"Important Study of Africa",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Annals of the American
Academy of Political and Social Sciences, June 8, 1964,
of a book:
THE MOSSI OF THE UPPER VOLTA: The Political Development of a
by Elliott P.Skinner.
Stanford University Press: Palo Alto, 1964
"Important Study of Africa"
The Mossi of the Upper Volta: The Political Development of a Sudanese
By ELLIOTT P. SKINNER.
Pp. ix, 236. Stanford University Press, 1964. $6.50
From their beginnings, African studies
have been divided into studies of native cultures by anthropologists and
the work of political scientists and conventional historians concerned
with European exploration and administration. But the central fact of
Africaís story is the impact of Europe on African cultures; Mau Mau
occurred because European regulations and actions ignored the structure
and values of native society, especially Kikuyu land tenure. The
similar, if less dramatic, events which make up so much of African
history can be understood only when we have many books on both sides of
the Afro-European contact.
Professor Skinner has produced such a book. It consists of 8
chapters on traditional Mossi society and 3 chapters on the European
intrusion. It shows clearly how African-European contacts were distorted
by the inability of either side to grasp the categories, meanings, and
values within which each sought to live. As a result, any event had
quite different significance to each. Europeans regard a battle as a
contest of applied force, in which courage, tenacity, discipline, and
similar virtues determine the outcome; to Africans the same battle may
be settled by the wish or power of some spirit: a couple of casualties
will reveal that spiritís wish and the afflicted side may break and run.
To the European this reflects lack of courage; to the African it shows a
sensible acceptance of the spiritís power. To Europeans political power
is a synthesis of force, rewards, and ideological appeal; to the Mossi,
like most Africans, political power is a combination of religious
factors, hereditary rights, and reciprocal social relations. With such a
different outlook, no very meaningful dialogue can take place between
Europeans and Africans on this subject.
Professor Skinnerís materials show similar contrasts for the most
basic features of Mossi life. Land ownership, an important factor in
European social power, was never regarded as such by the Mossi, and was
left to the enslaved aborigines. On the other hand, reciprocal
interchange of women, as if they were private property, was the chief
cohesive force in Mossi society, which began to disintegrate when the
French, quite unaware of this situation, extended equal rights to women.
The latter responded by refusing to be handed about, and the society
began to fall apart without anyone knowing why. In a similar fashion,
Christianity, by curtailing the rites associated with ancestor worship,
tended to cancel significant forces which made it possible for the Mossi
rulers to direct the movements of their society. Information of this
kind, although concerned with a single tribe, has considerable
importance for the study of Africa and its problems as a whole.
Professor of History
Georgetown School of Foreign Service