webAfriqa / Library / Anthropology


webAfriqa Custom Search Engine

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


Previous Home Next

Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the East African Hunters mind-mapping diagram

Part Two
African Hunters
— 10 —
East African Hunters

No true Bushmen have ever been encountered by Europeans in that portion of East Africa which extends from the border of the Transvaal northeastward to southern Ethiopia and the Gulf of Aden between the Indian Ocean and the great lakes. Yet archeological evidence demonstrates unmistakably the former presence of Bushmanoid hunters and gatherers with cultures of the Stillbay complex throughout this area, and indeed as far north as Singa on the Blue Nile, within about 300 miles of Khartoum. They appear early in the Upper Paleolithic period and endure until the beginning of the Iron Age, shortly before A.D. 1000, except in southern Ethiopia, western Kenya, and ad jacent northern Tanganyika, where alone in the region a genuine Neolithic period is attested. Confirmatory evidence of their presence is provided by prehistoric rock paintings found widely in Kenya, Somaliland, and Tanganyika which strikingly resemble those which Bushmen were still making in historical times in South Africa.

Dorobo Physical Type with Markedly Un-Negroid Hair and Features
Dorobo Physical Type with Markedly Un-Negroid Hair and Features
(Courtesy of British Information Services.)

In the northern part of the former range of the Stillbay cultures there still live a number of scattered hunting peoples who almost certainly represent the lingering remnants of the Paleolithic inhabitants of East Africa. They may be enumerated and identified as follows.

  1. Boni (Bon, Waboni, Walangulo). A small tribe, numbering not many more than a thousand, these people inhabit a portion of the coast of southern Somalia between the lower Tana and Juba Rivers. They speak the Cushitic language of their dominant Galla neighbors, by whom they are despised as unclean. Until recenrly they lived exclusively by hunting, fishing, and gathering, shooting elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, antelope, and smaller game with the bow and poisoned arrows.
  2. Dorobo (Andorobo, Asa, Okiek, Wandorobbo). These people, numbering about 1,400, live in small dispersed groups in mountainous sections of the Nandi and Masai country in Kenya, here and there extending southward into Tanganyika. They speak the Eastern Sudanic dialects of their neighbors, to whom they are commonly attached in a partly servile and partly symbiotic relationship. Until very recently their economy was based exclusively on hunting and gathering, the former done with poisoned arrows.
  3. Kindiga (Hadzapi, Hatsa, Kangeju, Tindega, Wakindiga, Watindega). These people still lead an independent life of hunting and gathering near Lake Eyasi in northern Tanganyika. They number about 600 and speak a Khoisan language.
  4. Manjo, with the Bacha, Fuga, ldenic, Koigi, Kwayegu (Kouayegou), Molosa, Warra (Wayto), and Yidi. These groups, numbering several thousand, survive as endogamous pariah castes of hunters among the various Cushitic tribes of southern Ethiopia, living in a partly dependent and partly symbiotic rclanonshtp with their dominant neighbors, who e languages they speak.
  5. Midgan, with the Ribi (Waribi). These people, probably numbering several thousand, constitute a despised and endogamous caste of hunters who live among the various Somali tribes and a few pastoral Galla. They speack languages differing from, but apparently akin to, the Cushitic tongues of their superior.
  6. Sandawe (Wassandaui). This independent tribe in northern Tanganyika, numbering about 25,000, has now adopted intensive agriculture and animal husbandry from its Bantu neighbors; when first observed, however, one section was still living by hunting and gathering. These people speak a language of the Khoisan stock which is only remotely related to that of the Kindiga.
  7. Sanye (Sania, Wasanye, Wassanja). A small scancred hunting tribe, numbering only a few hundred, these people live southwest of the Tana River in Kenya. They are subject to the Bararerta Galla, whose language they now speak and from whom they have recently adopted the rudiments of animal husbandry.
  8. Teuso. These people, who number about 1,200, live scattered among the Nilotic Jie, Karamojong, and Turkana. Basically nomadic hunters and gatherers, they have turned recently to agriculture and animal husbandry. A report by the Gullivers (1953) that they speak a completely independent language awair; confirmation by linguists.

All these peoples appear to be basically Negroid in physique, although the occurrence of subsidiary Bushmanoid characteristic has been specifically alleged for the Boni, Dorobo, Kindiga, and Teuso, a well as for occasional agricultural tribes in western Ethiopia a far north as the Koma. It is possibly significant, for example, that adult males among the Kindiga attain an average stature of only 5 feet 3 inches and that women show some tendency toward steatopygia, a distinctive Bushmanoid trait. The Teuso are also short in stature and noticeably light-skinned. The Midgan, though they appear not to differ appreciably in physique from the Somali, are definitely regarded by the latter as the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of the country. The absence of more marked Bushmanoid racial stigmata among the surviving East African hunters may be due simply to mixture with the intrusive Negroid peoples, Bantu or Nilotic, or alternatively it may point to the existence in East Africa of an old Negroid population with a Bushmanlike culture, possibly akin to the Bergdama of South-West Africa. The linguistic evidence is more conclusive. The Kindiga and Sandawe of northern Tanganyika both speak languages of the Khoisan stock. These fall, however, into subfamilies that are separate alike from each other and from the Bushman subfamily of South Africa. Clicks are nevertheless characteristic of all three divisions. Cultural traits other than hunting and gathering in nomadic bands confirm the affiliation of the East African hunters with the Bushmen. Thus dome-shaped huts with a framework of branches thatched with lea ves or grass are characteristic of the Boni, Dorobo, Kindiga, Sanye, and, until very recently, the Sandawe. Marriage involves only gifts of game or honey among the Boni and some Dorobo, though elsewhere at least a modest bride-price seems customary. Monogamy or very limited polygyny, occasionally sororal, prevails among the Dorobo, Kindiga, Sandawe, and Teuso. Only the anye practice general polygyny. Local exogamy is the rule among the Boni, Dorobo, Sandawe, Sanye, and apparently the Teuso. Residence in patrilocal in all reported cases, but among the Sandawe is alternatively matrilocal until the birth of the first child. Descent is still bilateral among the Kindiga, but the Dorobo, Sandawe, and Sanye have adopted exogamous patrisibs from their Negro or Cushitic neighbors. Slavery and class distinctions are reported for none of these peoples and specifically denied for most.

And in none of them does political integration transcend the level of the local community. A review of the evidence presented in this and the two preceding chapters shows that the entire southern and eastern half of the African continent was inhabited by hunting and gathering peoples from Paleolithic times until quite recently and that actual remnants of that ancient population and their cultures have survived into the historical period in almost every section of this vast area. In sharp contrast to this, not a single hunting and gathering society has been observed in modern times in all the rest of Africa. Archeology, of course, has revealed traces of Paleolithic food gatherers everywhere on the continent. Throughout North and West Africa they have been succeeded by Neolithic food producers whose cultures have endured for millennia and have long since obliterated all traces of their simpler predecessors. In East and South Africa, however, Neolithic occupation appears appreciably later and, as previously noted, is confined to a surprisingly restricted area. Elsewhere in this region the Paleolithic period is succeeded directly, without any transitional Mesolithic or Neolithic phase, by Iron Age cultures, brought in by intrusive people well after the time of Christ. Not until the Iron Age, moreover, does archeology reveal the presence of Negroes and where in the southern and eastern half of the comment, although today, of course, they constitute the ovewhelming bhulk of its population.

The cultures of the preagriculrural peoples of East Africa and the equatorial rainforest resemble one another so closely in fundamental respects that they can be regarded as constituting a single ancient culture area. The hunting, fishing, nnd gathering subsistence activities differ little more than might be anticipnted from the varying resources provided by diverse geographical environments. Technological achievements seem remarkably uniform, as witnessed by the universality of the bow and poisoned arrows and the dome-shaped shelter of bent poles thatched with leaves or grass. Social organization reveals such widespread common features as a uniform division of labor by sex, marriage by gifts or at most a very moderate bride-price, patrilocal residence, infrequent and usually preferential sororal polygyny, minimal bilateral extension of incest taboos, the sororate and levirate, independent nuclear-family households, exogamous bands, bilateral descent (except under strong influence from patrilineal Negroes), absence of slavery and of differentiated social classes, and lack of any political integration transcending the local level.

Probably no other region of comparable size in the entire world for which ethnographic as well a archeological evidence exists reveals so high a degree of cultural uniformity. By comparison the Bantu, who occupy roughly the same territory today and who, moreover, constituted, about 2,000 years ago, a single group with a uniform language and culture, now exhibit the widest diversity in technology, in types of economy, in marriage forms and practices, and in social and political organization. The singular cultural uniformity among the African hunters must have an explanation. Among possi ble reasons the author proposes the influence of local exogamy.

Other regions in the world which reveal cultural homogeneity over wide areas, like aboriginal Australia and the cenrral and southern Northwest Coast of N orth America, are c haracterized by local exogamy, whereas local endogamy preponderates in such c ulturally heterogeneous ethnographic regions as Melanesia and central California. In the presence of a r ule of local exogamy, whether derived from localized clans or from an exogamous band or vi llage structure, every marriage unites individuals from two different communities having at least slig htly variant cultures, and children grow up exposed to the cultures o f both parents with a choice among alternatives. This makes it possible for diffusion to operate through the socialization process, a much more perfect mechanism for transmission than is cultu ral borrowing through contact on the adult level. Under such conditions diffusion, mediated through every marriage, can proceed automatically and inevitably from group to group until checked by some major geographic barrier, of which there are remarkably few in Africa, or by some cultural boundary beyond which local endogamy is in vogue. The process of cultural leveling through diffusion can thus gain ascendancy over the processes of cultural differentiation and thereby produce a high degree of cultural uniformity over wide areas.