Of all the things that were produced in Africa during the colonial period—cash crops, states, and tribes, to name a few—history and tradition are the least acknowledged as products of the colonial situation. This does not mean that Africans did not have history before the white man came. Rather, I am making distinctions among the following: firstly, history as lived experience; secondly, history as a record of lived experience which is coded in the oral traditions; and finally, the recently constituted written history. This last category is very much tied up with European engagements with Africa and the introduction of “history writing” as a discipline and as profession. But even then, it is important to acknowledge the fact that African history, including oral traditions, were recorded as a result of the European assault.
This underscores the fact that ideological interests were at work in the making of African history, as is true of all history. As such, tradition is constantly being reinvented to reflect these interests. A. I. Asiwaju, for example, in a paper examining the political motivations and manipulations of oral tradition in the constitution of Obaship in different parts of Yorubaland during the colonial period writes: “in the era of European rule, particularly British rule, when government often based most of its decisions over local claims upon the evidence of traditional history, a good proportion of the data tended to be manipulated deliberately.” This process of manipulation produced examples of what he wittily refers to as “nouveaux rois of Yorubaland.”