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George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

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


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Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Kru and Peripheral Mande mind-mapping diagram

Part Seven
Cultural Impact of Indonesia
— 33 —
Kru and Peripheral Mande

West of the Twi, in the southwestern Ivory Coast and in Liberia and Sierra Leone, lies a detached area of tropical rainfo rest (see Map 4). Its inhabitants, who exhibit markedly less complex cultures than their neighbors, speak languages of three distinct subfamilies of the Nigritic stock but nevertheless reveal an appreciable measure of cultural homogeneity.
A solid block of tribes in the southeast, both along the coast and in the hinterland, belong to the Kru branch of the Kwa linguistic subfamily .
Northwest of them, in Sierra Leone and adjacent Liberia, live six scattered tribes of the Atlantic subfamily, akin to the Senegambians farther north. These two groups presumably represent the older inhabitants of the province. A third group, belonging to the Mande linguistic subfamily, has invaded the coastal region from the interior, interpenetrating and largely replacing the Atlantic tribes and, to a lesser extent, also pressing back the Kru peoples. Since they exhibit none of the cultural complexity of the Nuclear Mande, these Peripheral Mande, as we shall call them, probably left the Niger Basin prior to the rise of the great Malinke empire and civilization of Mali. We may reasonably assume that their original expansion into the region was stimulated by the development of Sudanic agriculture among the Mande peoples of the interior, enabling some of them to spread toward the coast and to displace the indigenous hunting, fishing, and gathering peoples in places suited to the cultivation of the Sudanic crops. Once isolated in the tropical-forest zone, they remained relatively unaffected by subsequent cultural advances in the western Sudan.
The present cultural homogeneity has presumably resulted from intertribal contacts and borrowing within the area. Since the original cultural differences among the three linguistic groups have become very much blurred, the following threefold classification of tribes must not be interpreted as a division into distinct cultural clusters.

Kru Tribes

  1. Bakwe (Kroumen), with the Abriwi (Abrignon, Abrinyo), Bakone, Bapo, Bokwe (Bokre, Irapwe, Iribue), Budukwa, Debue, Digbue, Dioro, Giri, Grippuo, Guagui (Gigeagi), Haulo, Hena, Hwine (Bodo, Troune, Hwanne), Inemu, Kapo (Irecapo, Kopo), Nedio, Nene, Nigabani, Nigbi, Nozo, Obli, Pia (Omelokue, Pie, Pya), Plawi (Biapo, Plapo), Prufa, Taberuo, Tahu, Toagi, Toyo (Tuy), Tuopo, Ubi, Urepo (Orepue), Uroko (Aulopo), and Yabue. They number about 20,000.
  2. Bassa (Basa, Basso, Gbasa), with the kindred De (Dewoi, Do), Givi (Kwia, Queah), Klepo, and Sikon (Gbe).
  3. Bete, with the Bobwa (Banua, Ouaga, Waga), Kuya (Dakuya, Kouya), Kwadya (Kwa, Kwadre), Neyo (Neyaux, Niyo), Niabua (Nyabwa), Sokwele (Sokya), and other small related tribes. They number about 150,000.
  4. Dida (Dyida, Kuka), with the Ega (Dye, Egwa), Ekopo (Kwaya, Zegbe), Godye, and Newole. They number about 80,000.
  5. Grebo (Gweabo, Kre, Krebo, Trebo), with the Jabo (Dyabo) and Tewi (Tepo).
  6. Kran (Bush Kru, Karan, Kra), with the Padebu (Bush Grebo) and Tie (Gien, Kien). They number about 15,000.
  7. Kru (Crau, Krao, Krawi, Nana). Together with the closely related Bassa, Grebo, and Sapo, they probably number in the neighborhood of a million.
  8. Sapo (Pahn, Sapahn).
  9. Wobe (Ouobe). They number about 30,000.

Atlantic Tribes

  1. Bulom (Bolom, Bulem, Bullom). They number about 20,000 and are strongly acculturated to the Temne.
  2. Cola. They number about 100,000 and are strongly acculturated ro the Mende.
  3. Kissi (Ghizi, Gissi, Kisi). They number about 200,000.
  4. Limba. They number about 175,000.
  5. Sherbro (Mampua), with the kindred Krim. They number about 200,000.
  6. Temne (Timne). They number about 525,000.

Mande Tribes

  1. Dan (Da), with the kindred Gio (Grio, Gyo, Nyo), Tura (Tourn, Wen), and Yafuba (Diaboula, Diafoba, Yabouba, Yakuba). They number about 150,000.
  2. Gagu (Gagou, Gban). They number about 15,000.
  3. Gbande (Gbassi), with the kindred Belle (Bere), Gbundi (Kimbuzi), and Weima. They number about 30,000.
  4. Guro (Gouro, Gwio, Kwendre, Kweni, Lo), with the kindred Mwa (Mono) and Nwan. They number about 115,000.
  5. Kono (Kolo, Konnoh). They number about 80,000.
  6. Kpelle (Gbese, Gerse, Kpese, Pessy). They number about 250,000.
  7. Loko (Landro, Lokko). They number about 80,000.
  8. Mende (Kossa, Mendi), embracing the Ko (Comende, Kolomende), Kpa (Gbamende), and Sewa. They number nearly a million.
  9. Ngere (Guere, Guerze, Nguerze) , embracing the Boo, Doo, Fico (Grio), Ge (Gbe), Mano (Mah, Mana), Niadrubu, Niao, Zague, and Zahon. They number about 100,000.
  10. Toma (Busy, Buzi, Loma). They number about 150,000.
  11. Vai (Gallina, Vei). They number about 200,000.

II the tribes of the province are Negroid, and most are pagan, although a majority of the Vai and very small minorities in several other tribes have accepted Islam. The Vai share with the Mum of the Cameroon highlands the distinction of having invented independently their own system of writing. In 1848 an American officer discovered among them an original syllabary with 226 characters, which he estimated as perhaps two decades old at that time.
The peoples of the province subsist today primarily by agriculture, with shifting swidden cultivation and fallowing. Since they cultivate small quantities of cotton, fonio, okra, millet, sesame, sorghum, and yergan, we may assume that they acquired the Sudanic complex at an early date from the Nuclear Mande in the interior. From the relative unimportance of these crops, however, we must conclude that they were not well adapted to the tropical-forest environment and thus perhaps did not seriously modify the earlier primary dependence on hunting, fishing, and gathering. The transition to a truly sedentary agricultural mode of life presumably did not occur until their eastern neighbors, the Akan peoples of the Twi province, transmitted to them the Malaysian banana, taro, and yam at some relatively early period in the Christian era. All three plants still occupy very important places in the economy, each outranking any cultigen of Sudanic origin.
It is, however, none of these three but a fourth Malaysian crop, rice, which today holds the position of the outstanding staple of the area. This arrived, not from the east, but from the northwest, having been introduced into West Africa by the Arabs at a date not later than A.D. 1500, when historical documents first mention it on the Niger. On becoming established in the Senegambian province, rice gradually diffused southward to the Peripheral Mande and the Kru. Its spread still continues, for it did not reach the Guro until the beginning of the present century and has not yet been adopted by the Gagu, whose staples are bananas and taro. Nearly everywhere else in the province, however, it now constitutes the mainstay of the diet. Only American plants of still more recent introduction rival the Malaysian crops in importance, especially lima beans, maize, malanga, manioc, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. Of these, manioc has now achieved second place in the local roster of cultivated plants, next to rice, and maize the fifth position, behind bananas and yams.
Fishing provides a substantial supplement to the food supply, except among a few inland tribes. The inhabitants also do some hunting and considerable gathering, especially of kola and oil-palm nuts. Trade is not highly developed, and regular markets are reported only for the Dan Gbande, Kissi, northern Kpelle, Kran, Toma, and the Mano subtribe of the Ngere. Nevertheless, a unique type of currency, consisting of bundles of T-shaped pieces of forged iron, finds acceptance over much of the region. All tribes keep at least a few cattle, of a long-horned humpless breed, but use them mainly for sacrifices and marriage payments and never milk them.
Other domestic animals of general prevalence include goats, sheep, dogs (often eaten), chickens, Muscovy ducks, and guinea fowl, but not horses, donkeys, pigs, or bees. Men hunt, harvest palm and kola nuts, and clear the land, but women perform the bulk of other agricultural work. Both sexes fish, but usually by different techniques. Only men, for example, engage in deep-sea fishing.
House types reveal a basic clevage along linguistic lines. Kru tribes tend to construct rectangular dwellings with thatched gable roofs and walls of split raffia midriffs or of wattle and daub, whereas Atlantic and Mande tribes reveal a general preference for round huts with conical thatched roofs and cylindrical walls of mud, wattle, or wood. Borrowings, however, have occurred in both directions. Thus some Gagu, Guro, Kpelle, Sherbro, and Vai build rectangular houses, and all Wobe, most Kran, and some Bakwe, Grebo, and Kru have adopted the cone-cylinder hut. In either case, the dwellings are usually grouped in family compounds, and these are aggregated in small compact villages clustered around a central plaza with a council house and surrounded by a protective wall or palisade. In the Ivory Coast, however, compounds, palisades, and council houses tend to be absent. The Mende, Temne, and adjacent tribes have as their prevailing settlement pattern a large central village with outlying satellite hamlets.
Marriage regularly involves a bride-price, which, among the Kissi, Kpelle, and Mende, is commonly coupled with premarital bride-service. The Mende and a few of their immediate neighbors favor marriage with a mother's brother's daughter, but most groups forbid unions with any first cousin. Polygyny is general, but occurs only in the nonsororal form. The first wife is the chief wife, but the co-wives each have a separate hut, and the husband distributes his time equally among them. Preferential levirate appears to be universal. The household unit consists of a patrilocal extended family in most of the area, but it is an independent polygynous family among the Gbande, Kpelle, Ngere, Toma, and all tribes of the Kru group.
Residence is regularly patrilocal. Descent, inheritance, and succession follow the male line exclusively, with only the Sherbro revealing their ancient linguistic and cultural connection with the Senegambian peoples to the north by their retention, until very recently, of the matrilineal rule in all three respects. Most groups are organized into agamous patrisibs and exogamous patrilineages, with the latter localized as clans in particular sections of each village. Not infrequently the village itself, or a small district, also constitutes a clan in a more tenuous sense. Kinship terminology of the Omaha type is reported for the Vai, of the descriptive type for the Limba, of the Eskimo type for the Temne, and of the Hawaiian type for the Kissi, Mende, and Sherbro.
Political authority on the local level is normally vested in a headman and a council of elders. The Bete, Dan, and Gagu lack any more complex type of integration, but all other tribes are organized under petty paramount chiefs over small districts. In the interior, the headman or district chief commonly has a special ritual relationship to the land, as among the neighboring Nuclear Mande and Voltaic peoples. Even in other regions he is usually responsible for the administration of the land, which is typically distributed among lineages or extended families and parceled out by them to individuals in heritable usufruct. Nowhere, apparently, does title to land carry with it the right of sale, gift, or lease.
All groups practice slavery and debt slavery and normally make a distinction between slaves obtained by purchase or by capture in war and those born within the family. The latter enjoy a superior status and cannot be sold. Otherwise social stratification is minimal. Endogamous castes are lacking, as are differentiated hereditary aristocracies. Among the Mende, however, the descendants of the original settlers of a district enjoy special prestige and constitute a sort of gentry. All tribes except the Gagu and Guro practice circumcision, but clitoridectomy is reported only for the Dan, Kissi, Kran, Mende, Ngere, Toma, and Vai. These mutilations usually occur in connection with elaborate initiation ceremonies at puberty, which involve special instruction in a “bush school” and result in admission to a secret society. Two such societies—one for males, called Poro, and another for females, known either as Sande or Bundu—occur widely throughout the area, though they are not specifically reported for certain tribes of the Ivory Coast. The Poro society often exercises a controlling influence in political life. The Dan, Kran, Ngere, Wobe, and some Bete formerly indulged in cannibalism.

Selected Bibliography