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UGANDA BEFORE COLONIALISM; THE PRE-CONTACT PERIOD.

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UGANDA BEFORE COLONIALISM; THE PRE-CONTACT PERIOD.

Post by sol_drethedon on Fri Nov 01, 2013 10:14 pm

Uganda Before Colonialism

1. The Pre-contact Period.

Uganda as known today was carved into it's present shape from the heart of Africa by British imperialism at the turn of the century. This "pearl of Africa", as one chieftain of British imperialism called it, was a prize to be fought for in the intra-imperialist scrambles of this period for what remained of the uncolonised world. Sandwiched between the intra-monopoly claims of the German imperialists in the East, the Belgian imperialists in the south-west, the French imperialists in the north-west, and the British imperialists in the north and the east, present day Uganda is a product of these claims and counter-claims. It is located at latitude 4degrees30' N to latitude 1degree30S and from longitude 35 E to longitude 29degrees50' W. Its area covers 93,981 square miles of which 80,292 is land surface and 13,689 is open water area. It has a population of 34million people.

In tracing the present day contradiction in Uganda it is necessary it is necessary to have a glimpse of precolonial Uganda, in order to be able t o comprehend its whole movement.Needless to say, such treatment of Uganda's past  cannot be fully tackled in a work of this size, which deals essentially with imperialist rule in Uganda under colonialism and neocolonialism. What follows are brief descriptions of the various societies, fixed in the general theoretical framework of the development of societies in general. Imperialism arrested the autonomous development of these societies , and diverted their development into an integrated world economy. Nonetheless, it is important to know, even if only schematically, the types of societies and peoples that lived in Uganda before imperialist penetration and domination, in order to establish the necessary link that explains their subjugation to dominant external forces. This period of Uganda's history requires a careful study and hence a fuller separate treatment.

History of a people is not merely a history of events, nor a chronology of occurrences. More importantly recorded history, as Marx taught, is a history of class struggles. This is so because in the course of their production activity men enter into definite social relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their productive forces. The development of these forces is either assisted or hindered by these relations. As they become a hindrance, they are smashed, and new social relations appropriate to the achieved level of the productive forces are substituted. The actions that lead to these changes are actions of men in actual production, and constitute their history, the history of class struggles. But these struggles are determined by the internal contradictions and are conditioned by the external factors. Thus the history of man must be studied in its totality, by showing how the external conditions the internal, and how the internal determines the movement of history. This is what Marx taught us as the dialectical method, a study of phenomena in their interconnectedness.

In the development of human history, society goes through stages of interconnected, not entirely stages of development.  This is because of the possibility of external factors intervening to influence the internal contradictions, the external factors themselves having been conditioned by other external factors. In this manner, society moves from one mode of production to another in a historically determined way. From the earliest primitive communist societies to the class  societies of the slave, feudal and capitalist modes, man;s history covers many thousands of years. The spans are prolonged at the primary and lower levels and very much shortened at higher levels of production. Uganda is no exception to this human history.

In his synthesis of Morgan's path-breaking study, Ancient History, Engels pointed out that historical experience revealed all societies to have at different stages traversed the path of savagery, barbarism and civilization. Civilization was attained at a stage of development when classes appeared and the state as an institution arose from society itself In the savagery stage, the group family was the primary unit, the habitat of the people was in the forests, their food was fruits, nuts and roots and their main implement was the unpolished stone, With barbarism society advanced to a pairing family. Domestication and breeding of animals became possible with developments in the productive forces. The Greeks and the Heroic Age, The Italian tribes before Rome, the Germans of Tacitus and the Normans of Vikings were at this stage of development. Lastly, civilization was marked with alphabetical writings. Monogamous marriage and family became a necessity with the rise of private property, and a class of slave-owners emerged. The iron plough was the main instrument of production. The state of slave-owners in its pure form arose at this stage in Athens, as a result of the antagonism within the gentile constitution. In Rome, where the plebs were excluded from high positions, their ultimate revolt against the gentile constitution gave rise to the establishment of a state which absorbed both aristocrats and plebs over slaves. In barbaric Germany, where no state existed, the statr arose to take care of the conquered territory of Rome.

This view of the general movement of society, as put forward by Morgan and Engels has been reinforced by the work of George Thomson on ancient Greek Society. In his study of the prehistoric Aegean Thomson confirms Morgan's findings, which help throw a lot of light on the precolonial societies in Uganda. The value of Thomson's work lies in his scientific comparative method, 'attacking all the problems all along the line' (to paraphrase De Pradenne). Thus the study of primitive society , according the Thomson, requires 'considering the nature of primitive thought in general, that is, by applying the comparative method.' He continues: 'If the problem is approached from this angle - if the ground is properly prepared - we shall find that the archeologist's spade goes deeper than is usually supposed.'

Since, he continues, the development of man's social relations is determined by the development of his tools - by production - the rich individuality of civilized thought, the complexity of our social relations, the multiple divisions of labor, the elaborate technique of industry, are all manifestations at different levels of the high development of the productive forces, by virtue of which hum,an consciousness has continuously extended its control of its environment:

"As we descend the scale, the technique of production declines, divisions of labor disappear, social organizations become simpler, the human consciousness more uniform, more immediately determined by the struggle for existence, until we reach the level of the animals."

Uganda's history forms part and parcel of this general human development. Before the advent of colonialism Uganda was occupied by diverse societies. These societies existed at very different levels of development. At the lowest were the non-stratified societies and at the highest the stratified ones, representing different levels in the development of productive forces and their relations. But even within these groups there were variations in the ways that individuals related to each other. In the non-stratified societies, the individuals related as proprietors and members of a community, who at the same time worked. The purpose of such work was not to create value
rather it was to produce useful products for the sustenance of their lives. Any surplus products could be exchanged with products of other societies for the same purpose. Since social relations were non-antagonistic, no power(called the state) stood above them and alienated itself as the interest of the whole. They existed merely as a clan community which itself was the result of the communal appropriation and utilization of the land. Among these societies, the pastoral society made its first appearance as a family. When the resultant migratory societies settled down, their community was very much conditioned by the external factors surrounding them, such as climatic, geographic and physical factors, which were determined by the internal conditions like their clan character, implements of production and models of appropriation

In the stratified societies, we notice elements of the non-stratified societies, but more importantly, new elements in the appropriation of the product appear. Instead of producing entirely for themselves, a surplus product product is appropriated by a non-working minority, the new ruling class. These class societies in Uganda took on different forms, but one element common to them all was the existence of power arising within them and not outside them, asserting itself as the common interest of the community but in actual fact representing the interest of the rising and developing dominant class. This power was non other than the state.

All this is important for rebuffing bourgeoisie obscurantism, which has held that real history came to East Africa with David Livingstone: Copland, a colonial historian, has written: "The main body of Africans had stayed for untold centuries sunk in barbarism. Such it might almost seem, had been Nature's decree. So they remained stagnant, neither going forward nor going back. The heart of Africa was scarcely beating."

This, it might be said, is a crude way of putting it, but we dare submit that latter-day social anthropology, sociology, and economics have tied us in even more refined obscurantism. In Uganda the non-stratified societies predominated in the north and the east of the country whilst the stratified ones dominated in the west and south, although in the south-east there were elements of the former group. But even among the non-stratified societies there were elements of development indicating the seed of state power. This would indicate a forward movement, but even if not, it would not nullify the laws of motion of society, for society development at times implies a backward movement caused by war, pestilence, disease, and natural calamities, making a zigzag kind of movement. In such a situation, balance is sooner or later restored, depending on concrete conditions for later forward movement.

Before proceeding to look at these two modes of production, it is appropriate to return to Morgan and Thomson. Based on the observations of the Iroquois, Morgana had concluded that the plan of government of these aborigines(then at higher barbaric level) commenced with the clans(gens) and ended with a confederacy, the latter being the highest governmental institution attained. The whole arrangement was composed of first the gens, second the phratry - an assemblage of related clans (gentes), third the tribe - an assemblage of clans organized in phratries, the members of which spoke the same dialect, and fourthly, a confederacy of tribes, the members of which spoke dialects of the same stock of language. The arrangement resulted in a 'a gentile society', as distinguished from a 'political society' or state. Each clan had its totem named after its plant or animal. The clan had common residence surrounded by gardens etc. Tillage was done with a hoe and the staple was maize. The clan had its own chief, elected by free vote of the adults of both sexes for life, but with power of deposition over him. The office tended to be hereditary. The tribal council decided all matters by unanimous decision. The multiplication of the tribes was simply, as Thomson points out, a continuance of the process of sub-division that had created the tribe itself. It was wholly egalitarian

The process begins to be reversed, however, with the confederacy and 'it is at this point that we observe, in the office of the supreme war chiefs, the first departure from the principle of equality'; and it is here that the state is at the verge of emergence

In this way all our non-stratified societies in Uganda, like the prehistoric Aegean, find explanation. The clan was the basic unit of organization. In most cases the family unit was a subdivision of the clan (gens). The clan lands to which families were entitled collectively, were owned in common. This was consistent with the type of economy, in which the level of technique of production was low, and hence in a broad sense production and consumption were alike collective. None save the very young and very old ate unless they worked. This was a necessity since with the low level of technique the surplus product was low. In some areas land nominally belonged to the chief or the head of the clan, but through him it became available for all who needed to use it. It could not be bought or sold. Naturally this kind of system presupposed a surplus in land. These societies were scattered over the entire area, mingling with class societies and at times subordinated to them. In the west were the Bakiga, the Bakonjo, and the Bamba; in the east the Sebei, the Bagisu, the Itesot, the Badama, the Banyuli, the Bagwere, the Japadhola, the Samia-Bagwe, and the Karamojong; and in the north the Acholi, the Langi, the Alur, the Madi and other peoples.

The Bamba were an Agricultural people living on the western slopes of Mount Rwenzori. Theirs was a communal society organized on clan basis. Each clan had its own elected head who settled clan disputes. The Feudal overloads of Bunyoro-Kitara made claims of tribute from them, but these were vigorously resisted. The Bamba therefore were not subdued although the overloads regarded them as free men under their protection. Later, they were brought under the subjugation of the Toro, a situation that continued even under British colonialism. Like the Bakonjo, they struggled against this domination.

The Bakonjo were similarly an agricultural people, inhabiting the eastern slopes of Mount Rwenzori. They also lived in clans. Although resisting feudal enslavement of the feudal rulers of Kitara, they were nevertheless for many years vassals of the Banyoro overlords and were treated as slaves. Like the Bamba, they were later brought under the Toro during colonialism.

The Bakiga were in the south-west of the country bordering Rwanda, Kongo, with Ankole in the north. They were agricultural people too, but pastoralists also inhabited parts of the country on the lower slopes of the mountain. They were a very independent people who resisted all forms of subjection including colonial encroachment, and for this they were branded as 'a wild race'  by colonialists who also regarded them as having very little value for life because they 'murdered friends, relatives and enemies indiscriminately'. One wonders how a society could exist at all under those circumstances. The tribe was organized in clans, each with an elder (mukungu). A large village(ekilolero) comprised several villages that lived together. The mukungu had powers of settling disputes and at times had assistants. It is said that the mukungu alone could allocate land, for a rent of a pot of beer. This however didn't imply a feudal system; such 'rent' must be regarded as signifying a movement towards state formation, and in this regard it is important to note that a system of slave-purchase existed. There was specialization in elementary production of metals, pottery and carpentry, clearly indicating a higher level of social organization.

The Sebei who inhabited the north-eastern part of Mount Elgon (as it is now called) were a semi-pastoral people, living side by side with the Bambei people. They lived in clans, and the clan chiefs were elected on the principles of a gentile constitution.

The Bagisu lived on the slopes of Mount Elgon, too. They were an agricultural people, and also lived in clans. Although traditionally the Bagisu claimed that they had always lived on the mountain, and that the first Mugisu called Muntu lived there, it is now believed by historians that they came from Abyssinia and first settled on Uasin Gishu plateau. From there, they moved to the present region after being forced out by the Nandi, Masaai and Turkana. There was some specialization in production, and a certain amount of trade on a barter basis took place internally as well as with the people of North Nyanza, from where they obtained beads, iron and cowrie shells which were used as decoration for the circumcision initiation. Like the Sebei people, they circumcised their youth, although for the Sebei it was the females, for the Bagisu its the males who went through this initiation. The peaceful expansion of the Bagisu into the slopes and plains of the mountains was hindered by constant raids by more numerous Itesot people and, according to Roscoe, 'Abyssinian and those tribes who inhabited the boarders of Abyssinia'.

The Itesot were originally a pastoral people who around the seventeenth century migrated from the present day Karamoja into present day Teso. By 1650 -1730 they were well settled around Lake Salisbury as an agricultural people, for they could now aquire hoes from their neighbors and barter them in trade with Bunyoro. They also kept cows and large flocks of sheep and goats. Their society was divided into clans, each clan with a clan head. It is recorded that at the time of colonization, there were six principal chiefs, who claimed to be owners of the land. Each had a large area under his control through sub-chiefs, and the peasant subjects made gifts of cattle and grain to them after harvest. These chiefs had powers to impose penalties for crimes committed

From this evidence it may be concluded  that some form of class society was emerging and what appears as a feudal state structure was taking shape. The surplus product described by Roscoe must have been other than the natural gift often dispensed between co-proprietors in the community. Although reputedly a peaceful people, the Itesot regularly came into hostile contact with the Bagisu, whom they harassed from time to time. Such war making would have been consistent with the demand to procure a surplus product for a new rising class.

Other people in the east included the Banyuli and the Bagwere near Mbale, who are very closely connected to the Basoga people. The Badama or Jopadhola in the south are closely akin to the Lwoo people in the north, and the Basamia-Bagwe are culturally linked to the Baluhya of western Kenya. All these people as we shall see, were brought together under one administration in Bukedi District by colonialism. The basic unit of organization in all these societies was the clan

The Karamajong in the east of the country were a pastoral people living in family units and clans. They kept large herds of cattle from which they sustained themselves. From time to time they came into contact with the Itesot and Sebei in the west. They were regarded by the colonialists as warlike and were isolated by law from the rest of the  country for 'security' purposes, a law that continued till independence.

In the north the main unstratified societies were the Acholi, Langi and Alur. As indicated earlier, they were at different levels of development, and some were developing elements of state power. It is recorded that the people of Lango separated from the Jie and moved to the west of Mount Otukei region. This brought them in contact with the Acholi, with whom they were regularly in conflict. It is also recorded that the present Langi are culturally related to the Lwoo, who used to live in this area and included the Acholi. Political organization was based on age groups of a highly specialized kind, the gentile constitution was applied in electing the Twon Lwak (Bull of the people), who was a military commander. Among the Acholi too the existence of a military commander signified a generally concentrating state structure, consistent with the overpowering  of the clan and the need to wage war to accumulate robbed wealth.

This transition of warfare for wealth has its origin in a relatively developed division of labor within the confines of a basically communal society. The development of metal tools, which enabled production to increase above subsistence, further intensified the already existing natural division of labor. The possibility of a surplus above the subsistence enabled a specialized body of men to engage in producing these means of production, on the basis of which they obtained their livelihood. Thus emerged the smiths, masons, tanners and so forth, and their specialty in turn improved techniques of production, and vice versa. Thus in addition to the chiefs there arose a new body of surplus consumers, the artisans who worked for the community and were paid by them with their surplus product.

But for these relations to be consolidated there was need for a certain concentration of power, hence the rise of the chiefs. These now received regular tribute in the form of tithes or labor services, which at this stage were given freely by the clansmen as due return for the services received; in time this included protection from marauders. Hence the need arose for the chief to be a military commander. But warfare could only be waged with weapons, and herein lay the identical interest of the artisans and the chiefs. As Thomson aptly observes: "Working with copper and bronze, the artisans invent for them a new implement, the sword, with which they appropriate forcibly the surplus of neighboring communities. Warfare becomes an industry."

Apart from the internal trade that developed on this basis, with the chiefs at the center of the exchange, these developments led to a higher social formation of class rule. In Lango, Acholi, Lugbra and Teso this had not yet arisen, but now we are able to see class rule emerging in Uganda on the basis of plunder and enslavement. Now able to obtain a lion's share of the land and the loot from these wars, the chiefs were able to obtain the free services of slaves taken in war, and with the surplus product they were able to engage in exchange. Now was the stage where the chief's village also became a meeting place and a market place, where at first the chiefs bartered their surplus products for the products of other communities. Among the Bakiga, for instance, the monopoly enjoyed by a few families and the chiefs over iron-making, as Turyahika-Rugyema has observed became the basis for the development of exchange between the Kayonza and the Rwanda peoples. The monopoly was part of the group's need to accumulate weapons of war. But eventually once the technique became generalized, it waspossible for a special number of people to engage in the specialized production and exchange, embracing a wider nexus, resulting into the transformation of social relations. The privilege of the chief was exposed and could nolonger be justified as gift, since the chief produced for profit. The artisans also ceased to be workers 'for the community' and began to operate on commercial basis. Thus the chiefs and the artisans became alienated from the clan. The chiefs consolidated themselves into guilds on the pattern of the clan.

This conditions appeared in their sharpest relief in the first class society - imperial Bunyoro-Kitara. Here the local smith was a respected dignitary. According to Uzoigwe iron-making was monopolized  by guild members, who divided themselves into two groups, the smelters and the smiths proper:

"The smelters lived in virtual seclusion from the rest of the population. They lived in make-shift huts and worked in groups of ten to twenty .  . . The smiths on the other hand had to buy the pieces of iron necessary for their craft from the smelters. Kitara held a near monopoly over its neighbors in the production of iron, and even in the manufacture of certain iron implements fro Kitara. Banyoro today blame colonial rule for the declined of their iron industry."

To be continued.
COMPILED BY MAKUMBI KAYIIRA SOLOMON
CONSULTANT.
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sol_drethedon

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