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"Tropical Africa",
A
review by Carroll Quigley in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. 336 (July 1961), pp. 197-198,
of a two-volume book
TROPICAL AFRICA:
Vol. I, Land and Livelihood,
Vol. II, Society and Polity,
by George Herbert Tinbey Kimble. 603 & 506 pages. New York, NY: Twentieth Century Fund, 1960.

 

"Tropical Africa"

George T. Kimble.
Tropical Africa,
Vol. I: Land and Livelihood; 
Vol. II: Society and Polity. 
Pp. 603, 506. New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1960. $15.00.


   This massive work, seven years in progress, has been whipped into an attractive -- if occasionally verbose -- narrative from the working papers of forty-six experts.  The author, former Director of the American Geographical Society and now Professor of Geography at Indiana University, correctly emphasizes two points: the heterogeneity of tropical Africa and the frequent inapplicability of our Western methods in an African context. To these should be added a third: the critical significance of priorities in attacking Africa's problems, independent of our own, Western, preferences.  I have discussed this problem for the French areas in Current History for February 1961.
 
   One general weakness of this presentation -- probably carried over from the working papers -- is its failure to aim at a single level of readers. Some elementary matters are covered at length, while, elsewhere, technical knowledge is assumed by the use of a technical vocabulary employing, for example, words such as "climax" in ecology, "stages" in forest structure, or "excessive solar radiation" (p. 227) with reference to soils. Generally, the first third of the work suffers from lack of explicit definition and poor arrangement.  This results from the failure of Chapter Two to show the relationships of relief, soils, rainfall, and vegetation in Africa as a whole. The discussion of soils and water should have preceded that on vegetation and settlement. In this way, the section on soils (p. 237) need, not have intruded into the chapter on waters. Chapter Six on forests is puzzling to a beginner because it fails to explain the basic role of light intensity or the concept of layers within the forest; as a result, the elementary reader will not understand why tropical forests are not "true selection forests" (p. 215).
 
   Similar weaknesses appear in Volume II, Chapter Fourteen, "The Old Order," provides no adequate picture of traditional African society because it fails to show how the individual and the family were both subordinated to larger groups by customs such as bride-price, segmented age groups, rites of transition, and social magic. Instead, a disjointed and inchoate presentation emerges from the mistaken premise that the family is dominant in African societies. Nor does it seem necessary to have eighteen of forty-eight pages on the "old order" describe diseases.
 
   In spite of the great mass of isolated factual material presented in these volumes, no reader of them is likely to come to grips with the real issues of contemporary Africa. The undigested material on "Social Change" in Chapter Fifteen could have been given real meaning had it been organized in terms of the factors which disrupted traditional African society -- slave raiding; firearms; disrupted balance of wild life ecology; commercialization by money; missionary activities; weakening of customary social sanctions -- such as magic; large scale contract and migratory labor; infectious diseases raised to epidemic level by accelerating social contacts; spreading literacy; and easier mobility. It is perfectly true that African society was never static, but it can be understood only in terms of social units, which emphasized status, being disrupted into atomistic individualism, which emphasizes personal decision.
 
   The failure to get to the real issues of contemporary Africa is fairly general throughout the book in spite of its plethora of factual material. Chapter Sixteen, for example, gives a great volume of disorganized information on African education, but hardly mentions the big issues of the day such as education for all versus education of an elite; education in a European language or in a vernacular; and education in residential or in local schools, in technical or in liberal subjects, or for both sexes equally.
 
 
CARROLL QUIGLEY 
Professor of History
School of Foreign Service 
Georgetown University

 

 

Scans of original review

1  2

 

 

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