Frobenius in West African History Author(s): J. M. Ita Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 13, No. 4 (1972), pp.

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. less autonomous. Indeed his somewhat uncritical approach to Frobenius is unlikely to elicit the sober kind of re-appraisal which is required.Journal of African History. (Vita. trans. Elsewhere in this article my quotations are from the German scholarly edition-abbreviated UAS. Willett and Ife'. 2 Kalous. LII. Frobenius wrote only as follows: It is even possible that one day. ix (1968). M. see 'Das Schrifttum von Leo Frobenius' contained in Leo Frobenius: ein Lebenswerkaus der Zeit der Kulturwende (Leipzig. . in the forests or among the lagoons. Inter Nationes. 319-20. 1968).) 44 AH XIII .. 4 (1972). For example. no. . 8. Heft 2. The same publisher also produced the scholarly edition (Wissenschaftlich erweiterte Ausgabe) containing much additional material and appearing in 3 volumes. van den Steinen and others. For a more recent bibliography see that at the end of Freda Kretschmar's Leo Frobenius (Cyclostyled. he seems to be unaware of reasons why this should be so. somewhereon the coast or inland. Bd. Berlin-Charlottenburg. xIII. 3 Frobenius. Moreover. less harmoniousart forms [than those found at Ife] will be excavated. Hist. Some Hypotheses . (Volksausgabe). ITA HISTORY A CALL for the re-examination of Frobenius's works has been made in several articles by Dr Milan Kalous. In this essay I wish to suggest that in spite of the shortcomings of Frobenius's archaeological and 1 E.3 This statement is so sweeping that it can be said to have 'predicted' almost any archaeological find between the Atlantic Coast and the Sahara.' to which Kalous refers. London. Deutsches Verlagshaus. For a bibliography of Frobenius's work up to 1932. 66I. 'Some Hypotheses about the Art of Southern Nigeria' in Afrika und Obersee. 1912-13).l In this essay. Dr Kalous states in at least two of his articles2 that Frobenius 'predicted' the discovery of the Nok culture. Milan Kalous. Und Afrika Sprach . and 'Frobenius. But at the same time it is necessary to point out that the reasons justifying such a re-examination are quite other than those which have been advanced by Dr Kalous. 1933) compiled by Rhotert. and 'Frobenius. Unfortunately. 2 vols. and the very exuberance of the claims made may lead other historians to reject them.. 673-688 Printed in Great Britain 673 FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN BY J. or unwilling to concede that there may be any reasons for objecting to Frobenius's work on methodological grounds. 1913) is a translation only of the popular edition. Willett and Ife' in the . though Dr Kalous implies that Frobenius's work is neglected (which is certainly true). it is my concern to support the call for a re-examination. Rudolf Blind (Hutchinson. I969. 4. Afr. and most of the material contained in vol. a site will be discovered where older. pp.. the English translation The Voice of Africa. Yet in the passage of 'Und Afrika Sprach .g. 3 of the German scholarly edition is omitted. I. (This is the German popular edition..

ITA anthropological methods. Frobenius divides the peoples of West Africa (and indeed of Africa as a whole) into 'Hamites' (i. The Voice of Africa.674 J. therefore. it will be almost impossible for the reader of the present article to assess the significance of Frobenius in West African history without some knowledge of the assumptions on which Frobenius's work is based. eds. the historian will need to examine Frobenius's statements critically in order to assess their reliability. A discussion of the latter will be found in my article 'Frobenius. Unfortunately. or in Ife in 910ois now 'history' rather than anthropology and should concern the historian of early twentieth century West Africa. Frobenius was a man of his day in that he never questioned the right of European powers to their African colonies. but was a purely cultural classification. Unfortunately. and of the ideological framework within which he applied his methods and obtained his data. M. In Frobenius's view the 'Hamitic' state-formers had been rendered lazy by their reliance on slave labour. What happened in Togo in I908. III of the scholarly edition of Und Afrika sprach5 and is not included in the English translation. because it is explicitly stated only in Vol. and elsewhere. It is the observations and actions which matter. My purpose in this article is to consider Frobenius's methods and actual observations as distinct from his general ideas. Forthcoming). 4 In Modes of Thought. to the detriment of his actual observations and actions in Togo. bearing in mind the particular bias of the writer. 6 See note 3 above.e. this fact is seldom recognized. It is essential to stress that for Frobenius-unlike many German ethnologists-the division of peoples into 'Hamitic' and 'Ethiopian' had nothing to do with race or colour. Nigeria. He argues passionately that the policy of governing non-state-forming 'Ethiopians' (such as the Tiv) through the agency of state-forming 'Hamites' (such as the Hausa) should be discontinued. Within the West African context both groups are equally black. Colonial rule. Of course. state-forming peoples) and 'Ethiopians' (non-state-forming peoples). nor did he ever envisage the emergence of independent African states.4 However. his work is of value to the West African historian. while the 'Ethiopians' were hardworking and vigorous. He argues that they should be trained. is taken for granted. but only in the same sense as he would have to assess the reliability of any other historical document. Senghor and the Image of Africa'. Robin Horton and Ruth Murray (Faber and Faber. It will therefore be necessary for me to preface my examination of Frobenius's methods with a brief recapitulation of those of his ideas which are most relevant to the West African scene. so as to make them. . Frobenius's theories about the remote African past-in particular his 'Atlantic' theory of West African culture-have received much attention. But it is difficult to understand Frobenius's work in West Africa unless one understands that much of it is conceived within the framework of an attack on Indirect Rule.

the Kabre are classified as 'Ethiopians'. Berlin.8 In addition. and his Atlantic theory of Yoruba culture (as indeed the present author does). Schicksalskunde (Weimar. Senghor and the Image of Africa'. arising from his identification of the 'Hamites' with the French. This seems to approximate them to the category of 'Hamite'. 7 UAS. I. If so.7 Thus. and Frobenius regarded their culture as a 'degenerate' survival from a more noble past. Munich. particularly after I9I8. The Voice of Africa.6 There is. in. this is unfortunate. An examination of Frobenius's data on the 'Hamites' shows that they have very little connexion with the 'conclusions' supposedly derived from them (the latter being an expression of what Frobenius felt about the French). I propose. Frobenius's admiration for the 'Ethiopians' is strongly coloured by his belief in their usefulness to the colonial power. 9 Frobenius. 'be taken under our leadership'. but should. to ignore them. Frobenius regarded the 'Hamites' as 'akin to' the French and the Anglo-Saxons. on examination. in this article. and perhaps explains how Frobenius manages to admire Yoruba culture while rather disliking the people themselves. in Frobenius's work. the erroneous nature of Frobenius's conclusions springs from a failure in logic.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 675 an essential part of our valuable and productivecolonial empire. 163. the Yoruba are not explicitly classified. but they are undoubtedly 'state-formers'. as Frobenius says. Das Unbekannte Afrika (Beck. tended. a strong bias towards idealizing the 'Ethiopians' and denigrating the 'Hamites' in an effort to show that the former are too good to be governed through the agency of the latter. to be a projection of German resentment of the Anglo-French victory in the First World War. that many of his empirical observations appear to have been surprisingly reliable. loc. so the incorrectness of the 'conclusions' proves nothing as to the correctness or otherwise of the observations themselves. 5-6. Of the peoples discussed in the present essay. Thus. cit. while the 'Ethiopians' were akin to the Germans. 1923). in some detail. . Hence. and Vom Kulturreich des Festlandes (Wegweiser Verlag.9 And as I have tried to show in 'Frobenius. 8 Frobenius. Aspects of Frobenius's thought such as those outlined above may well have discouraged scholars from paying serious attention to the data Frobenius collected in the field. since they are the most significantlabour force in our African colonies. 1938). 79. historians may reject Frobenius's 'Hamitic'/'Ethiopian' dichotomy. II8. and to confine myself to discussing. Since the objections one may have to Frobenius's generalizations and conclusions are largely irrelevant to his actual observations in the field. Frobenius's statements about the 'Hamites' vis-a-vis the 'Ethiopians'. the objections which may be made to his anthropological and archaeological field-method-with particular reference to Nigeria and 6 UAS. I923). I86-7. III. as Frobenius worked on them before his system was fully developed. and nevertheless find.

. Frobenius did not hold that cultural 'diffusion' 10 Audrey Richards. Apart from this. M. advances in excavation techniques have led modern archaeologists to discount much of the work that was done before these techniques were evolved. one generally sees Frobenius described as an 'ethnographer'-a term which hardly any modern anthropologist would apply to himself. the comparative method implied a universalist approach rather in the modified sense that he believed it would lead him to an understanding of the development of 'Human Civilization' as such. See also Ruth Benedict. In order to understand why modern Anglo-American anthropologists generally ignore Frobenius's work. Consequently his approach is no longer felt to be relevant to current problems in anthropology. but which was commonly used in Frobenius's day. and in what circumstances such evidence was destroyed. One may crudely summarize the situation by saying that anthropologists dismiss Frobenius because the theoretical framework of anthropology has changed radically since Frobenius's day.676 J. It is of undoubted value to the historian to know where. Patterns of Culture (Mentor Books Reprint. In reading accounts of the history of anthropology. Penguin Books (I969). 44. so that he is aware of where the gaps in his knowledge are likely to be. 'Bronislav Malinowski' in The Founding Fathers of Social Science (ed. (ii) that it was comparative. Contrary to popular belief.and hence make it possible to reconstruct movementsof peoplesfromone regionor continentto another. An assessment of these objections will help towards a critical evaluation of Frobenius's work as historical source material. even the actual defects of Frobenius's methods should be of interest to the historian. or of deriving from them knowledge about 'universal human nature'). I89. viz. Frobenius destroyed a considerable amount of archaeological evidence in Ife. as we shall see. In describing the anthropologists (or 'ethnographers') of this period. it will be necessary to discuss some of the developments in this discipline in the twentieth century. and what kind of evidence was most liable to destruction. In Frobenius's case. I953). Timothy Raison). involving the study of widely different areas (often in the hope of tracing the cultures found there back to a common origin. For example.10 the This description highlights two elements which were central to Frobenius's approach. (i) that being concerned with the origins of peoples and civilizations it involves hypothetical reconstructions of past history (very often of preliterate societies). ITA Togo. but the reasons which led both groups to dismiss his work deserve to be discussed in some detail. similarly. Audrey Richards writes that they were: mainly interestedin studies of the distributionof customs and artefactswhich would show the contact of one people with another.

African scholars. 13 A. I953). But. i. R.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 677 necessarily implied a mass migration of peoples. the only valid way of studying such societies was synchronically. 372. See also David Bidney. 12 Audrey Richards. as it was called. They can also afford to ignore any Functionalist attacks on Frobenius if these are based only on the fact that his approach was 'historical'. and thus excludes from its programme the study of social change. (Societaits-Verlag. will probably (quite rightly) continue to reject any brand of anthropology which scorns the diachronic approach. revolutionary changes in the theoretical framework of anthropological studies led to a rejection of the historical and comparative approaches and an abandonment of the interest in origins which had underlain the dispute between 'diffusionists' and 'evolutionists'. vii. 7 vols. Since social change must. therefore. cit. 284 and John Beattie.e. they have been brought up to reject the historical and the comparative approach-in other words everything that Frobenius stood for. The majority of well-known contemporary British anthropologists were trained by Malinowski or Radcliffe-Brown or their disciples. I80. Radcliffe-Brown. Theoretical Anthropology (Columbia University Press. by studying the society as it existed at a given time. Audrey Richards's characterization of what I shall call 'the ethnographic approach' is a faithful description of Frobenius's attitude. In Africa in particular (as in other underdeveloped countries) the problem of national development is such that the indigenous scholar is virtually compelled to concern himself with social change.l2 A. R. I89-90. One of the most urgent problems confronting the anthropologist or sociologist today is undoubtedly the study of social change. . It is therefore easy to see why they refuse him serious attention. I. After the First World War. op. and explaining how it functioned as a whole-customs being interpreted in terms of their contribution to the maintenance of the total social structure. See also Iv. Thus a culture can gradually spread [literally "seep"] further without any significant movement of peoples. R. cit. 270. op.). I925-30). the total rejection of the historical approach can only be a hindrance to modern anthropological studies. it cannot be understood at all if the diachronic approach is rigidly excluded. of necessity. take place over a period of time. Radcliffe-Brown' in Timothy Raison.13 The Functionalist school. under the guidance of Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski has dominated British anthropology since the thirties. 'A. Erlebte Erdteile: Ergebnisse eines deutschen Forscherlebens (abbreviated EE. indeed. the Functionalists were right to insist that pre-literate societies (or. first published 1932 (New York. Radcliffe-Brown argued that since there was no scientific way of verifying hypotheses about the historical past of pre-literate societies. He considered that something like cultural 'seepage' often took place across ethnic boundaries. Frankfurt.' Frobenius. I964). however misguided some of Frobenius's historical reconstructions may have been. any other societies) could not be understood as a sort of 'rag-bag of savage 11 Frobenius writes: 'Since no people is without contacts an exchange generally takes place at the [cultural] boundaries." But apart from this. The Andaman Islanders. Clearly.

As we have already seen. after the First World War they were defective judged by the standards of his own day. As Audrey Richards. it changes as a system. Bronislav Malinowski (ed. i.travellersor administrators collected facts for him in the field. op. judged by modern standards they were defective. in the introduction to Volkserzahlungenund aus Volksdichtungen dem Zentral-Sudanl7 (which contains Hausa and Nupe Bidney. generally records stories and oral traditions without mentioning whether he collected them at first or second hand. as far as possible. It follows that social change can be adequately studied only if the synchronic and diachronic approaches are used in conjunction with each other. M. participate in their social life. 7. the 'arm-chair' method cannot. for example. which were formerly untestable. The defects of Frobenius's method of collecting anthropological material are fairly evident even to the layman. cit.678 J. the changes are not random or piece-meal but are all interconnected.16 Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski insisted not only that anthropologists should make their own observations in the field. and should. Thus. Haven. Frobenius. in her description of pre-Functionalist anthropologists. Atlantis: Volksmderchn und Volksdichtungen Afrikas. cit. may now have been rendered verifiable by recent advances in archaeological technique. 192I-8). although his field work methods certainly did not fulfil the requirements of the Functionalists. notes: It was generallytaken for grantedthat the anthropologistwas the theorist who stayed at home. 15 14 See .14While there can be little doubt that both Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski came to realize this.e. But the fact that a society is a system does not mean that it never changes. in fact. 1945). and that an attempt must be made to understand them as functioning social systems. 17 Frobenius. were they so defective as to justify us in dismissing all Frobenius's work as worthless? It appears to me that they were not. Phyllis Kaberry) The Dynamics of Culture Change (New 16Audrey Richards. On the contrary. they also stressed that these observations should be conducted over a long period of time. while others such as missionaries. But the question we must ask ourselves is. I must make it clear that. I98. In attempting to assess Frobenius's field methods. 248 and 249. that the anthropologist should learn the language of the people whom he was studying. Jena. I89. with any justice be ascribed to Frobenius. (Eugen Diederichs Verlag. Linked with the Functionalist devotion to the synchronic approach was their insistence on field-work. In any case one cannot ignore the possibility that certain hypotheses about the past. ix (Volkserahlungen und Volksdichtungen aus dem Zentral-Sudan). 36. and without stating the language in which they were told to him. ITA customs' surviving from the past.15 some of their over-zealous disciples still seem to be throwing out the diachronic baby with the hypothetical bathwater. 12 vols. op.

by his pupil and assistant Albrecht Martius 'with the help of an interpreter trained by us'. 32. African Negroes 'immediately transform them into a kind of Pidgin'. Yet Frobenius goes on to say: Anyone who examines the examples of [oral] folk tradition numbering well over a thousand. In Erlebte Erdteile.18 It follows. Moreover. As we shall see later in this essay. it would be difficult for him to form an adequate picture impression of the working of Kabre society in such a short period. In any case. III. If. means 'to use a European language in an African way'. according to Frobenius. III. If 'Negro languages' are to be adequately rendered by a comparatively uniform 'Pidgin' it is difficult to see where the alleged differences in style come from. This statement would seem to imply that all African languages are the same. Frobenius attempted to provide a theoretical justification for this procedure. Many of his informants were seamen. 19 EE. exiles. and one finds that Frobenius frequently accepted data on the customs of a given tribe on the uncorroborated evidence of one of its exiled members. however. as recounted by Frobenius. and Frobenius appears to have been at the mercy both of the deliberate and of the inadvertent errors of his interpreters. Clearly.. Since Kabre agriculture 18 EE.than to that of the original narrator. one would like to know more about the methods by which Frobenius's interpreters were trained. they were then presumably re-translated into German for the purpose of Frobenius's book. vol. Frobenius's work on the Kabre of North Togo. Frobenius's method of collecting other types of data was often equally haphazard. 3. he states that in using European languages. . and compares them with one another will find that the oral traditions of various peoples differ from one another markedly. or slaves who had been long separated from their own people. on the other hand. 33. Even when he spoke to numerous members of a given ethnic group. represent a somewhat garbled form of the original. his information was generally collected during a very short stay in the area. was collected during six weeks of the dry season of I908-9. which was fairly typical of work in other areas. Frobenius's interpreter in Ife was guilty of deliberate mistranslation. Under these circumstances it is likely that the stories. that a Pidgin translation 'reproduces a Negro original in a Negro way'. But assuming they were translated into English or Pidgin. therefore. there are marked differences in the style of the English or French translations. this is due to our use of trained interpretersin whose English or French version the variationsin style are clearly recognizable. Thus. Nor does he state the language into which he translated the stories. He does not state what was the mother tongue of the interpreter.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 679 stories as well as some from Nikki-Borgu) Frobenius describes the stories in section VIII as having been recorded in Jebba.19 It is difficult to see how both these statements can be true. these are more likely to be due to the mother tongue of the interpreter. If this is clear in [our] version. To speak Pidgin.

chretien. The expedition against Ketao had been the last of a series of punitive expeditions carried out by the Germans in Togo as follows: in 1898 against Soumdina in I890 against Boufale in 900o against Tchitchao and Lama Tessi in I901 against Lama Tessi in 1902 against Ketao.20 this was barely seven years after the final 'pacification' of the area-the revolt of Ketao having been put down in April 1902.22 20 Robert Cornevin.68o J. 22 Jacques Delord. Frobenius was among the Kabre in December-January I908-9. then to historians of Togo in particular. and of West Africa in general. no. As Cornevin has pointed out. his work on the Kabre will be worth reexamining-for if any of the information he collected can be proved reliable. in Le Monde Non-chrdtien. It can readily be seen that Frobenius's data may provide unique written evidence about the life of the Kabre immediately after their 'pacification'. 196I). . 98. it is not likely that much fresh information can now be elicited from Kabre sources (though one hopes that a last minute attempt may be made to interview any Kabre speakers who remember Frobenius's visit to Togo). It is noteworthy that Jaques Delord. it is evident that a Kabre farmer's activities would be very different in the rainy season than in the dry. no. M. a Protestant missionary who has been active in Togo since 1939.21 It is true that Delord has the following remarks to make about Frobenius's account of some of the sexual customs of the Kabre: One cannot help being astonished at the elaborationsand generalizationsof Frobenius.who. this does not mean that everything he says about the Kabre should be dismissed with contempt. it will be of great value-if not to anthropologists. no. has thought it worthwhile to publish an annotated French translation of Frobenius's work on the Kabre. Juillet-Decembre 1961 with an introduction by Robert Cornevin. in many cases has been a victim of the Africansense of humour or has been taken in by a phantasticanswer [given by the Kabre] to a question [they] judged to be indiscreetor grotesque. 59-60. ITA was based on an elaborate system of soil conservation and water retention by terracing in a hilly area. 'La Connaissance des Kabre depuis Frobenius' in Le Monde Non21 See note above. But although the defects of Frobenius's method are evident. but relied entirely on what he was told about it. and has been studying the Kabre language and people since 1946. And as the number of Kabre now living who remember the period before 1908 must be infinitesimal. Whatever British anthropologists may think of Frobenius's methods. The translation appeared in Le Monde Non-Chrdtien. 59-60. 59-60 (Juillet-Decembre. Yet Frobenius never saw Kabre society functioning in the rainy season. 95.

in the main. he certainly did not describe Kabre life as though it were a 'ragbag of customs'. and in spite of some errorsin the interpretationof accounts which he received from his informants. Pending further information. or even unconsciously. From Delord's evidence it appears that Frobenius's data on the Kabre are at least worth re-examining.. though they might be of some antiquity. be possible to check much of what Frobenius says about the Tiv. they were less serious than his defects as an archaeologist. but also for the general methods by which he secured the finds which he took with him to Germany. He relates such features as the manufacture of hoes and the age grade system to the terraced agriculture practised by the Kabre. for example. and however unmethodically. it is worth considering the way he obtained artefacts. one should bear in mind that in this 23 Delord. Delord found it necessary to correct only minor points and questions of linguistic detail (of which he is undoubtedly a more competent judge than Frobenius). British and American archaeologists generally condemn Frobenius for being a 'collector' rather than an archaeologist.23 Though Frobenius was never a Functionalist. Africans may be inclined to criticize him not only for his archaeological method.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 68I However. preferably from Kabre sources. However. It should.. before dealing with his excavation methods. Whatever the defects of Frobenius's anthropological field method. 172. but a careful re-examination of it and a sifting of information. [there follows a characterization the Kabre]. What is needed is not a wholesale dismissal of Frobenius's ethnographic work. he was able to appreciatethe role played of in their educationalsystem of an age gradesystem carriedto the extremelimit. it seems reasonable to suppose that Frobenius's data on the Kabre of 1908-9 were. in summing up Frobenius's information. that his methods of obtaining artefacts were somewhat unscrupulous. Moreover.. were not necessarily dug out of the earth. in the main. ibid. which. we can see. has in fact depicted Kabre life as a functioning social system. it appears that the defects of Frobenius's methods were definitely not so great as to vitiate all his findings. Frobenius understood the Kabre. Even ignoring the criticisms of other writers. However. . reliable-indeed that they were much more reliable than his methods would lead one to expect. From our discussion of Frobenius's work on the Kabre. on the basis of Frobenius's own evidence. Delord says that 'the sociological description is remarkable' and that: in spite of omissions due to a stay in Kabiye which was undoubtedlytoo short. Finally. One may take as an example Frobenius's work in Ibadan and Ile-Ife in I9Io. the Nupe (in so far as he deals with their social organization as distinct from an unverifiable reconstruction of their past) and about many other peoples.

When he received a donation from Kaiser Wilhelm II to 24 Frobenius. lying in heaps in every corner. the whole magnificent splendour. It was. from there to Bamako and Timbuktu. as it were. 26 UAS. Louis and then up the Senegal. but by comparison with the methods of the British military expedition to Benin. For example. In extenuation of Frobenius's collecting method. Frobenius continues: A few years later the English stormed Benin which had previously been inaccessible. Bericht fiber den Verlauf der zweiten Reiseperiode der DIAFE in den Jahren I908-o0 (Vita. In the first volume of Und Afrika Sprach. he writes: I just had to endeavourto muster a good collection for my museums. was partly motivated by a desire. It was unfortunate. Frobenius complains that he had previously asked Bastian (the anthropologist. but by the Rudolph-Virchow-Stiftung and the Leipzig Anthropological and Geographical Museums. not by the standards of other archaeological expeditions. since circumstances encouraged him to judge his methods. Deutsches Verlagshaus. and wholesale looting of Benin by the British in i897 which had first drawn Frobenius's attention to the quantity of antiquities which existed in Tropical Africa. too. in which Frobenius describes how he set out for Ife. II. BerlinCharlottenburg. In Auf dem Wege nach Atlantis. Thus. . I. in fact.2 Frobenius was fully aware of the disadvantages of this system of financing his expeditions. one of Frobenius's main preoccupations in Ife was speed in the removal of artefacts. 49. 191 ). the sacking. that Frobenius tended to regard his efforts in Ife with some complacency. ITA respect Frobenius was no more unscrupulous than many of his contemporaries. And Bastian'ssuccessor [as Director of the Berlin AnthropologicalMuseum] subsequently had to spend enormous sums in order to acquire a fraction of those treasureswhich I could probably have succeeded in acquiring [at an earlier date] fairly easily without having to spend hundredsof thousands. These museums made him grants of money on the explicit understanding that he should bring back items for their collections. and found beneath the dust and mould. one must bear in mind the fact that the only way he was able to finance his early expeditions was by obtaining the financial backing of German anthropological museums. and founder of the Berlin Anthropological Museum) for financial support to enable him to collect bronzes. Auf dem Wege nach Atlantis. M.682 J. Bastian had refused to believe in the existence of such bronzes. his second expedition (starting from Dakar and passing through St. to 'get even with' the British by seizing the antiquities of Ife before they had a chance to do so.24 From the above it seems clear that Frobenius's expedition to Ife. and then southwards through Togo) was financed not only by the German Colonial Office.

30 After leaving Ife once. 50. now gave them largesums to preventthem from alienatingthe familyproperty.the shame-facedpoor sent what I needed so muchthe first good items for the collection.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 19I2-14. Hadschra Maktuba: Urzeitliche Felsbilder Kleinafrikas (abbreviated HM). I. Frobenius's method of making his purchases was not over-scrupulous. not his final departure. 27 UAS. 2. (This is a photo-mechanical reprint of the edition published by the Kurt Wolff Verlag. that this clandestine method of procedure was an incitement to theft. by private individuals. i. 68-9. he avoided any embarrassing enquiry into the provenance of his purchases. Frobenius had at first failed to obtain much for his collection through the elders and responsible persons in the city. family or communal property. in fact.27 It must have been evident to Frobenius. they made secret effortsto preventthe sale. 683 finance his expedition to the Saharan Atlas of mented with obvious relief: Frobenius com- On this expedition I was. Admittedly.28 the Acting Resident of Ibadan of maliciously trying to prevent him from obtaining antiquities from Ife. But. who were at other times totally indifferentto the fate of their poor starvingrelatives. Munich. (Akademische Druck-und Verlagsanstalt. for the first time. He thus incurs some responsibility for encouraging or even originating the tradition of shrine-robbing and the theft of antiquities which has since become so disastrously prevalent in Nigeria. Rich men. But when a poor fellow such as these wanted to dispose of a good example of ancientworkmanship. In Ibadan. it is apparent that the inhabitants of Ife parted with their antiquities only unwillingly. Silver beganto clink. Frobenius writes: And when. in 1925). he records: We then began to lay siege to some of the poorerold devils. Frobenius was recalled by Partridge. 105-6. . return objects.26 It is therefore clear. Frobenius accuses Partridge. He was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society and author of a book entitled Cross River Natives. for example. Graz. on occasion. In the hours of darkness.29 Yet on Frobenius's own evidence. if it was convincingly demonstrated to him that they had been stolen. had formerly been stationed on the Cross River. the Aweyong River (Hutchinson. of necessity. since he could not otherwise have financed his expeditions at all. of what was. 28 Charles Partridge. and even before the intervention of Partridge. But as far as possible. The occasion here referred to is his first. including a description of the circle of upright stones on the left bank of 29 UAS. Southern Nigeria. London. Even if the necessity of making collections is conceded. being some notes on the primitive pagans of Obubra Hill district. free of the burdensomeobligation of covering the cost of the expedition by assembling [Museum] collections. Frobenius did. that during his earlier expeditions Frobenius was. I963). a 'collector'. just before our [first]30departurefrom Ife I undertook a further 26 Frobenius and Obermaier.and his better-off relativesheard of it. the Acting Resident. or at least to the alienation. and had to return to Ife where his collection was inspected. 112-26. 1905).

Nevertheless... after accepting f6 (the price agreed) seemed unwilling to hand over the head. not even the slightest thing was purloinedfrom our equipment. i. Apart from this. that. Frobenius's method of obtaining the head of Olokun is also.)32 After further negotiations. and the replica retained by Frobenius. if anything. According to Frobenius. at the time. the priest's family had already agreed to sell the head. Oshogbo. the Oni was being duped on Frobenius's behalf. it is evidence of the reverse. but which they were compelled by poverty to sell. as the Resident in Ibadanwas my friend. 32 UAS. I told them [the priest and his family] that I would take the responsibility for it.. 33 UAS.e. (This was the only lie I told in the matter. ITA 684 count of the objects acquired we found that of the 620 pieces which we had collected I40 were missing. Even if certain inhabitants of Ife did pilfer back certain things which they had sold to Frobenius. It was as if these good fellows thought they had a perfect right to take back from me. Partridge. Frobenius undoubtedly took advantage of the extreme poverty of some people ('poor devils' as he calls those in Ibadan) to persuade them to sell objects whose value they did not recognize. whom Frobenius accuses of trying to thwart his plans in Ife. or objects which were not even theirs to sell. 8I. that the Oni was being duped. the details of which are too lengthy to repeat here. he had. It was clear. not a single knife. on his own evidence. I. but. what they themselves had offeredto me for sale. or objects which they may have valued.33 In other words Bida had told the Oni that the original would be returned to Ife. that it had been agreed in detail that we [Frobenius'sparty] should keep the originaland afterwards that the Oni should have the copy. and by Frobenius's employee. that these thefts were exclusivelyof indigenous Yoruba artefacts. M. I. It is true that Frobenius was not aware. .. Frobenius was told: that the Oni agreedthat I could keep the head of Olokun but that in exchange they [the inhabitantsof Ife] should receive an exact copy which I was to send to them through the D. it is by no means clear that Frobenius condemned the 31 UAS..3' Frobenius seems to regard this as evidence of the rascality of the Yorubas.. because it was feared to incur the displeasure of the Resident in Ibadan. 100. in true Negro fashion. from the start seem calculated to encourage theft.J. . reversed the conditions in his translation. I. open to serious criticism. But Bida [Frobenius'sinterpreter] admitted to me. and the full extent of the falsity of my statementwas not known to me at the time. I emphaticallystressed. fork or spoon. In any case. but the priest. in order to make negotiationseasier and for the sake of convenience. this does not excuse Frobenius's own methods which.. I02.But while we were in Ife. C.

accordingto tradition. thus depriving Nigerians of part of their cultural heritage.an ancestorgod had descendedinto the depths of the earth. and are accessible to African scholars. Nigeria' in Man. London. 'An Examination of the so-called Olokun Head of Ife. It is surprising. . did the episode convince Frobenius of the unwisdom of relying on interpreters. if not to the ordinary African citizen. since it is their field of study (not that of Anglo-American anthropologists) which has suffered as a result of Frobenius's recklessness. on being recalled to Ife. The destruction of archaeological evidence (unlike the removal of the objects found) can hardly be excused on the grounds that such destruction was commonplace in Frobenius's day. happened to the original afterwards is obscure. indeed. The Bronzes of West Africa (Tiranti. Kegan and Paul. This suggestion brought success. While one may rightly be critical of the fact that Frobenius removed the objects to Germany. J. and Leon Underwood and William Fagg. London. 1949). 88. But the damage done by Frobenius's haphazard excavation methods is irreversible and represents a permanent loss to scholarship. Worsaae in the investigation of Danish peat moss sites as early as the i85os. that African historians or archaeologists have not condemned Frobenius more roundly. Describing the excavations which he arranged in northern Ife. In any case.36 Yet 34 It has been variously suggested that the Head of Olokun now in Nigeria is a copy. or to determine their use in such cases where this was not obvious. nor of the relative position of the finds in the matrix-nothing which might have enabled Frobenius or subsequent archaeologists and historians to date the objects. since I would buy even such things as brokenpotsherdslying aroundwhich might seem meaningless to them. Though Frobenius's general method of procedure is open to objection. 146. no record of the stratification of the site. It seems at least possible that Frobenius. But Frobenius's archaeological method (or lack of it) at Ife. the damage done by Frobenius's exporting the articles is not necessarily irreversible.34 Nor. A. I. 36 See Marvin Harris. either of individual sites or of Ife as a whole. The articles in the Linden Museum or elsewhere have at least not been destroyed. See Leon Underwood. his actual excavation methods are open to even more serious objection. Frobenius writes: and at this I called upon the [local] people themselves to dig in those areas.35 In other words there was no preliminary survey. Comparatively sophisticated stratigraphic techniques were being used by J. XLIX(I949). where. Partridge's subsequent intervention was not as unwarranted as Frobenius makes out. 3. It would be meaningless to blame Frobenius for not using archaeological methods which his contemporaries had not yet discovered. The Rise of Anthropological Theory (Routledge.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 685 fraud. apparently. they were to bring me everythingthat they found. 1-7. was haphazard even by the standards of 191o. no concerted effort to see that the finds were not damaged by blows of the spade or pick. left a copy in Ife and kept the original. I968). though if so. the question of what 35 UAS.

but a more balanced assessment involving an awareness of the destructiveness of some of his excavations there. My present article is merely an outline-based mainly on Frobenius's own statements-of the nature of some of the material which needs to be checked. on a number of sites in Ife. whom one assumes to have been of Nupe origin. allowed to collapse. mud for building houses has been excavated. Frobenius's contribution to Saharan studies was undoubtedly the most valuable aspect of his work. (These people would be able to give us some idea whether or not undue pressure was put on people to sell artefacts. What is now needed is independent evidence. but did not even regularly supervise the digging himself. . M. therefore. It thus appears that what is needed is not condemnation of everything Frobenius did. many important aspects of Frobenius's work in Nigeria could best be re-examined by speakers of Nupe-in particular. in a separate article. This preliminary assessment of his early work needs to be counterbalanced by an appreciation of his later work in the Sahara. an attempt should be made to check Frobenius's account of his work among the Kabre of Togo. I hope. is in danger of doing less than justice to him. it should be borne in mind that. but continuously over centuries. an effort could be made to elucidate the history of Bida (Frobenius's interpreter). He thus avoided the destructiveness which marred his work at Ife. In so far as the present article has confined itself to Frobenius's early work in West Africa. ITA Frobenius not only failed to use any such techniques in Ife. particularly those to the Sahara. who might interview any elderly people still living who came into contact with Frobenius's expedition. but during his later expeditions. And this has happened not once. more work needs to be done before the importance of Frobenius for the study of modern West African history can be justly assessed. Consequently remains from quite different periods may be found mixed at the same excavation level. taken alone. However. it has necessarily dealt with the more negative aspects of his work. and then re-incorporated into new houses. built up into houses. the accuracy of Frobenius's accounts of his methods in Ibadan and Ife could still be checked by Yoruba-speaking research workers.686 J. Clearly. not in Ife. For example. On these expeditions he was freed from the obligation of 'collecting' for museums and was able to record evidence without destroying it. In fairness to Frobenius one must bear in mind that his more professionally responsible work was done. On sites such as these there would have been little stratigraphic evidence for Frobenius to destroy.) As I have already suggested. A similar attempt should be made in Nigeria by Tiv and Hausa speakers. and. to show that here Frobenius did pioneering work in a field which is now generally recognized as being central to the study of African history and prehistory. nor uncritical praise of him for having 'discovered' the art of Ife.

Hair. would cast further light on the accuracy or otherwise of the versions produced by Frobenius. H. that by failing to keep adequatesite records or even to supervise the digging himself. This. together with an independent inquiry into the material itself. The attitude of Anglo-Americananthropologistsis explained in terms of developmentsin anthropological theory since the First World War.FROBENIUS IN WEST AFRICAN HISTORY 687 though he first met Frobenius in the then French territory. the Oni of Ife's secretary. An enquiry into the circumstances in which Frobenius's colleague Martius collected traditional oral material in Jebba. 31 p. Useful information may perhaps also be obtained from surviving German members of Frobenius's expedition now living in Germany or the United States. In ten years time the opportunity may have been lost for ever.O. though they are commonly ignored by AngloAmericanarchaeologistsand anthropologists. If the results of all these enquiries could be collated and compared. . and also. I02. and 'the local D. A further important tool for checking Frobenius's account of his observations and activities is to be found in the Nigerian Archives. in turn. The article examines the defects of Frobenius's anthropologicalmethod. All these enquiries need to be carried out immediately. The article then considers Frobenius's archaeological method as exemplified his work in Ife.contain materialwhich is of value to the historian of early twentieth-centuryWest Africa. arguesthat he was somewhatunscrupulousin forcingthe sale by of artefacts. and what kind of evidence has been destroyed. and suggests that the observationsthemselves may be more reliablethan Frobenius'smethod would lead one to expect.study his work in Ife to note where such destruction has taken place. Hair31 these contain a correspondence in English between Frobenius. Historiansshould. According to P. we should have some knowledge of the degree and kind of reliance that can be placed on Frobenius's observations in Nigeria and Togo. however. E. would probably be a reasonable indication of the degree of reliability of Frobenius's observations in the vast areas of West Africa through which he travelled in the years I907-I2. Hair suggests that Frobenius would have had ample opportunity of making a copy of the Olokun Head. SUMMARY The article as a whole argues that the observationsof Leo Frobenius in West Africa between 1907 and I912. July 1970. E. H. in a letter published in Ibadan. The author examines Frobenius'smethods and observationsin the light of his own statements(some of them in works which have not been translatedinto English or French) and suggests various outside sources which could be used to check the reliabilityof Frobenius'saccounts. as exemplified by his work among the Kabre of North Togo shortly after their 'pacification'by the Germans. he destroyed a considerableamount of archaeological evidence at Ife.' which shows events in Ife in a somewhat different light from that in which they are depicted by Frobenius.

which might enablehistoriansto checkthe veracityof Frobenius'saccountof his own method.688 J. both oral and written. it is suggested that an assessment of the reliability of his observationsin Togo and Nigeria might be generally indicative of the reliability of his observation throughout West Africa in the period I907-I2. Finally. . and also the reliability of the observationsthemselves. M. ITA The article suggests outside sources.