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Studies on the history of West-Central Africa

Project leader and main academic participant: Dr Beatrix Heintze

This project was completed in 2008.

1.) Kinship and politics in West-Central Africa in the nineteenth century

Kin ties, especially nepotism and targeted, linked marriage relations, have always played a prominent political role, especially in the elites of pre-modern societies. In areas like Central Africa, for which no written sources going back along way are available, the influence of kin ties on politics usually cannot be pinned down. The ethnographic studies of the nineteenth century were mostly only interested in generalised stocktaking, not in political processes or the events of day-to-day politics.

Henrique Dias de Carvalho's detailed, multi-volume report on his expedition to the Lunda Commonwealth (1884-1888) is therefore a stroke of good fortune for this theme. A careful reading of this source shows how much concepts of "kinship" in the Central Africa of that time determined political discourse, not only on the local level, such as village communities, or on the ethnic level, as among the Rund or Lunda, but also translocally or transethnically between linguistically and culturally differentiated ethnic groups or peoples separated from one another, for example between the Rund/Lunda and the Chokwe or the Mbangala, between Central African peoples and Luso-Africans from Portuguese Angola, and even between the King of Portugal and the King of Rund/Lunda. The focus of the research, therefore - in addition to the metaphorical use of kin terms and the politics of marriage - is in particular the postulated genealogical kinship between individual ethnic groups or peoples in the context of concrete political conflicts.

The documented, many-sided, translocal ties of "kinship" of this century must be analysed in the context of the dramatically increasing changes in the political economy of Central Africa, especially in the second half of the century. Key words for this - after the transition from the Atlantic slave trade to the so-called "legitimate" trade of the strongly increasing long-distance commerce in relatively rapidly changing African export goods (wax, ivory, rubber) - are the increasing slave trade within Africa that resulted, the migration of the Chokwe that was closely associated with these changes, and the decline of the once powerful Lunda Commonwealth that was accelerated by all these and other processes.


2.) Angola in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: studies on sources, methods an history

A project supported by the Angolan Ministry of Culture consisting of a book and its Portuguese translation in cooperation with Marina Santos (Lisbon), completed with its publication in Luanda, Angola, in 2007.


3.) Book project: Angola on the Move: Transport Routes, Communication and History

This is the result of a conference organized by Beatrix Heintze and Achim von Oppen at the Centre for the Modern Orient in Berlin with the support of the Volkswagen Foundation. A selection of the papers have been revised and published in a collected volume which appeared in Spring 2008.