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Challenges of studying written and oral sources in Africa

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One of the biggest issues facing African historians is the fact that the study of actual African History is relatively new. A large majority of the sources available are written from the point of view of Europeans, with an Intended audience of Europeans. In this egocentric method of reporting history, Africans were viewed more as objects: a people with a past but no history. The written "historical" sources provided by imperialists robbed Africans of their voice.

The principal challenge facing African historians Is to find a way to Inject the African voice Into the narrative, and thus roved a more accurate representation of the continental history. This task presents more profound questions.

What qualities make someone an African?

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Is it sufficient to be a black person living on the continent? Are there levels of ethnicity? Are the descendants of Africans brought to other parts of the world In the slave trade "Africans"? Ultimately, who decides who Is "African"? Equally problematic is the Issue regarding what represents a credible source, either written or oral.

Each presents unique challenges that must be addressed in order to qualify the value of the Information they portend to provide. While the more traditional African historical sources are Invariably prone to the problem of European bias, cave paintings offer a source that was born out of a desire of an African (not a European) to document their experiences. For example, the rock art of Gill Kefir in what is present-day Egypt represents people allegedly engaging in the catchy of swimming.

This offers historians perhaps the oldest example of source material regarding African history. UT what does this 'Written" source actually tell African historians? Most importantly, it definitively proves that someone was there, and through scientific dating cuisines, It indicates approximately when they were there. This is real, hard evidence, which "underpins all historical research. "This Is not to Infer that there are not problems with the use of the paintings as a source of usable evidence. The older a source is, it is more likely to be inaccurate. Were the people in the paintings actually swimming, as scientists believe?

Does that mean that the desert where the cave paintings were found was once a land that contained lakes or rivers? Or did the cave painters devise their art from the second-hand memories of others who had traveled to faraway lands? What was the reason they chose to document their experience? Was it graffiti? Was it done for religious reasons? Was it a territorial marking? Archaeological sites are less prevalent in Africa than other parts of the world, which Is problematic In having the ability to compare this particular site to others.

Further, the available archives needed to compare these archaeological finds are fewer in number in African regions, and sometimes less accessible due to political reasons. The Information In the African archives that do exist Is often more difficult to translate than traditional archival Information In that most African engages are oral, and not written, and nearly impossible to document without the benefit of oral history.

How can African historians mitigate these challenges and 'OFF source?

One suggestion is to actively search for other existing examples of cave paintings and to compare them based on materials, method, content, location, etc. When such comparable examples do not exist, scientists could initiate more archaeological digs, extend communication among scientists to broaden the evidence base, and exert political pressure upon leaders to focus on scientific endeavors, as well as the preservation of the archives. Like historians in other parts of the world, African historians face the challenge of deteriorating archives because of damage caused by the elements, water damage, and insects. Traditional written sources such as government documents, tax records, and newspapers may also be lost due to archival neglect. Historians must consider several criteria of source criticism to determine each written source's historical value. Regardless of the name on the document, who was the actual author? What was the real purpose of the document? Who was the intended audience? Did the author have personal motives in reporting it in the manner in which he did? For example, most government documents from Colonial Africa were written by Europeans, with an intended European audience.

There is no African voice in this "history. " Africans were treated like objects,9 and colonial imperialistic authors of written sources "believed that they actually were generating history for the first time?that Africa (and Africans) had no history before their arrival. "Another limitation of written documents is that they are created from the point of view of an observer, and thus produce an opinion that is completely subjective, and thereby, by definition, are open to other opinions and observations. To address the limitations of written documents, historians often attempt to incorporate oral sources in conjunction with written sources in order to strengthen historical evidence. "Anxiety about flawed written sources drew scholars away from libraries and into towns and villages for historical narrative. "The incorporation of oral history into the narrative makes it more evidential and gives the written documents a more verifiable African voice. Relying on written documents from the Colonial period without the incorporation of oral sources, in many cases, produces an inaccurate version of African history.

Typically, in the African "history' provided by Colonial Europeans their culture, norms, and ideology were largely ignored. "One of the key methods to avoid (the possibility of denying Africans a voice in their own history) is to include a people's own oral traditions and life histories in ethnographically and archaeological work. "Because most African languages in Colonial Africa were oral and not written, it is imperative to consider oral sources to bolster the evidence provided by written sources. Oral sources can provide a wealth of historical evidence.

For example, Historical linguists use oral sources to accurately track the movement of people across the continent. This evidence of human migration can help explain cultural change, which is important when considering that a lack of concentration of people in a particular area makes a study of their culture less possible. Oral histories offer first-hand accounts of events. These oral histories evolve into oral traditions; stories passed down from generation to generation, offering us a glimpse of pre-colonial Africa not found in the Euro-centric written documents of imperialists.

Oral sources obviously can complement the written, a realization that was for too long lost on most professional order to strengthen written sources to form cohesive historical evidence is Jan Vinson, who "established that the stories handed down from one generation to another ... Were as stable and reliable accounts of their past as were the written chronicles and personal narratives... (and) that in fact they were of the same genre. "In Banana's own words: "by creating a lifelike setting, (oral tradition) gives evidence about how situations as they were observed, as well as about beliefs uncovering situations. Thus, oral sources, through both shared oral history and oral traditions, combined with written sources, form a more credible account of historical occurrences than written sources alone provide. Oral sources, though, are not without their limitations. "

Astoria can place trust in oral sources only to the extent that they can be verified by means of external evidence of another kind, such as archaeological, linguistic, or cultural. "Oral sources are subject to misinterpretation because of selective or collective memory, rumor, myth, or hearsay. That being said, oral sources subject to these limitations still offer substance, because historians can still study why the subjects believe it happened that way. African historians can mitigate the limitations of oral sources by searching for information that is valuable, if not as historical evidence, but as information that is not readily apparent through the written archive. While attempting to glean evidence from a source on one topic, a historian may gain knowledge of another unintended topic.

Ultimately, "it is the duty of the historian to subject all written accounts to radical internal and external analysis to determine authenticity and credibility. If the accounts are thoroughly examined, and the texts can be compared to one another with the information contained in oral and other sources, they will continue to yield valuable information on the history of Africa. "These things considered; if an historian wanted to get an approximation of how many Africans were enslaved, maimed or killed in the occupation of King Leopold in the Congo, where would they start? What sources would they utilize, and what would they expect to find?

What there information might they "accidentally' stumble upon?

I propose that a good place to start would be to examine any existing hospital documents from 1885-1908, to determine if there is a written record of the number of people treated for loss of limbs. Local censuses (if available), police records, military ledgers, property records, death certificates might also prove as fruitful written resources. Additionally, missionary records in the region mighty prove to be valuable, especially considering that they would probably not require translation, lessening the possibility that any information would be mistranslated.

Another possible valuable written source might be records in the Belgian archive, or that of the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. The historian might hope to find information or documents concerning the Congo Reform Association, which might shed some light on the information she seeks. Additionally, research on the Congo Free State propaganda war and the International Association of the Congo might provide valuable useful written sources of evidence of injuries and deaths to those enslaved at that time.

One might also be able to glean useful information from historical-based literature, such as Joseph Concord's Heart of Darkness, Sir Arthur Cowan Dole's The Crime of the Congo, and Bertrand Russell Freedom and Organization. Research on the parties evidence of the atrocities in the region, including Edmund Dine Muriel, Roger Casement and the aforementioned Bertrand Russell. Local museums might contain artwork from the region during Loophole's occupation that captures the outrage, despair and helplessness of the affected.

By speaking to locals, she might learn, through oral tradition, the stories passed down from generation to generation about the occupation. In the unlikely, yet still possible event, that any 106-year-old residents still survive, they would be able to provide first-hand oral history. Other than gaining information regarding the number of enslaved, killed and maimed, she would, in all probability, gain an understanding of the long-term effects of the occupation of Leopold upon the citizens, as well as information of how Loophole's occupation came to an end due to intense international criticism.

Possible obstacles that she might experience: In retreat, Leopold may have destroyed written evidence of the atrocities, as well as local artwork or libraries. His regime may have been so strict that any expression, either written or oral, was prohibited and subject to the same penalties as those who refused to work in the mines, or underperformed in their duties, diminishing oral sources. Let's consider that the same historian endeavored to learn the approximate number of the descendants of diasporas Africans who returned to partake in the so-called "redeeming of Africa. Where might she begin, and what would she expect to find? What limitations might she encounter? What other information might she learn along the way? A good starting mint would be to visit the archives in Liberia and Sierra Leone; countries set up as places of African repatriation for freed slaves. There, she could view the legal records regarding who came back and when they returned, who their family members were, where they lived, as well as their professions. Available Census documents would prove to be invaluable in that regard.

Ship's manifests would reflect the number of passengers returning to these countries, as well as the number of family members that accompanied them. She could research the founders of both countries, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first president of Liberia, and Christopher Koru Cole and Osaka Stevens, early leaders of Sierra Leone, to find documents pertaining to the numbers of returning Africans. She could study historical literature about repatriation, such as Back to Africa: the Colonization Movement in Early Africa by Timothy Crummier, as well as Black Migration in America: a Social Demographic History by Daniel M. Johnson and Rexes R. Campbell. She could also read the works of the men who themselves returned, such as George Washington Williams, Samuel Jay Crotchet, and Henry McNealy Turner. Some limitations she might experience in her research: inconclusive data due to the relative impossibility of proving that they (or their descendants) were indeed originally removed from the continent. Incomplete or inaccurate documentation might also prove to be a stumbling block in attaining this information.

Additional research on topics such as the American Colonization Society, and the histories of both Liberia and Sierra Leone would not only provide numerical data, but also undoubtedly uncover unintended useful information about the achievements and political and religious aims of those who returned, as well as how hey were received. Did they consider themselves more "civilized" than the native Africans whose descendants had not been removed from the continent?

What other the reasons why some Africans did not return, even though they had the opportunity. Through personal interviews of present-day citizens who are descendants of returning freed slaves she could learn of the oral traditions they had developed. She might also learn of the artwork prevalent in these regions, as well as the folklore and literature that the return to Africa produced, and how it differed from that of indigenous Africans. "As a recognized academic endeavor, (African history) has emerged only in the last four or five decades. Until recently, African "history' was written by and for Europeans, and as such, didn't provide a realistic depiction of the people, the culture, and the overall actual history of the continent, but served more as a record of White encroachment, and functioned as a tool of propaganda to legitimate the "civilizing mission" of Europeans. By altering traditional methodology and utilizing both written and oral sources, a more accurate picture of African history ND its people can be discovered and studied.

Beyond the fade of imperialistic African "history," there is a real history of the African continent that invites further study, and such an endeavor is necessary in restoring the African "voice. " If we fail to do so, "(w)e run the risk of not only denying people a voice in the reconstruction of their own history, but offending and demeaning indigenous cultures when we use them as a model for the past without recognizing not only their changing past but their active involvement in changing and/or maintaining their identities and history in the present.

Challenges of studying written and oral sources in Africa essay

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