Checks and Balances
By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles
A recurring misconception about African kingdoms is that power rests in the hands of a king, who sits at the summit of a political hierarchy. In fact, precolonial African political systems often were governed not by a single imperial center, but rather by a web of institutional and ideological arrangements and affiliations. These “circulating centers of power" included diverse officeholders such as court dignitaries and client chiefs; professionals such as diviners, spirit mediums, and healers; and institutions such as secret associations with particular functions.