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3.0 out of 5 stars Old-fashioned Ethnography, 16 April 2014
This review is from: Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar and Saho (Ethnographic survey of Africa) (Hardcover)
This is the 1994 edition of I M Lewis’s book originally published in 1955, based on the literature available then, mostly dating from the 1890s to 1930s. It also includes one Appendix based on Lewis’s own fieldwork between 1955 and 1964, and the prefaces to the 1969 and 1994 reprints: apart from these newer parts, it reflects the state of knowledge of around 60 years ago. The book was originally published as part of the Ethnographic Survey of Africa begun in 1945, just at a time when Africa was starting to undergo major social and political changes which made that survey largely redundant.

Although it is subtitled Somali, Afar and Saho, over three-quarters of the main text and all the appendices are devoted to the Somali people, with less than three pages to the Saho and around a dozen to the Afar. The 1955 content follows the general format of the Ethnographic Survey of Africa series, with sections on the language, internal subdivisions, environment, economy, social and political organisation, cultural features and religion of the peoples described. This is full for the Somali but scanty for the Afar and particularly the Saho, neither of whom had received much previous study. Each section is concise and contains statistics and descriptions of apparently unchanging societies with little analysis or discussion. This format is consistent with the aim of the series to provide handbooks for those involved in colonial administration and development.

The Appendix on population and land use based on Lewis’s fieldwork in the 1950s and 1960s is less stereotyped and more informative particularly as (unlike the main text) it deals with the effects of political, economic and social changes after 1945.

The main interest of this book is largely historical and as a background to Lewis’s later work on Somali history, society and politics. Because, apart from its Appendix population and land use, it contains little original scholarship, it is not really a classic comparable to Evans Prichard’s works on the Azande or Nuer but it does show how much anthropology has changed in the last 60 years.
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S. Smith
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Location: London UK

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