The House of Oduduwa: An Archaeological Study of Economy and Kingship in the Sav?? Hills of West Africa.

by Andrew W. Gurstelle

Institution: University of Michigan
Department: Anthropology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: political economy; Yoruba; historical archaeology; African political institutions; Atlantic West African archaeology; Anthropology and Archaeology; Social Sciences
Record ID: 2060427
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/111593


Since at least the late first millennium CE, West African societies have participated in long-distance trade networks that linked the region with the rest of Africa and beyond. Over the past half century, archaeological research has documented how African elites actively manipulated these networks to create powerful states. This work has led to an understanding of the intersections between trade, centralization and political economy. Comparatively little attention has been given to the local economies of centralized states: practices such as agriculture, craft production, and labor organization that formed the basis of economic life and underwrote participation in long-distance exchange. Even less is known about the economies and organization of polities not engaged in long-distance exchange. This dissertation presents the first systematic archaeological research of the Shabe kingdom of the central Republic of B??nin. Shabe was and continues to be affiliated with the Ife dynastic field???a network of loosely integrated polities borrowing political symbols and concepts of kingship from Ile-Ife. Research combined reconnaissance survey, intensive transect survey, and test excavations to establish a settlement chronology spanning from Shabe???s foundation around 1600 CE to the end of French colonial rule in 1960. Archaeological evidence is linked to oral histories to produce a model of political, economic, material culture, and landscape change across this period. Shabe political legitimacy was achieved both through appeals to external power structures and control of local economic resources. In both realms, legitimacy was fragile. There is little evidence that Shabe was directly ruled by any non-local polity. There is more evidence for interactions between Shabe elites and distant polities, but even this is limited. Similarly, there is little evidence that Shabe???s rulers exerted centralized control over the local economy. Instead, the Shabe economy in all periods is typical of a frontier economy, in which migrants replicate and adapt the practices of the nearby mature economies that they emigrated from. This finding supports the hypothesis that pre-colonial Shabe political institutions exercised power creatively rather than instrumentally.. Shabe elites were able to control labor and resources through consensus-building, rather than coercion, force, or exclusive access to wealth.