eastern Africa

eastern Africa


      part of sub-Saharan Africa comprising two traditionally recognized regions: East Africa, made up of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; and the Horn of Africa, made up of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

      The Horn of Africa, containing such diverse areas as the Ethiopian highlands, the Ogaden desert, and the Eritrean and Somalian coasts, is home to the Amhara, Tigray, Oromo, and Somali peoples, among others. Its coasts washed by the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean, this region has long been in contact with the Arabian Peninsula and southwestern Asia. Islam and Christianity are of ancient standing here, and the people speak Afro-Asiatic tongues related to the languages of North Africa and the Middle East.

      East Africa, too, has a long history of contact with Arabia, particularly through the island of Zanzibar and the ancient ports of the Swahili coast, but it was through the Bantu kingdoms near Lake Victoria and through the farming and cattle-raising cultures of the Kenyan highlands that this region, early on, showed a much closer affinity with sub-Saharan Africa.

      Both regions went through periods of conquest and colonization by European powers, the Horn being controlled by Italy, France, and Great Britain and the East African lands becoming protectorates of Britain and Germany. It is to this era, which finally came to an end in 1977 with the independence of Djibouti, that the seven countries discussed here owe their present boundaries.

      This article begins with a description of the geography and economy of all of eastern Africa; it then proceeds with sections on the cultures of East Africa and the Horn of Africa. For other detailed geographic information, see Africa. For artistic traditions, see African literature; architecture, African (African architecture); art, African; dance, African (African dance); music, African (African music); and theatre, African.


The land


      The physical basis of eastern Africa is a platform of ancient resistant rocks that has been contorted and inset with granites but worn down by prolonged erosion to extensive plains. Its present outlines derive from the splitting apart of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwanaland, of which Africa forms a part. In eastern Africa the straight coastlines of Eritrea and northern Somalia were created by the drifting away of the Arabian Peninsula, which opened up the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and the smooth shorelines and deep waters along the eastern coast mark the departure of India and Madagascar. Too rigid for folding to take place, the platform on which eastern Africa rests has been buckled by subterranean forces into broad basin-and-swell structures hundreds of miles across. Associated with these tensional forces, extensive faulting has raised and lowered vast blocks of land, leaving prominent escarpments between them, and extruded lavas have formed elevated plateaus and have spread across the plains as well as forming numerous volcanoes. The most striking of these features is the East African Rift System, of which the main branch, known as the Eastern Rift Valley or Great Rift Valley, extends from the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, crosses the summit of two centres of uplift in Ethiopia and Kenya, and enters northern Tanzania, where it largely disappears only to reappear in the south of that country in the Lake Nyasa trough (Lake Nyasa is also known as Lake Malawi). The Western Rift Valley curves along the western border of Uganda and Tanzania, where it is marked by Lakes Albert and Tanganyika, and is aligned through the Lake Rukwa trough with the head of Lake Nyasa. Although not entirely continuous or uniform, the rift valleys are typically some 35 miles (60 kilometres) across and, where they cut through highland, may have inward-facing scarps of 1,500 to 3,000 feet (500 to 1,000 metres) in elevation. The two most striking highlands, found in Ethiopia and Kenya, are formed of lava flows piled on top of areas of uplift on either side of the Great Rift.

      These fundamental geologic factors are reflected in the major physiographic regions of eastern Africa. The Ethiopian highlands (Ethiopian Plateau), for example, are formed from lava flows that have created extensive plateaus at elevations of 6,500 to 10,000 feet. The plateaus are separated by deep, river-worn gorges and are marked by isolated summits rising to over 12,000 feet. The northern end of the Rift Valley is a region of confused relief, characterized by downfaulting to below sea level in the Kobar Sink and by active volcanoes and hot mineral springs. The Kenyan highlands are constructed by lava flows piled upon a broad, uplifted dome that is dissected by the Great Rift Valley. There the shoulders of the Rift highlands rise to nearly 12,000 feet, but of greater height are giant extinct volcanoes on the outer edge of the volcanic province—Mounts Elgon and Kenya and Kilimanjaro, the latter, at 19,340 feet (5,895 metres), the highest mountain in Africa. In southern Tanzania the continuation of the Great Rift Valley is bordered by the Southern and Nyasa highlands, which overlook Lake Nyasa; and the Western Rift is bordered by the Ufipa Plateau, which lies above Lake Rukwa. In Uganda the Western Rift Valley is flanked by high ground in Kigezi and Karagwe and by the upfaulted block of the Ruwenzori Range.

      Between the arms of the two Rift valleys lies the Central Plateau, an extensive, eroded surface comprising most of Uganda and western Tanzania. Lying mostly at 3,000 to 4,500 feet, it is a major example of a peneplain created by long periods of erosion but bearing isolated ridges and hill masses of more resistant material called inselbergs. East of the Great Rift, the surface is further diversified by faulting and then gives way to a coastal zone of sedimentary stratified rocks; this creates a gently varied relief of plateaus, escarpments, and riverine plains. In the Tana River basin of eastern Kenya and in most of Somalia, the original land surface has sunk thousands of feet below sea level; this has been covered by more recent sediments, which have resulted in extensive and very complete plains.

Rivers and lakes
      The Great Rift Valley (Eastern Rift Valley) is the centre of a remarkable line of inland drainage basins; radiating outward from its bordering highlands, other waters drain to the Indian and Atlantic oceans and to the Mediterranean Sea. The area of inland drainage extends from Lake Abaya in southern Ethiopia through Lake Rudolf (or Lake Turkana) in Kenya to the strongly alkaline lakes of Natron, Manyara, and Eyasi in northern Tanzania. Lake Rukwa is the centre of a separate basin of inland drainage. There is little drainage in the arid coastlands of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but the strongly seasonal Shebele (or Shabeelle) and Jubba rivers (Jubba River) manage to carry runoff from the summer rains of Ethiopia across Somalia to the Indian Ocean. The Tana and Athi-Galana systems from the Kenyan highlands are more reliable, as are those of eastern Tanzania, notably the extensive Rufiji–Kilombero–Great Ruaha system.

      The Nile (Nile River) has its headwaters in the eastern African highlands and plateaus, forcing Egypt to maintain an interest in dams built in Ethiopia and Uganda. (Actually, it is the Blue Nile, or Abay, River and the Atbara and Sobat rivers that bring seasonal floods to The Sudan and Egypt, while the more regular flow of the White Nile is derived from Lake Victoria.) Another great river, the Congo (Congo River), receives contributions from the southern portion of the Central Plateau through the Malagarasi River, which debouches into Lake Tanganyika (Tanganyika, Lake). This lake is some 400 miles long but has an average width of only 30 miles. Also, although it has a surface elevation of some 2,500 feet, its bottom reaches to about 2,200 feet below sea level.

      The seasonal nature and general scarcity of rainfall over much of eastern Africa makes groundwater supplies especially significant. The volcanic strata of the Rift highlands are particularly useful in storing water, releasing it into springs and rivers or providing good well sites. But water does not so easily penetrate the hard rocks of the underlying platform, where groundwater tends to be limited to small and localized pockets. The layered sediments of Somalia and the coastal plains absorb rainfall, but it is liable to be lost to great depths and, if reached by boreholes, may prove saline.

      Soils vary greatly, but a broad pattern can be discerned in relation to climate (especially rainfall), to drainage, and to parent material.

Soils of the drier regions
      The arid and semiarid zones of the Eritrean coast, Somalia, northern Kenya, and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia are mostly covered with shallow soils, often stony and little-weathered. They include almost bare lavas near the Rift Valley and calcareous clay loams over sedimentary limestones to the east. Residual gypsum is common in northern Somalia. Less arid areas are characterized by intermediate or dryland soils that are more thoroughly, but not deeply, weathered; these reddish soils are rich in iron, which is often found as granules on the surface or in a buried layer, and they are of average agricultural value, being useful under irrigation. Less fertile are the old and greatly weathered soils of much of Tanzania, which form a recurrent topographic sequence, or catena, according to whether they are located on a level plain, on a gentle slope, or in a broad, shallow drainage channel at the foot of a slope. The upper plateau soils tend to be deeply weathered and leached sandy loams. On the slopes, soil movement exposes less weathered material, and fertility and drainage are more favourable for agriculture. The drainage channels are frequently waterlogged, giving rise to mottled sandy loams or to a black clay that can be richer in minerals and nutrients but difficult to cultivate. Over extensive areas of the plateaus, the residual iron content of the soil is enough to form a crust of ironstone or laterite.

Soils of the wetter regions
      Highland soils form a distinctive category because of the climate but also because so many of them are derived from volcanic material. The bright red, rich clay loams of Kenya and similar volcanic uplands result from deep weathering under ample rainfall, yielding a highly fertile basis for agriculture. At cooler elevations above about 6,500 feet, soil colour changes to a deep brown, but fertility, as on the Ethiopian Plateau, remains high. Poorly drained lava surfaces can weather into plains of black cracking clay (also called vertisol or “black cotton” soil), a poor foundation for buildings or roadworks. Soil erosion is particularly serious on steep slopes of the highlands of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya, where clearance of the prized soils for cultivation leads to silt-laden rivers, gullied landscapes, and loss of topsoil.

      Straddling the Equator from latitudes 18° N to 18° S, eastern Africa's climate is dominated by its tropical location and by a great range of elevation. Average temperatures are reduced by the high average elevation, but only on the highest mountains is the temperature low enough to restrict the growth of vegetation. It is the amount and seasonal duration of rainfall that distinguishes most climatic regions. As the sun moves into either the northern or southern tropic, so converging air flows, which are uplifted as they meet at a zone of low pressure called the intertropical convergence zone, bring intense summer rains; these are followed by a winter dry season as the sun shifts to the other tropic. Thus, northern Uganda and central and southern Tanzania receive 20 to 48 inches (500 to 1,200 millimetres) of rainfall in a five- to eight-month season. Around Lake Victoria on the Equator, more continuous rains follow from two seasons of overhead sun and from the local effects of the 27,000-square-mile (70,000-square-kilometre) surface of the lake. Arid Somalia and northeastern Kenya are anomalous in these latitudes, with rainfall less than 10 inches per year. There, in the northern summer, airflow diverges toward the low pressure of the Indian Ocean monsoon system, resulting in a gently subsiding atmosphere rather than the uplift needed to generate precipitation. In winter a contrary outflow from Southwest Asia brings little moisture, but one along the Red Sea brings winter rain to dry coastal Eritrea.

      The major highlands are sufficiently extensive to form a major exception to these patterns. Even at the Equator, a reduction in temperature at elevations above 5,400 feet creates climates outside the tropical category, with important implications for agricultural ecology and health. The highest mountain summits rate as alpine, with glaciers present on Kilimanjaro and other peaks. Even lower relief features are sufficient to generate locally enhanced precipitation, and coastal locations in Tanzania and southern Kenya also experience locally high rainfalls.

      With rainfall so dependent on airflow, fluctuations in the large-scale dynamic systems can move the boundary of adequate moisture hundreds of miles, bringing drought to such areas as highland Eritrea, Tigray in Ethiopia, Machakos in Kenya, and Dodoma in Tanzania.

Plant and animal life
      Vegetation types mirror the rainfall zones, starting with scanty plant cover in the arid and semiarid areas, where infrequent succulents and stunted thornbushes survive the dry seasons and where the brief periods of rain bring short-lived ephemeral herbs and annual grasses. In more moist areas, with seasonal rainfall over 12 inches but with a pronounced dry season, the vegetation, often termed savanna, may be divided into three major physiognomic types: bushland, woodland, and wooded grassland. Bushland, characterizing the drier areas, forms a cover of small trees branching from the base with little grass between. Where this cover is dense, impenetrable thickets may be formed. Woodland is a mantle of deciduous trees whose crowns more or less touch to form a light but almost continuous canopy over a layer of grasses, herbs, and small shrubs. Its greatest extent is over the plateau of central and southern Tanzania, where rainfall totals are 32 to 48 inches per year but where there is a severe dry season of up to six months. Wooded grassland is an open mixture of trees and shrubs standing among a good growth of grass but not forming a canopy over it. In such areas the dry season seldom lasts more than three months, and this type of vegetation may actually be derived from forest cleared by human activities.

      True forest in areas of low and middle elevation is not common in eastern Africa; where it formerly existed, it has in many places been cleared, as in southern Uganda and along parts of the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts. Better preserved than these are the montane forests of the Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands. At altitudes above the timberline are heather and moorlands of Afro-Alpine vegetation.

      Natural grasslands are rare and are usually caused by special circumstances, such as a high water table or cracking clays, which are disruptive to the roots of larger plants. Other vegetation types not primarily related to climate are freshwater papyrus swamps, which are locally important in southern Uganda, and mangrove forests. Modification by human activity includes deforestation, but there is also a less conspicuous diminution of plant cover and degradation of the savanna areas.

      Animal life also has diminished in response to human pressures, but East Africa in particular remains justly famous for its wildlife, which includes spectacular assemblages of big game. It seems likely that these survived into the 20th century because of a low human population; also, the traditional pastoral cultures of East Africa were tolerant of the competition of wild herbivores, each tending to have its own preferred habitat. The Serengeti Plain of Tanzania still supports large migratory herds of zebra, wildebeest, antelope, and gazelle as well as the lions, cheetahs, and wild dogs that prey on them. Elephants and rhinoceroses favour more wooded areas, and in the forests are buffaloes, bushbucks, rare chimpanzees, and leopards. This pattern, too, has been affected by the spread of human settlement, which has forced animals into environments less able to support them. For example, the extension of agriculture into the wooded grasslands has confined the elephant to drier bushlands, where its browsing causes more havoc. Such disruption has been countered by restrictions on hunting and by the creation of nature reserves and national parks, of which the most famous are Serengeti in Tanzania, Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya, and Murchison Falls (Kabalega) and Queen Elizabeth (Ruwenzori) in Uganda.

 Birdlife is abundant, large species including the ostrich of the plains (see photograph—>) and the flamingo and pelican of the Rift Valley lakes.

      An important factor that has the effect of neutralizing human pressures and keeping land available for wildlife is infestation with the tsetse fly, which covers more than 40 percent of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Other significant insect pests include the locust, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and the Simulium fly, the carrier of onchocerciasis, or river blindness.

The economy
      The economies of the eastern African countries are closely related to their natural resources. The great majority of the population is directly dependent upon agriculture or pastoralism for its livelihood, and most exports are of primary agricultural products. A substantial portion of agriculture is on the subsistence level—that is, the raising of foodstuffs necessary for maintaining a livelihood, with no planned surplus left over for trade.

Intensive cultivation
      Rainfall is the dominant influence on agricultural output and, hence, on the densities of population. This basic resource varies greatly among the countries of eastern Africa. Without irrigation, arable agriculture requires a reliable annual rainfall of over 30 inches (750 millimetres). In four years out of five, this total may be expected by 78 percent of Uganda and 51 percent of Tanzania but only by 15 percent of Kenya. (The proportion of Somalia that receives this total is negligible, and in Ethiopia the range of elevations makes such totals not significant.) A large area of high-intensity agriculture is shared by the three East African countries in the Lake Victoria basin, especially in an arc from western Kenya through Buganda to Bukoba in Tanzania. Food crops here include the banana, sweet potato, taro, and yam, with Robusta coffee and cotton important cash crops. Along the East African coast, between Malindi and Dar es Salaam and including Zanzibar and Pemba, is another closely settled zone with an economy and culture enriched by a thousand years of trading with Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian subcontinent.

      Other intensively cultivated areas are in the uplands and mountains, where precipitation, increased by the raised landforms, is made more available for plant growth because the cooler temperatures reduce evaporation. In many cases, as along the Great Rift Valley, the highlands are of volcanic origin, with weathered lava forming the basis for fertile, easily worked, and moisture-retentive red loams. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, cultivation has spread upward in such highlands with the introduction of temperate crops (in part furthered by European settlers), including especially the Andean, or Irish, potato, cruciferous vegetables of the genus Brassica, temperate species of peas and beans, and wheat and barley. The lower slopes are suited to Arabica coffee and the higher ones to tea and pyrethrum. This ascending wave of cultivation has pushed back the boundaries of the montane forests, which are now usually protected in forest reserves or national parks.

      The presence of distinct agricultural zones at different elevations is most marked in Ethiopia, where the distinctive “false banana,” or ensete, is grown at medium elevations in the forest belt of the south, Mediterranean fruits and vines are grown at higher elevations, and barley, wheat, and the indigenous cereal teff are grown in plowed fields on the high plateau.

Cultivation in more arid regions
      Regions with a lower annual rainfall or a pronounced dry season can only support the cultivation of less demanding, more drought-resistant crops such as sorghum, millet, and cassava. Commercial crops here include cotton and sisal. Where cattle can be kept, they improve the farming system, but, with huge areas infested by the tsetse fly, shifting agriculture is most prevalent. The agricultural problem in the drier regions is not so much a low annual rainfall as it is a long dry season, often lasting five to seven months. Another problem here is low soil fertility. Some fertility can be returned to the soil by slash-and-burn clearing and by a rotation of crops, but even this modest improvement is so quickly reduced that after a few years' cultivation the land must be allowed to return to bush fallow, preferably for 20 years or more. During this time the farmer works a sequence of clearings, which requires that he move his homestead or waste energy in long walks to his plots. With low population densities, this system provides a sustainable livelihood and a good return on the labour involved, but the scattered homesteads and their periodic abandonment make difficult the organization of modern marketing, transport and communication, and welfare services. On the other hand, greater population densities would lead to a clearing of the bush in which the tsetse flies breed, but the land so cleared would be unable to support the larger population.

      Areas of typically marginal rainfall (e.g., 20 to 30 inches per year) rely on a mixture of cultivation and livestock herding. In some years, which may be a majority, there is sufficient rainfall to bring a satisfactory harvest. Unfortunately, these years of agricultural plenty attract immigrants from overpopulated districts, who increase the scale of disaster when drought returns. Also, increased cultivation reduces plant cover and accelerates erosion, which further aggravates the situation. In this way, increased population intensifies the consequences of a normal climatic variation, leading in turn to an increased perception of drought and famine.

Livestock raising
      Over large areas of eastern Africa, rainfall is inadequate for crop cultivation. This applies to the whole of Somalia and to some 70 percent of Kenya, which receive less than 20 inches in four years out of five. In areas such as these, the only feasible basis for land use is pastoralism. In the driest areas along the Red Sea coast, the whole of Somalia, and northeastern Kenya, the principal animal is the Arabian camel; elsewhere, cattle are dominant, usually in association with herds of sheep and goats and a few donkeys. These animals are multipurpose bases of livelihood, providing meat, milk, blood, hides, wool or hair, and transport. Since they are dependent upon grazing and browsing, they must be kept on the move to follow seasonal and other variations in rainfall, upon which the availability of vegetation and water depend. This nomadic way of life limits the accumulation of goods and chattels as well as the provision of such welfare services as schools and hospitals. The inoculation of livestock against disease and the construction of boreholes and reservoirs have enabled the people to increase the size of their herds, but this has led to overgrazing, with a consequent degradation of the rangeland and increased mortality in drought years. The problem here is that ownership is vested in the animals rather than the land, which is the primary resource. Therefore, it is in no one's interests to conserve grazing land, because it will only be used by someone else's herd. Also, the pastoralist is aware that experimental conservation could wipe out his herd and leave him helpless in this harsh environment. Individual or group ranches and systems of licensing have been set up to solve this quandary, but these conflict with cultural traditions and have not been very successful.

      The irrigation of arid areas is limited by the amount of water that can be brought in from outside the region, but not much of even this limited potential is utilized. For example, 70 percent of Kenya is cultivable only by irrigation, but only 3 percent receives more than 50 inches of rain, the minimal amount from which any considerable runoff can be expected. Only the Tana and the Athi–Galana river systems succeed in reaching the sea from the highlands, and irrigation schemes here are small. Developments in Somalia and in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia are effectively confined to the Jubba and Shebele rivers, which drain the eastern highlands and are used to grow bananas for export as well as cotton and food crops. In Ethiopia the waters of the Awash River are used as they descend from the highlands onto the floor of the Rift Valley; sugar and cotton are the major crops.

      Irrigation is more promising in the less arid zones, where it can be used during the dry season or as a supplement to even out natural fluctuations in precipitation. This is done on sugar plantations in Uganda and on coffee estates in Kenya and Tanzania. Studies suggest that, if the floods of the rainy season on the Ruaha–Rufiji (Rufiji River) system of Tanzania were controlled, ample water would be available for irrigation in the dry season—as has already been demonstrated in small schemes in the Kilombero valley.

      The role of forests as a natural source of timber is confined by their small original extent and by deforestation. Forestry policies have been as concerned with the protection of watersheds as they have with production. Exports of natural hardwoods are very limited, although Uganda and Ethiopia can supply a modest domestic market. Local demands for softwoods are largely met by plantations of species of cypress (Cupressus lusitanica and C. macrocarpa) and pine (Pinus radiata and P. patula) derived from Central America. Black wattle (Acacia mollissima), introduced from Australia, is widely grown for firewood, and its spread has been greatly encouraged by being grown as a crop for tannin bark. The most widespread introduction from Australia, however, has been the Eucalyptus, which, under eastern African conditions, grows very rapidly. Almost universally grown for firewood and poles, eucalyptus trees are a conspicuous part of the landscape, especially in upland Ethiopia.

      The lakes and rivers of eastern Africa are a productive natural resource. Lake Victoria and the lakes of the Rift valleys support fishing communities whose more distant markets, formerly supplied with sun-dried or smoked fish, are now being reached on a growing scale by the frozen product. Management of fish stocks has presented difficulties where lakes are bordered by more than one country, and the controversial introduction of the Nile perch into Lake Victoria has, since the 1980s, altered the balance of species in that body.

      Inshore fisheries along the coast suffer from a generally narrow coastal shelf and a poor nutrient supply, except for some upwelling of deeper waters off the Somali coast during the northeast monsoon. The more remote oceanic waters are fished by foreign boats for tuna and other large fish. Game fishing for marlin, sailfish, and the like is a part of the tourist industry.

      Mineral resources have so far proved disappointing. The lavas that blanket so much of Ethiopia and Kenya provide little except building stone, although the hot springs associated with volcanism have formed alkaline deposits that can be mined for soda ash and similar chemicals. The only large-scale extraction of soda ash is at Lake Magadi in Kenya.

      The ancient crystalline rocks of the African platform are rich in minerals that, having separated out through igneous or metamorphic processes into excellent geologic specimens, have a retail value for tourism, but there are few large, commercially viable deposits. Scattered gold finds have attracted mining, but only some of them have persisted for any length of time. Part of the most productive auriferous formation, exposed and worked in western Kenya and in Tanzania's West Lake region, lies beneath Lake Victoria. Lead and copper are among other minerals that have been mined in the past, but the most important continuing production has proved to be diamonds from one of the many Kimberlite pipes at Mwadui in Tanzania. A considerable deposit of iron ore has been proven to exist in southern Tanzania, but technical problems and difficulties of location and marketing have hindered development.

      Also in southern Tanzania are deposits of coal. Exploration for oil and gas in the Red Sea region, the Tana River basin, and along the coast and offshore islands of the Indian Ocean have shown favourable indications.

      Although fossil fuels have to be imported, the majority of the region's commercial energy requirements have been met by hydroelectric power, which has considerable scope for expansion. Uganda's dams at Owen Falls (Nalubaale and Kiira) provide power to both Uganda and Kenya and can be replicated at other sites along the Nile. Kenya has a major scheme on the upper Tana River and smaller plants and potential sites in the highlands, although the total surface flow is limited. Only a small portion of the Tanzanian potential is harnessed; the Ruaha–Rufiji system offers some good dam sites, but they would be expensive to exploit. In the high-rainfall area of the Ethiopian highlands, the great range of elevation has provided opportunities for power generation that have not fully been taken up. Only arid Somalia and Eritrea are not in a position to develop hydroelectric power.

Commerce and industry
      Because the resource base for manufacturing industries is limited, the bulk of industrial exports are raw materials that are processed before shipment. Some industries based on domestic demand for such products as cement have taken enough advantage of large-scale production methods to export their products abroad. Manufacturing for local markets, over and above supplying food and beverages, takes the form of import substitution—that is, the manufacture, often from imported parts or raw materials, of goods that were once made abroad. Import-substitution industries are most successful in relatively large and affluent urban markets. In eastern Africa, this concentrates manufacturing in the capitals, which, being the largest cities and the centres of commercial functions as well as the preferred sites of international agencies, present the only areas of great demand that can sustain manufacturing activity.

      Tourism has seen different development among the East African countries (in the countries of the Horn, it is an insignificant sector of the economy). The industry is most important in Kenya, where receipts from foreign tourists are equivalent to income from a major export. Although tourism in Kenya is based on tropical beaches and on wildlife in national parks, these attractions also are found elsewhere, and contributory factors to Kenya's success are good international air connections, investment in hotels, roads, and other infrastructure, and political stability. Government policies in the other countries have been less supportive.

William Thomas Wilson Morgan

The people (eastern Africa)

East Africa
      European knowledge of the peoples of the interior of East Africa began only in the second half of the 19th century, although knowledge of the coastal fringe had begun earlier, in the years after the Portuguese first made contact with Mombasa in 1498. Since the penetration of the interior most people, whether Europeans or East Africans, who have attempted to improve their comprehension of East African peoples have been struck and confused by the number of different named groups that make up the total population of the area. There are no reliable figures for the population of East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, but, since there has been a very rapid increase since 1920, it is likely that the population in 1900 was less than 10 million. This population, however, was divided unequally among more than 160 distinct peoples—well over this figure if a less conservative method of counting them is employed.

Identifying and classifying peoples
      Although there is no complete agreement among ethnological specialists as to how a “people” or “ethnic group” is to be defined, there is substantial agreement among Africa specialists as to the vast majority of the identifiable groups in East Africa. For the purposes of this discussion, a people or ethnic group is a group of human beings who recognize their own identity and unity, have a name for themselves, and do not feel that they lose that identity in a larger grouping. Some groupings that now have the appearance of peoples, such as the Kalenjin of western Kenya, have come into being since 1960 by a conscious fusing together of older and smaller peoples. This series of fusions had not begun as early as 1900, although it is a safe speculation that most, if not all, of the peoples of that time also owed their existence in part to fusions of smaller groups at some earlier stage. For the purposes of this discussion, the year 1900 will mark the time by which East African peoples had retained practices long enough to be considered traditional and had not yet been disturbed by contact with Europeans.

      Despite the fragmentation of the population into so many subdivisions, the different peoples of East Africa traditionally shared much of their cultures in common, thereby forming a smaller number of types, each type distinct in its characteristics. Africa scholars have attempted to identify and classify these types according to criteria of varying usefulness. The criteria discussed here are the following: descent, religion, language, habitat, subsistence, and political organization.

      Categorizing peoples into groups according to their systems of descent and inheritance was much emphasized by writers between 1890 and 1950. Matrilineal descent—that is, formally reckoning family ties through the mother—occurred in the south (for example, among the Yao of Tanzania) and in a few pockets farther north, but most East African peoples formally reckoned descent patrilineally—that is, through the father. Bilateral descent as practiced in Europe was rare and possibly always of recent origin—that is, just before 1900.

      By the late 19th century both Islām and Christianity were becoming widely known. But even before that time, most of the East African peoples took for granted a metaphysical model in which a supreme deity created and maintained the universe, and in which the spirits of dead ancestors watched over the prosperity and morals of each community and punished any offenders. In addition, the wild places were full of spirits, whose activities were unpredictable and often dangerous to humans. In order to cope with all of these mysterious powers, individuals, households, and communities consulted diviners and performed sacrifices of domestic animals. (Human sacrifices were rare.)

      There were two basic variations from this model. Among the agricultural peoples living between Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, and Tanganyika in Uganda and northwestern Tanzania, a number of lesser gods received sacrifices along with the creator, the ancestors, and the spirits. But among the pastoral peoples of the northeast, including the Masai of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, no attention was paid to ancestors, spirits, or gods, all devotion being directed to the creator alone.

      All East African peoples were aware of the danger of witches, but, while some groups lived in terror of the next attack, others assumed that no witches lived near them.

      From about 1890 to 1960, East African ethnic groups were usually classified according to the affinities of the languages that they spoke. This was a very tidy method, but it gave rise to serious misapprehensions, since languages do not necessarily correlate closely with other features of culture. Indeed, language distribution, if anything, overemphasizes the diversity of East African peoples. For example, the Ganda of Uganda and the Kikuyu of Kenya speak very similar languages but are markedly distinct in traditional social organization, while the Masai resemble the Kikuyu closely in many traditional cultural details but speak an unrelated language.

      The Kikuyu language belongs to the Bantu family, which covers the western, southern, and coastal areas of East Africa, while the Masai tongue belongs to the Nilotic family, which extends through the centre and north of the region. A third language group covering a large area is the Cushitic family, which includes Somali and Oromo and extends from the northeastern part of East Africa into the Horn of Africa. Apart from these, there are four or more other families, each represented by one or a few examples, but all of these four appear to have lost ground over time to the three major families.

      A more useful way of grouping the East African peoples into types is according to their habitats, which can be summarized as follows: wet lowland, wet highland, semiarid, and arid. Wet lowland habitats are concentrated around Lake Victoria, and among the peoples found there about 1900 were the Ganda and Luo, both large in number. Wet highland habitats are less concentrated than are the lowland versions; they are strung out along the highlands of the western and eastern branches of the East African Rift System, and they occur also on a few large volcanic cones such as Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. The Kikuyu, living near Mount Kenya, exemplified the inhabitants of this type of habitat.

      In East Africa wet country is fairly scarce, and most peoples have lived in semiarid country with a marked (but unreliable) wet season and a long dry season. The Kamba of Kenya and the Nyamwezi of Tanzania traditionally lived in different variants of the semiarid habitat, while in the arid country of northeastern Kenya lived the Somali and a few other groups. Much of this driest country was true desert, with no complete vegetation cover. The Masai, not very numerous but covering a large area, lived in a less austere version of Somali country.

      Classification according to the four main types of habitat provides a more manageable number of peoples than the 160 named groups, but this method has the weakness of grouping together peoples that live in the same type of country and yet are marked by substantial differences in culture. Taking this complication into account, another way of classifying peoples is by their method of subsistence, that is, the physical basis of their survival. Again, four main types can be recognized among the peoples as they lived about 1900: hunters and gatherers, pastoralists, desultory cultivators, and intensive cultivators.

      In 1900 only two peoples seem to have been hunting and gathering societies, divided into small bands among whom the men hunted larger wild animals while the women provided most of the food by gathering wild produce, most of it of vegetable origin. These two peoples were the Okiek of Kenya and the Hadza of Tanzania. They had no domestic animals except dogs and rarely, if ever, grew cultivated crop plants.

      By contrast, pastoralists covered a much larger portion of East Africa, concentrating in the most arid areas of the north and northeast and extending through semiarid areas toward the centre of what is now Tanzania. The Masai, extending farther south than other pastoral peoples, kept goats, sheep, and cattle, with their value system revolving particularly around cattle. Most of the other pastoralists also placed an extreme value upon cattle, but, with the aridity of the country increasing toward the north and northeast, camels became more important to the survival of pastoral groups and, in the deserts of the Horn, replaced cattle as the high-prestige livestock among the Rendile and Somali. It is likely, but impossible to check, that the intense valuation of camels was derived from the Middle East, with cattle traditionally being the high-prestige livestock south of the Sahara.

      Although the term pastoralist can be used in a broad or a narrow sense, it is used here to mean peoples who depended for their survival on their herds and flocks. Among these groups, cultivation of crops was absent or ephemeral, and they relied little on hunting or gathering. However, they did rely very heavily on trading with their cultivating neighbours for an essential supply of grains and vegetables, which they did not produce themselves. In such trade, the high value of livestock and animal products gave the pastoralists a strong bargaining position. However, they were also extremely vulnerable, because when drought or epizootics (epidemics among livestock) reduced their living capital they had no reserves on which to fall back. In such circumstances (apparently not infrequent), their main remedy was for the young men to run off somebody else's dwindling resources, and this is probably the reason for the pastoralists' reputation among their cultivating neighbours as ferocious raiders of herds and flocks. However, although the pastoral groups saw themselves as lords of creation, their distribution indicates that they lived only in areas where rain was too scarce or too unreliable to raise crops every year, if at all.

      Scarce and unreliable rainfall were problems not only of the pastoralists; most of the cultivating peoples also lived with recurrent drought as a constant threat. An important buffer against the worst effects of drought was the buildup of herds and flocks, much as the pastoralists did. Then, in a dry year, the animals could be moved to water, whereas crops could not. Such was the high value that some cultivating peoples placed upon their livestock that they had much the same attitudes as pastoralists: they relied upon livestock as reserve wealth, identified themselves with their herds, and brought their livestock into their colour symbolism and songs. Examples of such peoples were the Kamba and Gogo of Kenya and Tanzania, respectively, and the Karimojong and Jie of Uganda. These peoples can conveniently be characterized as “would-be pastoralists.” Their attitudes, however, did not impress the exclusive pastoralists—for instance, the Masai (Maasai)—who regarded their Kamba and Gogo neighbours as degraded by cultivation. Equally degraded in their eyes were those Masai who, having lost some or all of their livestock, found themselves forced to cultivate on the margins of the Masai plains, where rainfall was just adequate for an unreliable return. These Masai became, for the time at least, “would-be pastoralists.”

      The desultory cultivators were peoples who lived in semiarid country and put only a limited effort into working the soil, probably because they had a rough sense of the cost-benefit balance involved and realized that much of such effort would be lost to drought and, even in wet years, to pests such as insects and birds. There were even extra hazards associated with livestock. Over much of the northern half of East Africa, cattle-raising could be combined with cultivation. But over much of the southern half, in what is now Tanzania, the type of dry woodland often called miombo long has harboured tsetse flies, which carry infectious protozoans of the genus Trypanosoma that kill off cattle in these areas. Goats, sheep, and chickens could survive much better there, but in the southern half of East Africa it seems that, about 1900, most cattle were in the highlands, above the main tsetse areas.

      Throughout East Africa, the highlands provided some of the best opportunities for intensive cultivation, because the rainfall there was relatively abundant and reliable. Similar opportunities occurred in lower areas of high rainfall, as around Lake Victoria, and on parts of the coast. An additional asset was fertile soil, since most East African, and indeed most tropical, soils are poor in plant nutrients. Soils formed locally over volcanic deposits, as in Kikuyu country, or over alluvial deposits, as in Luo country of western Kenya and north-central Tanzania, have a fertility that made possible dense populations, but only over relatively small areas. Intensive cultivation was the exception, not the rule, because the opportunities to make it work were exceptional. Where the opportunities occurred, however, cultivation repaid the hard work of tillage with hoes, making it worthwhile to hoe in great quantities of cattle dung and even to irrigate, as did the Chaga on Kilimanjaro.

Political organization
      Contrasting the various modes of subsistence refines the classification of peoples based solely upon the dryness or wetness of their habitats. One further refinement, however, is necessary, and this is the contrast between those areas where the peoples were organized into states and those where they were not. The East African states were of various sizes, but all were characterized by hereditary heads of state (like European kings), by distinctions of social class, by formal administrative procedures, and, most vital of all, by procedures for collecting the taxes or tributes upon which each state's survival depended. Of the states, the largest in population were Buganda (the 19th-century kingdom of the Ganda people), Zanzibar (part of modern Tanzania), and Rwanda and Burundi.

      By contrast with the states, in huge areas of East Africa the local peoples had no kings, no social classes, and no taxes. Everyone was a member of a local community but not of a larger administrative unit. The main social distinctions among these people were based on age, sex, and ability. Each local community's members conducted their own relations with other communities, and, if rival communities fought each other, the available fighting men might number from perhaps 15 to 50 on each side—whereas the kings of the largest states could put thousands of men in the field. Needless to say, local communities had difficulty resisting the might of kings. One example of such kingless and stateless peoples was the Masai.

Cultural regions
 The clear and compact distribution of states and stateless societies provided a firm basis for the division of East Africa, in about 1900, into a limited number of distinct cultural regions. All the peoples of the south and west lived in states, while those of the north and northeast were stateless. None of the pastoral peoples had states, and neither did the few hunting and gathering peoples, so that the distribution of states and stateless societies largely reflected differences in the organization of the cultivating peoples. Among these, examples of both desultory and intensive cultivators were organized into states, while both types of cultivation were also found among the stateless peoples. For example, the Kikuyu had no states but were intensive cultivators, while the Chaga, who were equally intensive cultivators, did have states. Among peoples without intensive methods, the Gogo had no states—except in the west, where they adjoined the Nyamwezi, who had states and were equally unintensive in their cultivation methods.

      In order to refine this scheme of cultural classification based upon the presence or absence of states, reference can be made to the custom of age-sets (age set), and the distinctions that emerge thereby can be strengthened by further reference to the practices of circumcision and clitoridectomy. Age-sets were general throughout the northeast of East Africa, for example, among the Oromo and Masai. They were groups of males of roughly the same age who formally came of age during the same period and were for the rest of their lives ritually bound together, rather like adopted brothers, with all the other men in their set. In each area the sets formed a graded series, oldest men at the “top” until they retired and youngest men at the “bottom.” Older always had authority over younger. Initiation into a set in most but not all areas was by way of circumcision, the cutting off of all or part of the foreskin of the penis. In most areas where circumcision was practiced, there also occurred “female circumcision,” although there were no age-sets for women. In the female rite, the clitoris was cut out (clitoridectomy (female genital cutting)), and often the labia minora were also removed.

      The presence or absence of clitoridectomy, circumcision, age-sets, and states makes it possible to recognize five traditional cultural regions in East Africa, each of which possesses its own characteristics. These five are the Horn of Africa region, the Eastern Rift region, the Savanna Stateless region, the Interlacustrine region, and the Southern Savanna region.

The Horn of Africa
      Although most of this region lies north of East Africa and is therefore discussed separately below, it does extend into the northeast part of Kenya. The Horn has closer cultural affinities with Arabia than with the four sub-Saharan regions of East Africa, owing to a long history of literacy, of large imperial states, and of Islām (Islāmic world) and Christianity—all of which are relatively new features in most of the other regions. In addition, the plow has long been an important aid to cultivation in the Horn, and the one-humped Arabian camel is an ancient domestic animal there. Most of the people of the Horn bear physical traits of the European geographic race, looking rather like dark-skinned Mediterraneans, while most people of sub-Saharan East Africa are of the African geographic race.

      That part of the Horn within East Africa was inhabited, about 1900, by stateless pastoralists who kept in contact with nearby cultivating peoples in the Ethiopian highlands and in the river valleys of Somalia (Somali). Among these pastoralists, the Oromo kept cattle and camels, the Somali kept mostly camels, and both groups kept sheep and goats. The Somali were expanding at the expense of the Oromo, absorbing them culturally, so that increasingly more Oromo groups were losing their identity and becoming Somali. The Oromo had age-sets, but age-sets were maintained by only a few Somali groups in the south, where they doubtless had recent Oromo ancestors. The Somali circumcised because they were Muslims, but circumcision probably predates Islām in the Horn; certainly the non-Muslim Oromo practiced it long before 1900. Parallel to circumcision was clitoridectomy, there in a specialized form known as infibulation, in which, after the excising of the clitoris and labia minora, the opening to the girl's vagina was sewn up, leaving only a small aperture until she was married, when the vaginal opening was widened again.

The Eastern Rift (East African Rift System)
      Although widespread in the Horn of Africa, infibulation did not spread to the four sub-Saharan regions. In the Eastern Rift region, however, clitoridectomy and circumcision were practiced, and male age-sets were found in all its areas except some border zones. Because age-sets, circumcision, and clitoridectomy were absent west and south of the Eastern Rift, it is tempting to speculate that these three cultural features spread southward into the region from the Horn. However, in the absence of written records before the arrival of Europeans, this theory is merely inferred from the distribution of the practices, and there is no positive evidence for it. Eastern Rift peoples had no states or kings, and they were well exemplified by the Kikuyu, the Kamba, and the Masai.

The Savanna Stateless
      As its name implies, the Savanna Stateless region also lacked states, but it was set off from the Eastern Rift region by the absence of circumcision and clitoridectomy. (This region, it must be said, extended westward along the northern savanna of Africa into parts of West Africa, and there circumcision and clitoridectomy were found in places. However, in East Africa the contrast between the two regions was clear.) Age-sets did occur in the east of the Savanna Stateless region—for example, among the pastoralist Turkana and the “would-be pastoralist” Karamojong—but they were absent west of these peoples, so that the Lugbara and their neighbours in northwestern Uganda did not practice them.

The Interlacustrine and Southern Savanna
      South of the savanna, the Interlacustrine peoples (those peoples living between the lakes now named Victoria, Albert, Edward, and Tanganyika) had states and kings, as did the ethnic groups of the Southern Savanna region, which covers most of western, southern, and coastal Tanzania. However, these two regions differed from each other in their traditions of kingship. Among the Interlacustrines, kings and kingdoms were linked to great ceremonial drums (drum), more than one per state, which held the vitality of their state within them. This link was lacking in the Southern Savanna states, where a variety of locally important insignia marked off the kings from their subjects. (No African kings wore crowns.)

      Another distinction between the two regions was that the Interlacustrine peoples, with few exceptions, were divided into castes (caste) of differing social prestige. In theory, but apparently not in practice, people of one caste were not allowed to marry members of another. Ranking of castes can be illustrated by the kingdom of Rwanda, where the Tutsi had higher prestige than the Hutu, and the Hutu were above the Twa. Among the Nkole peoples of western Uganda, the Hima were above the Iru. The Ganda, however, did not have castes. Southern Savanna peoples, all of them casteless, included the Nyamwezi and the Yao.

      In these two regions (at least in those parts within East Africa) there was traditionally no circumcision or clitoridectomy. However, the Southern Savanna region extended westward across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean, and in the west, circumcision was practiced over a large area. Another complication, apparent by 1900, was that, as increasingly more men became Muslims, they were circumcised. The Swahili peoples of coastal East Africa had long been Muslim and had long been in contact with the Middle East, but with their penetration of the interior during the 19th century, Islām also spread and brought with it the new practice of circumcision.

John D. Kesby

The Horn of Africa
      The Horn of Africa, an extension of land between the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, is occupied by Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti, whose cultures have been linked throughout their long history.

Principal ethnic groups
  Ethiopia has a history of independent sovereignty extending at least 2,000 years. Discounting the brief Italian intrusion (1935–41), it was the only traditional empire to survive the colonial partition intact. Until the mid-1970s Ethiopia was ruled by leaders drawn almost exclusively from the two dominant ethnic groups, the Semitic-speaking Tigray and Amhara. Ethiopia is thus essentially the political expression of the cultural nationalism of these two closely related peoples, who derive from a fusion of local Cushitic-speaking (Cushitic languages) stock with South Arabian immigrants who settled along the Red Sea coast in the 1st millennium BC.

      The Tigray occupy the northern part of the Ethiopian Plateau. This highland, which straddles the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, contains the ancient capitals of the empire: Aksum, Gonder, and Lalibela. For more than half a millennium, however, power lay mainly with the Amhara, who live in the southern part of the plateau in the administrative regions of Gonder, Gojam, and Shewa—the seat of government since 1889. The historic rivalry between these two groups has been reflected most recently in rebellions against “Amhara-dominated” Ethiopia by nationalists in the region of Tigray and by secessionists in Eritrea.

      Prone to recurrent drought and famine, the heavily overused Ethiopian Plateau and Eritrean highlands produce the indigenous cereal teff (Eragrostis abyssinica), as well as wheat, barley, and, in the drier regions especially, corn (maize) and millet. Cattle and other stock are raised, the land being tilled by ox-drawn plow. In the lower and hotter southern regions of Ethiopia, the false banana, known locally as ensete (Ensete ventricosum), is the main crop, and coffee—which is indigenous to Ethiopia and may be named for a local tribe, the Kafa—is produced as a cash crop. There, for the most part, the hand hoe replaces the ox-drawn plow in cultivation. This ensete-growing region is the home of the Gurage (a Semitic-speaking but partly Cushitic people), of the Cushitic Sidamo-speaking peoples, and, to the southwest, of a few other, more distantly connected peoples, whose linguistic affiliation remains a matter of controversy.

      By far the most important group among the Cushitic people is the Oromo, who form the largest ethnic unit in northeastern Africa. They occupy most of the southern provinces of Ethiopia, with the related Somali on their eastern and southern flanks, and seem destined to play an increasingly significant role in the political development of Ethiopia. Their traditional pastoral nomadism is best preserved today among the Boran Oromo, who live in the hot, dry lowlands of southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. It is from this region that the many different subdivisions of the expanding Oromo nation began their invasion of Ethiopia in the 16th century, sweeping relentlessly in wave after wave into the Christian highlands, where the embattled Amhara and Tigray were unable to check their advance. Those Oromo who moved into the rich central highlands, such as the Macha and Tulama, abandoned their nomadic economy and became sedentary cultivators; others, such as the Arusi and Gudji, in the less-favoured areas sought to combine both modes of livelihood. Many became Christians (Christianity), adopting Amhara culture; others embraced Islām (Islāmic world), although this was not necessarily incompatible with adopting other aspects of Amhara culture.

      The inability of the Christians to withstand the Oromo invaders (over whom, however, they later reestablished their ascendancy and whom they finally incorporated as subjects in the empire) shows the extent to which Ethiopian fortunes had been reduced by the ceaseless wars of the period with the surrounding Muslim Sidamo and other largely Cushitic sultanates.

      The Cushitic Somali became fervent Muslims and put increasing pressure on the southeastern flank of the Oromo, thus helping to sustain the latter's continued thrust into Ethiopia. After a long period of turmoil, adjustment, and the reemergence of Amhara ascendancy, under the forceful rule (1889–1913) of Menilek II, Ethiopia assumed its modern shape. Despite their crushing defeat at the Battle of Adowa (Adwa) by the Ethiopians in 1896, the Italians were allowed to retain the largely Muslim and partly Cushitic territory of Eritrea, which was joined to Ethiopia after World War II but became an independent state in 1993.

      Notwithstanding their strong sense of cultural nationalism, the Somali had not previously formed a single political unit, and they were partitioned among the Ethiopians, Italians, British, and French. The French also acquired the closely related Cushitic-speaking Afar to form their tiny colony around the port of Djibouti. In 1960 the British and Italian parts of the Somali nation became independent and joined to form Somalia, leaving about a quarter of the total Somali population in the neighbouring areas of eastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and the minuscule Republic of Djibouti, which the Somali share with the Afar. Formerly known as French Somaliland, this arid land contains mainly nomads or urban workers.

      Traditional ethnic and religious rivalries are thus perpetuated today by the coexistence of a state based on Somali identity (but not including the whole nation) and the ancient state of Ethiopia, which, like most of its more recently formed African neighbours, includes within its borders a variety of different peoples and tribes, about one-third of whom are Muslim and many also Cushitic.

      The worldviews of the Christian and Muslim peoples of the region are uncannily alike, and, even in particular aspects of belief and ritual, they reveal many striking resonances. Both believe strongly in a morally significant afterlife and are thus capable of accepting present misfortune and illness with fatalistic resignation. Both are also equally adept at seeking alternative mystical explanations of distress and of resorting to supernatural agencies to seek redress. Otherworldly fatalism is thus tempered by a healthy pragmatic concern for present well-being. Those Oromo and Sidamo who retain their traditional cosmologies (and few have remained entirely unaffected by Islām or Christianity) are more firmly anchored in the present and entertain few if any hopes of eternal bliss or fears of eternal damnation.

      The most obvious contrasts in cultural outlook and ethos follow the division between cultivator and nomad (nomadism). The Amhara and Tigray farmers of the highlands are sturdy, canny peasants whose ready deference to their social superiors conceals hostility and suspicion. Their strongly individualistic and shrewdly calculating attitudes suit their hierarchical but far from closed status system and kinship organization.

      Specialist crafts, such as weaving, leatherworking, and ironworking, are traditionally despised, and their practitioners are associated with the evil eye. Other artisan work, unskilled manual labour, and even trade also are considered degrading. Specialist minority groups—such as the Dorse weavers or the Cushitic Beta Israel (the Falasha, or “Black Jews”), who traditionally do a considerable amount of ironwork and pottery—are thus able to establish ethnic monopolies. Similarly, the traditionally disparaged Gurage have acquired a leading role as manual workers in Addis Ababa, and, until quite recently, trade has tended to be monopolized by Muslims.

      The ethos of the nomads reflects their egalitarian social structure. Their assertiveness contrasts strongly with the deferential respect of the Amhara peasantry. Pragmatic individualism is tempered by the wider demands of the kinship group. Intense and violent competition rages over access to the sparse resources of the environment—grass and water—on which life depends. Enmities and alliances tend to be ephemeral and shifting, the definition of friend and foe constantly changing. In this, the much-divided Somali, whose constituent factions (now armed with automatic rifles) are regularly embroiled in savage feuds, contrast with the Oromo, whose component groups place a high value on internal peace and count the killing of one of their own fellows as a sin. Yet all these warrior nomads—whether Somali, Oromo, or Afar—hold a similar heroic view of life, in which prowess in battle and raiding is the essential manly virtue. The weak and vulnerable receive a certain condescending compassion that is associated with the idea that they may possess special (compensating) mystical powers. In a world in which essentially might is right, however, true prestige is accorded only to those who are manifestly strong and successful. (The Amhara military aristocracy hold similar values.)

kinship, descent, and age-sets
      Groups based upon descent from a common ancestor play some role in the social organization of all the peoples mentioned. Generally, it is patrilineal descent (traced through male ancestors on the father's side of the family) that is of most significance in the inheritance of property and status and in group formation. It is weakest among the Christian Amharas, who regard kinship links traced through either women or men as equally binding. Traditionally, this bilateral kinship system was employed to build up loosely defined clusters of kin each associated with a particular parish or part of a parish. The church-centred local community formed the primary unit in the Amhara administrative system, consisting of a series of scattered hamlets rather than a clearly defined village, and rights to land rested within exogamous kin groups. After the rise of the socialist regime in 1974, land reforms abolished these traditional rights. Control of the land was allocated to local peasant associations (called kebelles), which, in the northern Amhara regions, were often chaired by priests.

      Among the other mainly Cushitic-speaking peoples (including the Semitic-speaking Gurage), descent is more strictly patrilineal, and conventional kinship groups such as patrilineages and clans occur at various orders of social grouping. Where sedentary cultivation is practiced, as among the central and northern Oromo, the Gurage, and the Sidamo, there is a tendency for particular clans, or their constituent lineages, to be associated with particular localities. Communities may contain the members of several separate descent groups, but one of these is identified with a given locality.

      The extent of clan and lineage development and ramification is largely a function of the size of the tribal units involved. The Oromo, for instance, comprise at least eight major tribes, ranging from the most traditional and largely pastoral Gudji and Boran in the south to the strongly Amhara-influenced, cultivating Tulama and Macha around Addis Ababa. In the large units, kinship is only an ancillary principle of association, supplementing more important ties based on shared membership of a generation class, or age-set (age set). According to the so-called gada system, all the Oromo male children of the same generation formed an indissoluble fraternity; and, as members of this fraternity, they moved through the various stages of life and positions open to them. The age-sets held in turn the statuses of bachelor-warriors and later of married elders, each set occupying a given grade for a period of approximately eight years. Each generation eventually supplied the lawgivers and leaders of a given Oromo tribe and then retired to make way for its successors.

      This form of government was essentially democratic and republican since there was a constant rotation of officeholders and each age-set elected its own leaders who, when the time came, would rule the tribe as a whole. The traditional political system was altered radically, however, as the Oromo expanded northward and many groups changed their location and economy. Political changes also were influenced by the larger Amhara centralized system and by the adoption of either Islām or Christianity, which were often invoked to legitimize new structures of authority.

      The gada organization provided the strong sense of cohesion that even large nomadic groups such as the Boran were able to achieve. Age-set organization and descent are also significant principles in the local organization of the Sidamo people. But it is among the Afar and certainly the Somali that descent becomes the most significant principle of social and political allegiance. Ties based on common residence in a given area count for less among the northern pastoral Somali than is true of any other group in northeast Africa, and patrilineal kinship is nowhere more important or more heavily utilized in group formation. Patrilineal descent, given specific range and content by contractual treaties, provides the key to the traditional Somali political and legal system. Such treaties result in the formation of distinct politico-legal units, containing a few thousand male kin (and their dependents) who have agreed to meet all liabilities in concert. On this basis, if the parties involved in certain deaths and injuries wish to avoid feuding, they can collectively adjudicate their differences through a system of mutual compensations that aim at a kind of balance of payments. So while lineages of the nomads are not identified with any locality, whenever the need arises scattered kinsmen rally together to attack their foes or defend their interests.

Settlement and livelihood
      Village settlements are not found among the Amhara or among those who have been strongly influenced by their culture and way of life. The basic settlement unit in the rural areas is the nuclear or extended family (that is, the husband-and-wife family or its extension to kinfolk, respectively) living in a few circular mud-and-wattle houses. Formerly, the typical parish contained a core of some 20 to 30 household heads descended from a common ancestor associated with the parish and holding landrights in it. This traditional pattern of largely autonomous settlements was radically changed by the socialist government. After 1974, the chairmen of local kebelles allocated land to members of the community, and they also selected people for military service, forced labour on state farms, or resettlement elsewhere. To break down the isolation of the peasants and bring them under the control of the central government, a villagization scheme was introduced in 1985. By the end of 1987, eight million people had been regrouped into separate village settlements, each containing up to 500 households. Larger settlements, with thousands of residents from different parts of Ethiopia, were created in an agricultural resettlement project intended to provide arable land and relief from famine.

      The Amhara pattern of dispersed settlement is replicated fairly closely among the ensete-growing Sidamo as well as among most of the settled, cultivating Oromo. The Cushitic-speaking Konso with their clearly defined and traditionally fortified villages and the southern Somali with similarly distinct settlements are both unusual. Southern Somali villages are based upon communal water ponds to which access is strictly controlled by membership in the local community and by participation in its blood-compensation arrangements. Among all these groups, land is not traditionally transferable except to other members of the group or to those who join it as clients. Its use entails social and politico-legal obligations, and, when it is abandoned, it reverts traditionally to the local community.

      Among the Cushitic pastoralists, settlement patterns are naturally more fluid and flexible. The Boran, who are less mobile and far-ranging than the Somali in their movements, have generally separate grazing encampments for each type of livestock. The Boran rank their animals in the following order: lactating cows, dry cows, lactating camels, dry camels, and sheep and goats. The most senior brother in an extended family herds the first category of stock in the grazing regions best suited to it, and other brothers look after the other animals in descending order of seniority and prestige.

      The pastoral Somali nomads, on the other hand, have basically only two types of herding unit. The first consists of the camels, which in the dry seasons can go without water for up to 20 days or more. These are in the charge of young unmarried men and, in the dry seasons particularly, seek good grazing, sometimes hundreds of miles from the wells to which other stock—sheep and goats, cattle and milk camels—are compelled to cling closely. These latter are herded by the family unit, consisting of a man and his wife or wives and their unmarried daughters and young sons (boys over the age of seven are out with the grazing camels learning the techniques of camel management). The family moves from pasture to pasture carrying its readily transportable tents and other equipment on burden camels, which are not, however, ridden. Pasture is not owned, and rights to wells are asserted with an intensity that increases in direct proportion to the scarcity of water and the energy expended in utilizing it. In the wet seasons, when lush pasture regions become centres of intensive grazing and settlement, the two herding units move closer together, and social life becomes more expansive and relaxed. With milk and meat in abundance, this is the time for feasts and collective rituals, the season of marriage negotiation and weddings.

      Except among the Christians, all these peoples practice polygyny in one form or another, each wife and her children usually forming a separate domestic and economic unit. Marriage payments, largely in livestock among the pastoralists, are probably highest in the case of the pastoral Somali. Among these Somali, however, a bride also brings a considerable dowry in the form of a flock of sheep and goats to provide milk for the children whom she is expected to bear her husband.

      Finally, a striking feature of Ethiopian economics is the complex and overlapping system of regional markets held in a given centre on a particular day of the week, like the pattern that still obtains in parts of Europe. Saturday is the most popular day. Although such large centres as Gonder or Addis Ababa have daily markets, the weekly market is usually much bigger and has its own distinctive festive atmosphere.

      The Cushitic tradition, traces of which occur even among people as long and deeply Islāmized as the Somali, seems best preserved today (in at least one of its original or early forms) among the Boran. Here Waqa, the god of sky and earth and the creator and sustainer of life, is worshiped in prayer and sacrifice as the guardian of social morality and as the source of all things, good and bad. Waqa's special agents on earth are the sacred dynasties, or lineages, of priests (priesthood) (kallus), who still live among the Boran and to whom all the Oromo in ancient times used to send emissaries on pilgrimage. The pilgrims came to receive the blessing of the kallu priests, or “anointing fathers,” who thus made sacred the whole traditional Oromo social system. Today, among the Macha and other Oromo who now live in the Ethiopian highlands, these traditional national priests have been replaced by new spirit-possessed charismatic leaders (also called kallus) who express the ethnic identity of their tribesmen in the context of the Christian Amhara-dominated Ethiopian state.

      The Ethiopian Orthodox church maintains the monophysitic doctrine that Christ has a single nature into which his divine and human sides are assumed. It follows the Alexandrian rite, its liturgy being celebrated and recorded in the ancient Ethiopian language Geʿez (from which Amharic is derived). It is led by the abuna, an Ethiopian priest who before 1948 was appointed by the Coptic patriarch in Alexandria but since has been appointed locally. The abuna presides over a church that, with its numerous places of worship, its richly endowed monasteries, and its ample priesthood, held perhaps one-fifth of Ethiopia's arable land before the revolution. Its all-pervasive character is such that one of every five male Christians is estimated to be in orders, and priests are expected to be married, only monks and nuns being celibate. Unordained, but not necessarily unlearned, ritual experts called debtaras play a crucial role in dispensing mystically efficacious cures. There is a vast hierarchy of saints (saint) and angels, chief among them being the Virgin Mary, St. Gabriel, St. Michael, St. George (patron saint of Ethiopia), and the local saints Tekle Haimanot and Gabra Manfas Keddus. On the darker side, a complementary host of demons and evil spirits, many connected with a form of witchcraft (buda) and able to possess people and cause illness and even death, are widely feared. Though officially discouraged under the socialist regime, the protective cult of the saints is still vast and all-embracing. Every Christian has a special relationship with several saints, and the observance of saints' fasts and feasts bulks large in the Christian calendar. Spirits of every origin and provenance are accepted within the Christian cosmology, where they are naturalized in the continuous process of cultural exchange between the dominant and subject peoples. Thus, for instance, the Oromo fertility spirit Atete is readily assimilated to the Virgin Mary, and vice versa.

      Exactly the same pattern is repeated on the Muslim side, where the cult of saints is equally well developed and the Islāmic cosmology coincides to a remarkable degree with that of the Amhara Christians. Thus, among the Somali, who posthumously canonize their own lineage ancestors, saints are petitioned to remedy every distress and anxiety and are venerated as essential mediators between man and the Prophet Muḥammad and God. Again, the process of Islāmization closely parallels that of Christianization: in the case of the Arusi Oromo, for instance, the Prophet himself and numerous other Muslim saints are assimilated to traditional spirits and ultimately to Waqa.

      If the great traditions of Christianity and Islām generously open their arms to assimilate the many local cultures of the region, many elements from the local cultures in turn find their way, by the back door as it were, into the worldview of the two major religions. This is very clearly seen in the mystery spirit- possession cults, which attract women and certain underprivileged categories of men particularly and which have a strongly “underground” character. Christians are especially susceptible to harassment by Muslim and pagan spirits, just as Muslims are equally open to attack by Christian demons or pagan spirits. Indeed, one of the salient features of religion in this part of Africa is the emphasis placed on spirit possession and the evil eye as explanations of misfortune that elsewhere would be ascribed to witchcraft or sorcery. The other striking feature deserving notice is the stress placed on food taboos and other commensal restrictions that are applied with particular stringency to maintain social distance from hunting and low-status craft groups. The despised and rejected community, on the other hand, may entertain similar attitudes toward those who consider themselves their superiors. Thus, just as other Ethiopians traditionally look down on the religion of the Jewish Falasha and on the ironwork and pottery trades that they follow, the Jewish Falasha themselves seek to remain apart in order to preserve their own ritual purity. Those who have close contact with, or live among, non-Jews are treated with disdain.

      The presence for centuries of three world religions in the region, each with its own literate tradition, has preserved a more obvious and tangible literary heritage than in most other parts of Africa south of the Sahara, but the bulk of this literature remains largely untranslated and unknown to the outside world. More accessible are the splendid monuments of the Christian past: the celebrated rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, which were largely constructed during the reign of the 12th-century emperor after whom the city is named; the glorious castles and churches of Gonder with their famous, magnificently decorated ceilings; and, beyond this tradition, the older Aksumite antiquities. Islām, too, has left comparable memorials in some of the earliest mosques and tombs in such ancient cities as Harer, Seylac, and Mogadishu but, for religious reasons, has left no illustrations comparable to those adorning Ethiopian manuscripts and church walls. Outside these literate traditions, there exists a less well explored heritage of oral literature, in both prose and poetry.

Ioan M. Lewis

Additional Reading

The land and economy of eastern Africa
Africa South of the Sahara (annual) includes updated essays on all aspects of the countries of eastern Africa. Comprehensive overviews of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania are given in W.T.W. Morgan, East Africa (1973); and W.T.W. Morgan (ed.), East Africa: Its Peoples and Resources, 2nd ed. (1972). Plant life of the region is covered in E.M. Lind and M.E.S. Morrison, East African Vegetation (1974); and D.J. Pratt and M.D. Gwynn (eds.), Rangeland Management and Ecology in East Africa (1977). The lakes are described in L.C. Beadle, The Inland Waters of Tropical Africa, 2nd ed. (1981); and the rift valleys and their setting are explained in B.H. Baker, P.A. Mohr, and L.A.J. Williams, Geology of the Eastern Rift System of Africa (1972). The anomalous climate of this portion of Africa is outlined in ch. 7 of Glenn T. Trewartha, The Earth's Problem Climates, 2nd ed. (1981).Economic development is best treated in country-by-country accounts or continental overviews, such as Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action (1982), a World Bank study.William Thomas Wilson Morgan

The people of eastern Africa
George Murdock, Africa: Its Peoples and Their Culture History (1959), covers all the African peoples. Jocelyn Murray (ed)., Cultural Atlas of Africa (1981), is also helpful. George Balandier and Jacques Maquet (eds.), Dictionary of Black African Civilization (1974; originally published in French, 1968), offers survey articles on the major ethnic groups. A large series of slim but densely factual volumes, “Ethnographic Survey of Africa” (1950– ), covers the entire region in two sections: “East Central Africa” and “North Eastern Africa.”

East Africa
John D. Kesby, The Cultural Regions of East Africa (1977), groups the peoples of East Africa and neighbouring areas into cultural regions and attempts to identify the processes by which cultural differences have arisen. Lucy Mair, Primitive Government: A Study of Traditional Political Systems in Eastern Africa, rev. ed. (1977), studies the social organization of the best-documented of the peoples for the period 1890–1960, concentrating on obligations and the settling of disputes.There are many studies of individual peoples. L.S.B. Leakey, The Southern Kikuyu Before 1903, 3 vol. (1977), is a detailed example, covering the southern third of one of the most numerous peoples of the Eastern Rift region. Other studies include Andrew Fedders, Peoples and Cultures of Kenya (1979); John Lamphear, The Traditional History of the Jie of Uganda (1976); and J.C.D. Lawrance, The Iteso: Fifty Years of Change in a Nilo-Hamitic Tribe of Uganda (1957).John D. Kesby

The Horn of Africa
Jan Brøgger, Belief and Experience Among the Sidamo (1986), analyzes destiny, illness, and the spirit cult in Sidamo religion in relation to their economy. Frederick C. Gamst, The Qemant: A Pagan-Hebraic Peasantry of Ethiopia (1969, reissued 1984), is a general anthropological study of the culture and social institutions of a remnant of the Cushitic-speaking Agew peoples. Alan Hoben, Land Tenure Among the Amhara of Ethiopia: The Dynamics of Cognatic Descent (1973), provides a pioneering study of rural Amhara society. Karl Eric Knutsson, Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia (1967), contains a full sociological analysis of the main religious institutions of the Oromo. Asmarom Legesse, Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society (1973), gives the most comprehensive account of the gada system. Donald N. Levine, Wax & Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture (1965, reprinted 1986), offers a thorough and detailed study of the culture and ethos of the politically dominant Amhara, and his Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society (1974), explores cultural parallels and connections among the many different ethnic groups of the Ethiopian “mosaic.” J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (1952, reissued 1965), is a comprehensive cultural history of the Horn of Africa.I.M. Lewis, A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (1961, reprinted 1982), and Blood and Bone: The Call of Kinship in Somali Society (1994), study Somali society and culture and the linkages between “traditional” and modern political organization.Ioan M. Lewis

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Universalium. 2010.

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