "voice". And I believe this has a psycho-sociological dimension. By this I mean that people of the same tribe or ethnic group are expected to speak with the same voice, reflecting the aspect of belonging and togetherness, community and assurance of partnership. They can do business together: marriage, celebrate birth and death, share political power, etc... The implication of this view is that the other tribes are those which speak not only a different language, but speak with a different voice and live in a different place. The otherness is stressed as strangeness. Note the importance of a psychologically created distance between tribes, even though they live in neighboring regions. This can be a cause of conflict between people who consider themselves of different tribes. Since they do not speak the same language, they do not, therefore, speak with the same voice. Consequently they do not belong and may have difficulty understanding each other socially. They critique each other. Each looking at the other as morally unfit.
A few examples of the languages that translate the word "language" as voice: Kikongo and Lingala (in Congo-Brazzaville and Zaire).

Guy-Maurille

>>> Item number 359, dated 95/06/14 11:18:04 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 14 Jun 1995 11:18:04 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang.

Thanks to Guy-Maurille for a very interesting post. I like his approach of looking at the process of ethnic identification via specific linguistic features of culture. His argument that language shapes "psycho-sociological" dynamics of ethnic identities, including some specific understanding of the nature of "ethnicity" in general from within a language, is subtle & interesting.

But I still find what he says a little confusing about translating to and from English. He writes:
"In some african languages, the term 'tribe' refers to the language, the region or the country -read the place where a certain language is spoken."

But "tribe" is not a term in any African language. It is a term in English. I assume Guy-Maurille was using a shorthand for saying "the indigenous term which often gets translated as 'tribe' in English."

I don't think this is just nit-picking. A key question is, does the English term "tribe" adequately translate African concepts relating to ethnicity, peoplehood, natural-appearing collective identities & their causes, etc. ?

Guy-Maurille's post suggests not, for a significant category of Bantu languages including Kikongo and Lingala. He argues that for speakers of this type of language, an "ethnic group" will be people who speak with one voice/ language, and that the close psycho- sociological link between "voice" and "language" is distinctively significant.

Now if you asked home-language speakers of English to define "tribe", what proportion of them would say, "people who share one voice?" Not many. You might get a few who would say people who share a language. But basically in English "tribe" does not even refer primarily to language, and language does not imply united "voice".

I would bet that a larger proportion of home-language English-speakers would define "ethnic group" in terms of language. To that extent, "ethnic group" seems like a better translation than "tribe", for this category of Bantu languages/ cultures. It is still not terribly good.

So here we have "tribe" translating very badly the self-conceptions about group identity embedded in key African languages. And we know that "tribe" also carries negative connotations in English which most Africans would reject. Nor are these negative connotations present in linguistic cultural selfunderstandings. (In African languages, neither generic ideas of people, nation, clan etc., nor terms referring to a speaker's own people, group, language etc, carry a sense of "savage/ barbaric" or "primitive" as "tribe" does in English.)
These seem like powerful reasons to avoid the term.

What do you think, Guy-Maurille? Anyone else?

Chris Lowe

>>> Item number 360, dated 95/06/14 11:41:55 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 14 Jun 1995 11:41:55 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang.

Date: Tue, 13 Jun 1995
From: Fikru N Gebrekidan <gebrekid@student.msu.edu>

I personally find this debate about the term "tribe" unfruitful and regressive. Few contermporary Africanists use the word "tribe" in formal discourse because of connotations of primordialism. The term "tribe" might indeed be appealing to some of us with certain ideological leanings. Unfortunately, not only is the term outdated in its usage, but it's also considered offensive. So why not resort to more universally accepted terms like peoples and ethnic groups? It doesn't take much effort, does it?

Fikru Gebrekidan

>>> Item number 367, dated 95/06/15 13:58:07 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 15 Jun 1995 13:58:07 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang.

Thank you, Chris Lowe, for your very relevant remarks. I realize I must have taken the term "tribe" for granted, or as you pointed it out quite right that I was using a shorthand for saying "the indigenous term which often gets translatedas "tribe" in English. Given the fact that many Africanists feel uncomfortable with the term "tribe", its use is not adequate for the understanding of the process of self-identification of ethnic groups.

In fact, the term "tribe" evokes less than what people of a certain ethnic group perceive themselves to be. I believe the term "tribe" on the one hand, and the components of ethnicity, peoplehood, on the other hand, refer to different aspects of identification. Only the totalizing tendencies inherent in European conceptualizations brought them together. The consequential confusion of both concepts has led to some misunderstandings.

The use of the concept "tribe" to identify an ethnic group or a people and their "natural-appearing collective identities" (Chris' words) was in fact the result of a misleading attempt to bring together various elements characterizing a group of people. For instance, administrative, political, geographic aspects were associated with linguistic and cultural elements, in the sense that a certain language was spoken in a spoken in a particular region. Or a specific ethnic group that spoke a particular language, different from another one, was located and concentrated in a particular geographic region and had its own organization of life. In an attempt to be an encompassing concept, the European word "tribe" did nothing else than creating reductionist visions which underlied negative attitudes toward African languages and ethnic groups. Many in this discussion have pointed out that "tribe" was the way Europeans viewed African socio-political and geographic, ethnic and linguistic differentiating organizations. It is not the way African people perceive themselves.

I agree that the term "ethnic group" could be a better translation than tribe, provided that any reduction to a single aspect of identification be avoided.Am I speculating ? What do you think ?

Guy-Maurille

>>> Item number 376, dated 95/06/17 13:15:18 -- ALL

Date:         Sat, 17 Jun 1995 13:15:18 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang. )

Date: Fri, 16 Jun 1995
From: Fikru N Gebrekidan <gebrekid@student.msu.edu> Although I find the discussion on ethnicity intriguing, I still think the persistent use of the term "tribe" regressive. I would like to refer you to a work by Vail and others, the Creation of Tribalism, in which the authors argue
convincingly that the categorization of Africans by "tribal identity" was a purely colonial phenomena. So the fact that many Africans refer to themselves as "tribe" does not make our use of that term valid. It only shows how entrenched colonial influence is in the minds of many Africans. In any case, the term "tribe" has become outdated in mainstream academia both in Africa and abroad. Even BBC, the mother of all African stereotypes, no longer uses that word in its broadcasting. Missionaries, explorers and colonial
officials have been the source of Western miseducation of Africa. The question
that faces many upcoming American and European Africanists today is that whether they should perpetuate old stereotypes and misperceptions as they engage in epistemological discussion or whether they should become catalysts
of change by challenging Africa's misrepresentation. Fikru

>>> Item number 379, dated 95/06/19 10:11:46 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 19 Jun 1995 10:11:46 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      Re: REPLY: tribal/ethnic/lang.

[From HGM: I had thought that we were coming to the end of the string, and I do believe that Mr. Lowe well sums up the present status of our discussion. Perhaps it is best to end here. I think we have gained much from the conversation and thank you all for your contributions.]

Date: 17 Jun 95
From: Chris Lowe <Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU> Fikru Gebrekidan wrote (in part):

"The question that faces many upcoming American and European Africanists today is that whether they should perpetuate old stereotypes and misperceptions as they engage in epistemological discussion or whether they should become catalysts
of change by challenging Africa's misrepresentation." ---end of quoted material

Fikru, I agree that "tribe" is a regressive term, that African use of it reflects colonial influence, and that it is academically outdated (and intellectually incoherent). I am also pleased to learn that the BBC has given the term up. I wish I could say the same for any U.S. media. Yes, scholars of Africa should challenge misrepresentation of Africa, including the term "tribe".

But paying attention to African ethnic processes doesn't in itself perpetuate stereotypes, does it?

The fact that many Africans now use the word "tribe" when speaking English is significant. It affects efforts to challenge the misperceptions outside of Africa. Journalists, students, business people and travellers often will say, "But Africans themselves use the term, what can be wrong with my doing so?" Just saying "it's regressive" is going to sound like name- calling to a lot of people, and put them on the defensive without reasons or alternatives.

Beyond questions of persuasion are other serious issues:

  1. Vail et. al. say that modern tribalism is "invented" and rooted historically in colonial societies, so primordialist claims about African ethnicity are false. Good.

But many seem to extend this to say that the invented identities are false. This seems like a mistake. Historical claims can be false, but can identities? How far is "false identity" from "false consciousness"?

To me, African ethnicity looks an awful lot like ethnicity everywhere else in the modern world, responding to similar types of social disruptions brought about by the same causes (new forms of markets and new states, institutions and laws developed to organize and sustain them). All other national and ethnic identities are equally as invented as African ones, and equally real in their effects.

2) Colonialism happened. It changed African societies and African forms of consciousness. Is it effective to try to deny that history and resultant realities? Many seem to argue that any change Africans made under or as a result of colonialism is alien to them. Isn't this just another form of false consciousness argument? Doesn't it substitute a nationalist or pan-Africanist primordialism for colonialist/ tribalist primordialism, but still try to seal Africans off as a totally distinct order of humanity?

3) What does it mean that Africans are using the word "tribe" in English? If we think Africans should fight the misrepresentations the word carries, don't we need to know why some of them use it?

Are Africans who use "tribe" in English using a bad translation taught in school, without knowing how it will be misused? If so, the answer would be education.

Or are they using a bad translation consciously, despite knowing that in their own languages they think about such matters differently? If so, why? This case implies that it is not miseducation but other circumstances which sustain the misperceptions, making education not the answer. Rather it would require changing the circumstances.

Or are Africans who use the terms "tribe" and "tribalism" using a new word for new relationships in a new situation, created by colonial and post- colonial states and markets, for which there are not indigenous terms? Ethnic identities aren't the only thing colonialists invented which Africans adopted or adapted or adapted to. If "tribe" and "tribalism" are really words for new strategies for survival in new circumstances of power and domination (a conclusion which a Vail- type analysis can support, although the main emphasis so far has been on debunking primordialism), then just calling them regressive isn't going to get far, absent equally or more effective strategies.

What form should our challenge take? Should we say: "tribe" is a totally false myth, to be rejected and ignored? Or should we say: "tribe" marks out colonial and neo-colonial relationships, and its persistence shows their persistence?

Chris

>>> Item number 384, dated 95/06/20 10:18:24 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 20 Jun 1995 10:18:24 -0400
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         Harold Marcus <ethiopia@hs1.hst.msu.edu>
Subject:      tribe

from HGM: The last word, I hope.

I hope that this discussion puts to rest the argument that all Americans are naive about "tribe". It has been many years since the Library of Congress changed its subject headings from "African tribe" to "African people". Example Zulu (African people) - Zulu language - etc.


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