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The Waswahili: The social history of an ethnic group1

  • W. Arens

Definitional questions, such as ‘Who are the Waswahili’, posed by Eastman (1971) in this journal, appear to have been of little interest in the past, as many social anthropologists either ignored the problem or assumed that the answers were self-evident. However, those who have confronted this task have shown that simplicity and self-evidence is rarely a characteristic feature of the inquiry. Even classic ethnographic cases of supposed culturally homogeneous and distinct tribal groups are at present being re-examined in light of the renewed interest in this topic (cf. Helm, 1968). Whether or not the Nuer are the Dinka, or vice versa, it has been minimally established that such questions are legitimate and even fruitful in sharpening our analytical approach to subject populations.

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