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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The War Houses of the Watara in West Africa
Author:Saul, Mahir
Periodical:International Journal of African Historical Studies
Geographic term:West Africa
Subjects:social structure
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Architecture and the Arts
Abstract:This article explores the role of war houses in structuring political and economic space in the West African savannah in the 18th and 19th centuries. The area under consideration constitutes the border zone between western Burkina Faso, northern Côte d'Ivoire, and southeastern Mali. The house (or 'so' in Jula) was a stable social unit constituted by kinship as well as nonkinship ties but defined by reference to residence and economic and political activity. The houses of the warrior stratum differed from those of the primarily farming population mostly by their larger size, incorporating many nonkin who were employed in production, trade and as fighters. Wealth and fighting power were directly transformable into each other, because captives were turned into slaves and long-distance trade redistributed them across space. One of the major points made in the article is that war houses did not aim to achieve territorial control; their interest in land was limited to what was necessary for agricultural production to sustain the needs of their members. The war houses had no political borders to separate inside and outside territory; they operated as private enterprises. The article focuses on one set of war houses in the region: the groups labelled 'sonanki' who adopted the patronymic Watara and who trace their origins to the area surrounding the town of Kong. Notes, ref.