Well-Known Member
Jun 8, 2004
This page gives us a little primer on Social Justice in African societies... interesting webpage, as well as, website... Read On...

by Alyward Shorter



Generalizations about traditional Africa are always dangerous because of the distances of time and space that are involved. How far, for example, does " traditional Africa " co-exist with " modern Africa or is it wholly a thing of the past? The question is a difficult one. One cannot deny that there are many threads of continuity, linking the past with the present, the old social order with the new, but how important are the elements of discontinuity? One of the assumptions behind this paper is that the discontinuities are of diminishing importance and that traditional concepts survive because they find a new dimension and a new application in the modern situation. Traditional Africa " is now history, mainly oral history, but that does not mean to say it can be ignored. On the contrary, to recognize traditional concepts and to understand their workings in the modern Africa, it is first of all necessary to see them as part of a political and social order which no longer exists in its pure form. That is largely what we shall be doing in this paper.

Again, one cannot speak and write about Africa as if it were a single, homogeneous society, or even a series of isolated, ethnic groups, all basically similar or comparable. On the contrary, Africa is (and was) socially and culturally very fragmented indeed. To begin with, there are very diverse physical environments, to which the various human groups have adapted themselves economically and socially in relative isolation. Then, again, there has been no uniformity in these adaptations, but rather a multiplicity of independent traditions and inventions even in the same, or similar, environments. The different traditions and Systems have, moreover, been modified in different ways, according to the impact of historic personalities and the historic contact between ethnic groups. The result is a bewildering variety of social and political systems, of languages, cultures and religions.

In spite of this discouraging pluralism it is possible to discern certain regularities. This is principally because of the extraordinary flexibility and absorbability of traditional African societies, which exchanged ideas and practices over wide areas without the need for great movements of peoples, conquests or reforms. Local cultures accepted ideal on their own terms, integrating them into their own systems of thought and symbolism. The consequence of all this is that, while there is no single concept of social justice which can be called universally African, there are a number of differing experiences which have a relatively wide currency. These experiences relate to different social levels: the family community and the political structure; and to the different styles of life dictated by the various environments and cultural traditions.

Before dealing with these different social experiences in turn, it is necessary to describe the operation of "justice " and " law " in pre-industrial societies in very general terms. This will provide a background for all that follows.

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