chapter  10
36 Pages

Societies of secrets: Farmers and metallurgists

Constance B. Hilliard has written eloquently that the “absence of literacy does not preclude wisdom and a reverence for knowledge” (Hilliard 1997, p. 32). Africans have maintained a thorough interaction with the environment, nature, society, and the idea of ancestral wisdom for a very long time. Societies have risen and fallen, appeared and disappeared, and yet the overarching attitudes of Africans toward human relationships and familiarity with the mysterious world of ancestors have remained intact. While groups often referred to as “secret societies,” but which are really “societies of secrets,” represent the accumulated knowledge of a community they are not the only sources of that accumulation. In fact, numerous empires and kingdoms, some quite quixotic, as in the case of Dahomey, and others brilliant in their execution of cultural forms, such as Edo, have interpreted their interactions with nature, relationships, and the environment quite well; there is evidence, as in all societies, of some untested approaches to phenomena. Nevertheless, the kingdoms and empires presented in this chapter might be read and studied for their impact on our overall understanding of Africa. It is with this reason in mind that I have discussed these societies.