chapter  8
16 Pages

Tribes Without Rulers? Indigenous Systems of Governance and Sustainable Rural Development

Even so, the question remains as to what it means to declare a people as “tribes without rulers,” “stateless,” “uncentralized,” or “acephalous.” In one of the seminal works in this area of classification, African Political Systems, three distinct types of political systems were identified. Among them is the uncentralized system, which I am concerned with in this chapter. By “uncentralized,” Middleton and Tait are of the view that “there is no holder of political power at the centre, and specialized roles with clearly defined authority are less easy to find” (1958: 2). This viewpoint is rather questionable. What do they mean by “no holder of political power at the centre”? Who defines the center or what is meant by political power in this religiocultural context? The situation becomes clearer when Meyer Fortes draws his conclusion on the basis that, prior to the British occupation of the area, the people in the north-eastern corridors of the then Gold Coast had no individual person in central authority to exact tax, tribute, and services from the rest of the inhabitants or to rally them together for the purposes of war. Consequently, Fortes drew a conclusion that “They had, in short, no ‘tribal’ government or ‘tribal’ citizenship, no centralized State exercising legislative, administrative, juridical and military functions in the interest of the whole society” (Fortes 1940: 241).