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date: 17 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Across Africa, the term chief has been—and still is—used to describe individuals whose status and influence is extremely diverse; no single analytical model can explain the multiple phenomena of ‘chieftaincy’. But a broad pattern can be observed. Across much of the continent, individuals who possessed political authority in precolonial societies did so most effectively not by monopolizing a single kind of power, but by dealing in multiple forms of powerful knowledge. In the colonial period and subsequently, this brokering of knowledge has acquired a new productive potency, serving as a means to both mediate and reproduce a distinction between tradition on the one hand and the state on the other.

Keywords: Africa, colonialism, authority, chiefs, chieftaincy, tradition.

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