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Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History…
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Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in…

by Jan M. Vansina

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This book has now become something of a classic, and I bought it for background in teaching Africa in a world history class. It attempts to trace the history of the Bantu expansion in, roughly speaking, the western Congo basin [primarily by relying on deduction from the comparative dating of languages in the Western Bantu group. When originally written, it was challenging the then still popular view that the people of the rainforest had no meaningful history, not just because they lacked written records but also because their culture was assumed to have been static for millennia. Vansina has, I think, been successful I persuading many scholars that it is worthwhile to try to study the past history of social developments in the region, particular the Bantu expansion, but I gather from reading other articles than not everyone agrees with his particular reconstruction. ( )
  antiquary | Jul 8, 2015 |
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Vansina's scope is breathtaking: he reconstructs the history of the forest lands that cover all or part of southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Zaire, the Central African Republic, and Cabinda in Angola, discussing the original settlement of the forest by the western Bantu; the periods of expansion and innovation in agriculture; the development of metallurgy; the rise and fall of political forms and of power; the coming of Atlantic trade and colonialism; and the conquest of the rainforests by colonial powers and the destruction of a way of life. "In 400 elegantly brilliant pages Vansina lays out five millennia of history for nearly 200 distinguishable regions of the forest of equatorial Africa around a new, subtly paradoxical interpretation of 'tradition.'"--Joseph Miller, University of Virginia "Vansina gives extended coverage ... to the broad features of culture and the major lines of historical development across the region between 3000 B.C. and A.D. 1000. It is truly an outstanding effort, readable, subtle, and integrative in its interpretations, and comprehensive in scope. ... It is a seminal study ... but it is also a substantive history that will long retain its usefulness."-Christopher Ehret, American Historical Review
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