Update on why I don't use 'primitive' or 'tribe'/'tribal' when writing about African Arts

Aright, just I case you needed another gross example of (Western, again: how ever you want to define that) mainstream ideas of ‘the tribal’, especially with regard to Africa[1] I'll link you to this rather bad piece of music: Kumbaya by Peaceman (aka Sir Ivan aka Ivan Wilzig).

I’m not going to analyse it for you in any depth but I’ve written a comment elsewhere. And there’s some background and discussion on Stuff White People Do, which btw does quite a good job in a critical analysis of a lot of stuff that could be described as ‘white (popular) culture,’ though I suspect as to yet nobody has yet made a serious effort to define this. But, in a quite cynical kind of way, I’m quite impressed with how the director actually managed to combine two major stereotypes about the continent – primitive, though sexy people engaged in everlasting tribal warfare and it’s oh so stunning wildlife – and the white man to the rescue trope in a music video of only 4:30 mins length. He even managed to squeeze in the stereotype of Africans as overtly sexualised beings. And, all this as background for, as my friend put it, the self-staging of some mediocre (judging by this song) techno singer as do-gooder.

See, and its against this background that I feel uneasy with the use of terms such as ‘primitive’ and ‘tribe/tribal’ in writing about Africa. Conceptualisations in Africa, by scholars, politicians and members of the wider public, might of course not carry such derogative connotations but over here they usually do ...

I'm sure there are more of them out there, but I'll leave it at that. They don't deserve the honour, don't you think? …

P.S. And, before you ask, yes I have since figured how to embed a Youtube video but I can’t be asked to bestow the honour (again, after all I posted it on Facebook to get my friends opinion and wrote a comment elsewhere) on this piece of mediocre music with its racist-sexist visual background.

[1] Yeah, nobody makes the effort to distinguish different countries on that level of argument. Remember, Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write about Africa? That comment about writing about Africa as if it was a country, that was no joke. Its not that uncommon. And even those generally not unfamiliar with moving in the international arena might not always be able to distinguish between Switzterland, Austria, Lichtenstein and Burkina Faso, right Mr. Steinbrück?


  1. Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write about Africa


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