By Zubairu Wai (auth.)
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Additional resources for Epistemologies of African Conflicts: Violence, Evolutionism, and the War in Sierra Leone
Indeed one doesn’t have to look too hard in order to see the transformations within these disciplines in terms of internal self-critiques and the volumes of literature and growing trends critical of their past and current modalities, motives, and trends. What I am suggesting instead is the Mudimbian idea that history, like anthropology and the other social disciplines, can only really be understood within the context of its epistemological region of possibility—that is, the sociohistorical context of its origins and the epistemological frames that make it possible for its knowledge to be produced and accepted as scientific knowledge.
In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s when Lévi-Strauss was mobilizing history in rescue of anthropology, currents within that discipline were reinforcing its historicist rejection of Africa. The encounter between Margery Perham, a colonial civil servant turned historian (in 1939 she became the first official fellow of the newly established Nuffield College at Oxford University) and Kenneth O. Dike, a pioneering Nigerian historian (in 1950 he became the first African to graduate with a doctorate in history at King’s College, University of London) and the assault of Hugh Trevor-Roper, a British historian also at Oxford at that time, on African historicity, would help illustrate this point.
Should we equally be surprised that the scandalous Hamitic hypothesis became one of the main ways of explaining Africa’s historical achievements? Mudimbe puts it this way: “Since Africans could produce nothing of value; the technique of Yoruba statuary must have come from [ancient] Egyptians; Benin art must be Portuguese creation; the architectural achievements of Zimbabwe was due to Arab technicians; and Hausa and Buganda statecraft were inventions of white invaders” (1988: 13). In the same vein, the complexity and sophistication of Dogon cosmology and astronomical knowledge must have come from either Erich von Däniken’s (1968, 1972) gods from outer space or Carl Sagan’s (1983) Gallic visitors.