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Medicinal Rule: A Historical Anthropology of Kingship in East and Central Africa

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Volume 35

Methodology & History in Anthropology

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Medicinal Rule

A Historical Anthropology of Kingship in East and Central Africa

Koen Stroeken

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328 pages, 14 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-984-4 25% OFF! $130.00/£92.00 $97.50/£69.00 Hb Published (September 2018)

eISBN 978-1-78533-985-1 eBook

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“Admirably clearly written… [the volume exhibits] high scholarship, methodological ingenuity, and sound use of history.” • David Parkin, University of Oxford


As soon as Europeans set foot on African soil, they looked for the equivalents of their kings – and found them. The resulting misunderstandings have lasted until this day. Based on ethnography-driven regional comparison and a critical re-examination of classic monographs on some forty cultural groups, this volume makes the arresting claim that across equatorial Africa the model of rule has been medicine – and not the colonizer’s despotic administrator, the missionary’s divine king, or Vansina’s big man. In a wide area populated by speakers of Bantu and other languages of the Niger-Congo cluster, both cult and dynastic clan draw on the fertility shrine, rainmaking charm and drum they inherit.

Koen Stroeken is Associate Professor in Africanist anthropology at Ghent University (CARAM) and the coordinator of a long-term academic exchange with Mzumbe University, Tanzania. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among Sukuma healers, his publications – including the monograph Moral Power (2010, Berghahn) – mainly deal with African cosmologies and the sensory materiality of magic.

Subject: General Anthropology Colonialism
Area: Africa


Tables and figures
Note on Language
List of Abbreviations of Referenced Works

Introduction: Endogenous Kingship


Chapter 1. The Forest Within
Chapter 2. Beyond Turner’s Watershed Division


Chapter 3. A Sukuma Chief on Medicine
Chapter 4. Endogenizing Vansina’s Equatorial Tradition
Chapter 5. From Cult to Dynasty: Nilotic and Niger–Congo Extensions
Chapter 6. Magic and the Sole Mode of Production
Chapter 7. Tio Shrines of the Forest Master


Chapter 8. Kuba, Kongo and Buganda ‘Miracles’: Reversions in Transition
Chapter 9. From Divinatory to Ceremonial State: Narrative Proof from Rwanda

Conclusion: Reversible Transitions


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