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Paths in the Rainforests
Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa
Jan Vansina


"Until the publication of Paths in the Rainforests, it was difficult to make more than superficial attacks on the widespread myth that Central African peoples live in 'impenetrable jungles as their ancestors have lived for thousands of years.' Even those few among the 200-plus small scale societies that we have understood in some depth have seemed isolated in time and space. Jan Vansina's Paths makes a truly significant contribution to African history by providing a solid framework for the description and integration of a millennium of evolution of the many societies of the vast rainforests."—Curtis A. Keim, African Studies Review

Vansina's scope is breathtaking: he reconstructs the history of the forest lands that cover all or part of southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Zaire, the Central African Republic, and Cabinda in Angola, discussing the original settlement of the forest by the western Bantu; the periods of expansion and innovation in agriculture; the development of metallurgy; the rise and fall of political forms and of power; the coming of Atlantic trade and colonialism; and the conquest of the rainforests by colonial powers and the destruction of a way of life.

"In 400 elegantly brilliant pages Vansina lays out five millennia of history for nearly 200 distinguishable regions of the forest of equatorial Africa around a new, subtly paradoxical interpretation of 'tradition.'"—Joseph Miller, University of Virginia

"Vansina gives extended coverage . . . to the broad features of culture and the major lines of historical development across the region between 3000 B.C. and A.D. 1000. It is truly an outstanding effort, readable, subtle, and integrative in its interpretations, and comprehensive in scope. . . . It is a seminal study . . . but it is also a substantive history that will long retain its usefulness."—Christopher Ehret, American Historical Review

Jan Vansina is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor and the Vilas Professor in History and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin­Madison. His many books include his 1994 memoir Living with Africa, Oral Tradition as History, Kingdoms of the Savanna, and The Children of Woot, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

the cover of Paths is green, with a black and white illustration of a rope bridge in Africa.

October 1990
LC: 90-050100 DT
448 pp., 5 7/8 x 9,
Maps and figures


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