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 —
Christine Saidi is assistant professor of history at Kutztown University.
Saidi, Christine. Women's authority and society in early East-Central Africa. Rochester, 2010. 187p bibl index afp (Rochester studies in African history and the diaspora, 44); ISBN 9781580463270. Reviewed in 2011jan CHOICE.
Women are powerful in sub-Saharan Africa, but the full extent of their intrinsic agency has long been ignored in societies run by and observed by dominant men. Now, Saidi's careful, pathbreaking study of the central African savannahs from Kasai-Katanga to Malawi reminds readers that the relevance of powerful women to African history extends deeply into the rich past of that region, certainly to the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, Saidi (Kutztown Univ.) suggests that patriarchy was not necessarily the norm, and was never a universal phenomenon in her area of study--if anywhere. She examined the critical role of women as potters--as the providers of ceramic ware and as keepers of rituals connected to food and food production--and as technological innovators generally, in order to support her reevaluation of the centrality of women to historical processes. Much of this rewriting of the history of east-central Africa depends methodologically on sophisticated ethnolinguistic reconstructions and a questioning of the deeply held and widely accepted traditional presumptions of earlier researchers. The author's conclusions ultimately derive from an examination of linguistic and ritual data that potentially are subject to interpretive critiques.
Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students/faculty. -- R. I. Rotberg, Harvard University