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Caste in Africa?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2012

Extract

Eminent Indologists have stated that it is inappropriate to use the word ‘caste’ in non-Hindu contexts. Despite such warnings numerous Africanists have used the term, with varying degrees of imprecision. In this paper I first outline different emphases which have appeared in the literature concerning caste in India; then discuss several examples of hierarchical systems in Africa which have been described as ‘caste’. Finally, I focus upon my own fieldwork data concerning the Dime of South-West Ethiopia, amongst whom there operates a system which can, I believe, be unequivocally labelled caste.

Résumé

LA CASTE EN AFRIQUE?

D'éminents indologistes ont déclaré que l'usage du mot ‘caste’ était incorrect en dehors d'un contexte Hindou. En dépit de ce genre de mise en garde, de nombreux africanistes ont utilisé ce terme d'une manière plus ou moins imprécise. Dans le présent rapport je souligne d'abord les aspects particuliers relevés dans les publications relatives aux castes en Inde; la conclusion à laquelle j'aboutis est qu'on ne saurait justifier la restriction de l'usage de ce terme au seul continent indien.

Je passe ensuite en revue certains exemples de situations en Afrique à propos desquelles le terme caste a été utilisé. Je conclus, en me basant sur Nadel, que l'on doit s'attendre à trouver dans un vrai système de caste les concepts de ‘purete’ et de ‘souillure’. Si l'on à cela la division multiple du travail caractéristique de la caste, aspect qu'avait souligné Leach, on a alors un concept qui permet d'adopter une attitude pluri-culturelle tout en conservant son utilité au niveau de l'analyse.

L'application de ce concept à la situation qui existe au Ruanda montre qu'il n'y a pas là des castes, mais des ‘quasi-castes. J'examine ensuite certaines publications ayant trait a deux peuples éthiopiens, les Gurage et les Konso. Tous deux ont un systeme social bipolaire avec d'un côté les agriculteurs occupant un rang superieur et de Pautre les artisans responsables de toute 'souillure'. En l'absence de toute hiérarchie d'ensemble, il ne semble pas justifiable d'appliquer le terme de caste à ces groupes d'artisans.

Enfin j'examine la stratification sociale qui existe chez les Dime, peuple de la province Gemu Gofa dans le Sud-Ouest de l'Ethiopie et parmi lesquels j'ai effectué mes recherches. Les Dime ont sept castes dont la taille varie considérablement: chacune est rangée selon un ordre qui s'appuie sur les notions de pureté, de non-pureté et d'impureté. On fait appel aux concepts de souillure afin de limiter les contacts entre les catégories et afin de préserver la pureté des castes supérieures qui doivent entrer en contact avec Dieu et les esprits qui protègent le pays. Ce système se rapproche autant du modèle classique de caste que plusieurs sociétés indiennes qui ont été étudiées selon ces termes. Je crois que toute autre recherche dans ce domaine renforcera l'affirmation que j'ai faite ici, à savoir qu'il y a bel et bien caste en Afrique.

Type
Research Article
Information
Africa , Volume 47 , Issue 4 , October 1977 , pp. 398 - 412
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 1977

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References

REFERENCES

Banks, M. 1960 ‘Caste in Jaffna, ’ in Aspects of Caste, Leach, E. (ed.) Cambridge.Google Scholar
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