Departmental Bulletin Paper Ethnic Boundary Making in East Africa: Rigidity and Flexibility among the Nyangatom People

GEBRE, Yntiso

37 ( 4 )  , pp.145 - 162 , 2016-12 , The Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University
The concepts of inclusion and exclusion have been widely used to explain the strategies of making ethnic boundaries. However, some studies have indicated the existence of unique features (such as boundary overlaps and blurriness) that do not necessarily fit into the inclusion-exclusion binary divide. Moreover, the strategies of boundary making cannot be understood without knowledge about the underlying conceptualization of ethnic identity. With these complex issues in mind, the author of this paper examines ethnic boundary making strategies in East Africa by focusing on the Nyangatom people and their eight neighbors residing in three countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan. Among the Nyangatom, elements of both essentialism and constructivism are used in conceptualizing ethnic identity. This enabled the society to employ multiple boundary making strategies with different ethnic groups simultaneously. The article reveals how the rules of rigidity and flexibility have been harnessed and harmonized to promote Nyangatom’s strategic interests: keeping control over scarce resources, maintaining the balance of power, and ensuring continuity as a group.

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