TRIBAL CULTURE IS A COLONIAL INVENTION

 

A contribution by Charlie Companyero

Before colonization, Africans lived in a village life. There were certain types of hierarchy, but no state. There usually was a village headperson, but there was no power of a state to back her up. She could only lead with the consent of the people: if the people would ignore her leadership, she could do nothing. This was a direct type of democracy.

The villages were spread out, and in different parts of Africa, there were different cultures. Partly decided by the land, which supported certain kinds of crops, or, like in the desert, supported hunter gatherer cultures. Cultures were different in different parts of the continent. But it was not a digital culture, where one village was Ngoni, and the next, a few miles down the road, suddenly Chewa. It was not like the language on one side of the border was Tonga, and on the other side Tumbuka. There was no border. The dialect spoken in one village was slightly different from the village in one direction, and the village in the other direction would have another, slightly different, dialect. Over larger distances the differences were bigger. But it was a fluid situation, where people could understand their neighbours, and only over long distances would the languages and cultures be very different.

Then came the colonial Masters. The British wanted to rule their colonies, to extract wealth from them, to feed the growing capitalist machine in their own land, with our raw materials. To rule, the British had a doctrine of “indirect rule”. They would choose a local person as the “chief” and rule over this person, who would then in turn rule over “his” people. To make this work, they divided us up in “tribes”. They British “anthropologists” started defining us in a European way. They did not want the fluid African situation, because that was harder to rule over, and consequently it did not fit in their European philosophy. So they defined us in their European way as either “Tonga” or “Tumbuka” or some other “tribe”. They would choose a ruler over us, and back up his rule with their power, if needed armed violence, fire arms. This way we could be divided and ruled, and our wealth could be extracted to enrich the British home country.

At some point after the second world war, this system became more costly, and our Colonial Masters invented a new neo-colonial system, where they would install a local ruler, to rule indirectly over us, and extract our wealth for the British. In our case this was Dr. Banda. He gave them cheap tobacco, and backed up their cold war policies, even to the point of backing apartheid, the only black African ruler to follow the neo-Colonial Masters in this. Now we have a State, armed with fire arms, ruling over us. They extract wealth for the neo-Colonial Masters, taking a maximum for themselves, and delivering the rest at give-away prices to the neo-Colonials. We as the population are ruled by our own rulers in a European way: with a State with armed violence, so our local rulers and the neo-Colonial Masters can extract wealth from us.

To make sure we are not capable of mounting effective resistance against this exploitation, they use the divide-and-rule tactic invented by the Roman (European) soldier and Emperor Julius Caesar. They keep the Colonial definition of “tribes” and when our ruler happens to be “Lhomwe” (as defined by the Colonial Masters), he will use support from other “Lhomwe” (as defined by the Colonial Masters) to back up his rule, if necessary with murderous violence. Remember that this whole “tribal” concept was introduced by Colonial “anthropologists”, it was not our own fluid African culture. The same goes for the “State”, a European invention, based on police and military violence, that is used to rule over the population. Now our Neo-Colonial indirect rulers are doing the neo-Colonial Masters’ bidding with Colonial concepts (“tribes”, “state”, violent rule) and we suffer the resulting poverty.

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