Siegfried Frederick Nadel (1903-1956)
A Black Byzantium. The Kingdom of Nupe in Nigeria
London, New York, Toronto
Published for the International Institute of African Languages & Cultures
by the Oxford University Press. 1942, xiv p., 1 l., 420 p., incl. illus., tables, diagrs. front., plates, maps
whose book this is, as much as mine.
Vegetation and natural resources
Health and disease
II . Culture, tribe, society
Problems of definition
III . Introduction to Nupe kinship
IV. The community: village and town
V. Political organization of the village
The council of elders
Balance of power
VI. Political history of Nupe kingdom
Foundation of the kingdom
The Fulani conquest
VII. Political history of Nupe kingdom (continued)
A day of court routine
The royal nobility
Officers of state
VIII. Political history of Nupe kingdom (continued)
The feudal state
Patronage and clientship
Social class in Nupe
IX. The position of the women
Ranks and offices
Marriage and status
Polygamy and sex-morality
X. Government in modern Nupe
The administration of the Emirate
Problems of adaptation
XI Economics: resources
Possession of land
XII. Agriculture: production
Country and crops
Rotation of crops
Disposal of crops
Tree cultivation and fruit industry
Innovations in production
Technique and knowledge
By-products of agriculture
XIII. Agriculture: organization of labour
Individual and family work
Maintenance of labour
Division of labour between the sexes (I)
Organization of craft-guilds
Brass and silver
XV. Industries (continued)
Meaning and future of guild organization
Division of labour between the sexes (II)
XVI. Free professions
Drummers and dancers
XVII. Industrial labour
XIX. Economic balance: exchange
Currency, measures, and prices
Market and trade
Modern business methods
Trade as a profession
Division of labour between the sexes (III)
XX. Economic balance: means and wants
Standards of living: necessities of life
Standards of living: cultural requirements
Standards of living: status and prestige
Wants and cultural assimilation
Wealth and status
XXI. Economics and social structure
Risk and insurance
Economic relations and the group
XXII. Education for citizenship
Rhe meaning of Nupe life
Tribal marks of Nupe sub-tribes
Historical chart of Nupe rulers
Genealogy of the Fulani Emirs of Nupe
Notes on the Nupe calendar
By Lord Lugard
This exhaustive treatise on the Nupe, one of the most important communities in Nigeria owes its inception to the generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation of New York, which placed a large sum at the disposal of the International Institute for the Study of African Languages and Cultures. Fellowships were instituted to enable specially trained students to undertake scientific research into the social organization of a selected unit of African society, the factors of social cohesion which operate to prevent its disintegration by contact with European civilization, the openings for co-operation, and the tendencies towards new groupings. Others were specially concerned with linguistic studies.
Dr. Nadel, of the University of Vienna, was one of the original Fellows, and he selected the Nupe of the middle Niger for his field of research. He brought to his task not only a thorough mastery of the technique of scientific investigation, but an original mind, and a sympathy with and understanding of the African, which won the confidence and friendship without which scientific qualifications can effect little.
His exceptional talents as a linguist enabled him not only to converse, at first in the lingua franca (Hausa), but in less than six months to acquire, and speak with fluency the very difficult 'tone' language of the Nupe. Many an English reader of this book may even envy his command of idiomatic English. The Nupe seem to have regarded him as an unusual phenomenon and conferred upon him a high title of tribal rank.
As an Anthropologist* he is concerned at the outset to explain that the term—whether ‘functional’, ‘practical’, or ‘applied’—is ill adapted to the research he had undertaken. But surely the study of “a native society in all its complexity”, and the factors which had affected its social evolution are better described as ‘Sociology’ than as ‘Anthropology’—which is defined as “the study of man as an animal” ? A clear understanding on the other hand of the connotation of the term ‘Culture’ as used by a highly qualified sociologist is essential to the appreciation of his work.
« Culture (he says) varies with environment and … expresses the changing dominant interests involved in social, political, and economic conditions.... It is not a sum total of discrete traits (but) ... a conscious unity created by and embodied in a common group life (by) … the people who form the group, … specific to it and only to it irrespective of variations within, or similarities with groups outside, the tribal boundaries. » (pp. 14-15.)
The distinctive individuality of the ‘tribe’ depends in turn on the presumption that it is a “group possessing more or less the same culture” and language.
The “social and economic complexity” of the Nupe State as it exists to-day is epitomized in the comparison he has chosen as the title for his book. Affiliations with neighbouring tribes, migrations to found new settlements, and above all the influence of foreign rulers have introduced modifications, but without radical change in the traditional culture. The complete absence of any written records, and the reticence of the people until complete confidence had been established, accentuate the difficulty of elucidating the origin of the tribe before and up to the death of Tsoede, the mythical founder of the kingdom. From the end of the sixteenth century, however, the history can claim comparative accuracy. Comparison of the Nupe language with those of neighbouring tribes is complicated by the existence of five distinct dialects.
Dr. Nadel's first object was to discriminate between the essential characteristics of Nupe culture, and the variations from the typical pattern in “a heterogeneous society divided by gulfs of culture, ethnic extraction, community, and class”. For this purpose he con- sidered that what he calls “the anthropological quadrivium—kinship, political organization, economics, and religion”—was unsuitable, and decided to base his research on “the two inseparable aspects of culture, political and economic organization”, with special reference to religion and law.
This involved in the first place an examination of “the factors of social cohesion” upon which the claim of a community to rank as a unit of self-government is based, and in the second place the effect of changes brought about, inter alia, by contact with Europeans and especially by the British Administration—the two main objectives in his “terms of reference”.
Singe it is the declared policy of the British Government to help the different units of native society to govern themselves in accordance with civilized canons of justice, and of impartiality between rival claims arising from “the interpenetration of essentially different social systems”, such as Islam and paganism, it goes without the saying how valuable such an objective study would be to the Administration. We find that, in fact, it has been utilized in conjunction with the researches of District Officers.
Among the binding forces which constitute the state, kinship, says Dr. Nadel, has no part. Its influence is limited to component groups only. Nor can economic interdependence exert a binding influence. It is more likely to be disruptive. He finds that the factors which have contributed to the solidarity of the Nupe State are primarily the attachment of the people to the principle of Kingship, of which the Etsu (king) and the holders of the important Offices of State are the symbol.
The Etsu personifies the heroic achievements of the mythical Founders of the Kingdom whose glories are enshrined in legend and song, and in which the people take pride as citizens of the state.
A second and potent centripetal force was the acceptance of the brotherhood of Islam, the creed of the ruling race, and the avenue to title and dignity.
The annual festival of the Sallah (Aid el Kebir), attended by immense crowds, became a day of national ceremonial and national unity.
To these influences may be added the common participation in a uniform system of law and justice. It is surprising that the cohesive effect of a language radically different from the lingua franca is not mentioned in this connexion, since it is surely one of the most important of the characteristics which confer a distinct individuality upon the Nupe State and a common bond among its people ?
The two view-points of political and of economic organization inevitably involved research into “urban and rural culture, Mohammedanism and paganism, the organization of the state, and the organization of the village community”. It is only possible here to name a few of the varied aspects of native life, of which the reader will find a very full analysis in these pages. They include the modifications of traditional law and custom brought about by the advent of Islam and later by the British Administration and the abolition of slavery.
The tenure of land; the place of women in the body politic; the relation of the ruling classes to the peasantry; the psychological effect of the multiplicity of titles of rank in every class and every vocation (not wholly peculiar to Nupe), are all exhaustively described. The comparatively advanced methods adopted in agriculture include manuring and rotation of crops, and Dr. Nadel has some shrewd comments on the system of “mixed farming” introduced by the Government.
We learn how completely this African State has accustomed itself to a “money-economy”—the extent of its trade, the contrasts between urban and rural economy, the system of collective assistance (egbe) and “labour-units”, and of financial expedients such as dashi, with careful estimates of the cost of living and of the family budgets of different classes. The account of the different Guilds—of blacksmiths, glass-makers, weavers and the rest, including the “luxury-crafts” of bead- workers, and of artistic ornaments, is specially interesting.
The book is an exhaustive and meticulous picture of the life of an African community which has maintained its individuality through many cycles of change. It will be a very valuable addition to the parallel researches by other Fellows of the Institute. We may congratulate the Sudan on having secured the services of so competent a sociologist.