The title of the original map in the Collins, et al., volume is "African States on the Eve of Partition: 1884." I changed this name for two reasons. Firstly, I think the term "states" is misleading (I'm not sure "political entity/polity" is much better, but at least the term suggests by its vagueness the decentralized power relationships that were more typical in pre-colonial Africa). Africa's degree of "statedness" was highly variable before the Europeans imposed colonialism on the contine nt and most African polities did not have the rigidly hierarchical structures that we tend to associate with nineteenth- and twentieth-century states. Unless this explanation seems excessively Eurocentric (it's a fair cop), I hasten to add that it should not imply an absence of order, as was the claim of the Europeans. Clearly the representation of African societies as "chaotic" was a trope for "societies that do not display the sort of rigid hierarchy that we are prepared to appreciate, and are therefor e politically invalid." Neither should a space without a polity be construed as unoccupied ground. This merely suggests that the inhabitants had not created large political associations, or ones large enough to appear on a map at this scale. Even among t he groupings on this map there was considerable room for locally autonomous activity.

Secondly, because Africa's partition was accomplished over some three decades, many of these entities did not exist together in this form at the same time. So a looser time frame seems necessary. Moreover, focusing on 1884 as the "year of partition" lends a degree of planning to the scramble that did not exist and perpetuates the erroneous notion that Africa was carved up at the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference. Also, the commencement date for the scramble is a subject of scholarly debate, so while 1884 is probably in the right ball park I am too craven to advance an opinion.

Another problem I have with the original map is that it is not geographically accurate. These inaccuracies I have corrected and then added some population groups. The alterations include the extension of north-eastern Ethiopia toward the Red Sea, the shifting of Ruanda to east of Lake Kivu where it belongs, the contraction of the Zulu Empire, and the placement of the Sotho core area farther south. I added the Tswana, Nama, Herero and Ovambo groups because they seemed to me to be as politically defin able as some of the other polities shown here. However, the decision to include them and exclude others was subjective, as it was based mainly on my personal interest in southern Africa.

I have a lot of misgiving about presenting this map because I think it might create a false image of pre-colonial Africa. I do not want to ascribe uncharacteristic institutional rigidity to the continent. But I do want to demonstrate that European im perial advances did not occupy an empty space. Quite to the contrary, they displaced, replaced, or appropriated existing political groupings. A map seems to be a good way to indicate this.

Adapted from R. O. Collins, J. M. Burns, and E. K. Ching, eds.,
Historical Problems of Imperial Africa (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1994), 6D. Original gray scale map copyright University of California, Santa Barbara, Geography. Alterations and coloring made with Corel Photo House by Jeffrey S. Gaydish, 1998.