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date: 18 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Historians have been concerned with questions of identity and ethnicity in Africa for some time. This chapter provides a survey of both the history and the historiography of ethnicity. It begins with a discussion of tribe in the colonial era: how ethnicity was fashioned, by whom, and for what purposes; and how the claims of local ethnicities conflicted with the vision of a larger national community. It then surveys and critiques the historiography, from early primordialist views to later instrumental and constructivist approaches to the topic. Finally, it looks at the making of community and identity in the long term, tracing its precolonial roots and suggesting new directions that the study of community and identity might take. While its primary focus is on ethnicity, the chapter also looks at the construction of other identities—urban, religious, and gendered—and at alternative embodiments of memory and belonging—in landscape, enactment, and spirituality.

Keywords: Africa, colonial, ethnicity, history, identity, tradition, tribe.

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