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The importance of ethnography to the study of African history

Ethnography is the study of the evolution of crafts and skills of a people over the years to reconstruct the history of their early days. It is one of the sources that are available to the African historian in the writing of African history. Ethnography is important to the study of African history for many reasons.

It helps to understand traditional political system of today
Ethnography is important to the study of African history because it helps the writers of African history to understand current traditional political systems in Africa. In Nigeria, for example, ethnography is able to help historians understand the political structure of the Yoruba and the origin of the Oba-ship or kingship among them.

Helps to understand how the modern world is technologically arranged
Another reason why ethnography is important to African history is that it helps the historian to comprehend modern technological arrangements. It, for example, helps in understanding why the people of Bowere, in Ghana, are involved in kente weaving as an industry, why also the people of Vume in the Volta Region of Ghana are in the business of portery and last but not least, why the Yorubas and the Ibos of Nigeria are into beads.

Helps to understand African rituals and festivals
Ethnography is important for another reason. It allows for the study of African rituals and festivals. With this deep study, historians get deeper insight into why certain rituals were performed in the past and why they are still important to the communities today. The celebration of the festival of yam in many parts of West Africa sheds light on the history of the people.

Helps to determine the extent of an ancient civilization
Another reason why ethnography is important to the historian is that it helps him or her to be able to determine the height of an ancient civilization. It helps to determine ancient architecture, and skills in the area of art and craft. It was in the field of ethnography that the civilization of Egypt, Nilotic Sudan and the Kalahari Desert was revealed.

Helps to determine the economic activities of the period
Finally, ethnography is important because it helps to determine the types of economic activities that pertained in the period and which of them the people were actively engaged in. It also helps to determined which kinds of people they had contact with, politically, socially and economically and also interactions with close neighbours and with people who came from far away. A branch of ethnography, called ethno-botany, also helps to determine the plant species that were cultivated by the people and which groups of people they traded with within their enclave and beyond. For example, ethnography helped to determine how and when the African continent interacted with Europe and the Asian world.

1. Show the importance of ethnography as a source of African history.

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