Why did the Fipa change so dramatically in the mid-1850s, a few decades before the first European contacts, from a society that practiced frequent warfare and violence into one that fosters peacefulness and gender equality? Roy Willis seeks to find answers in his examination of “The ‘Peace Puzzle’ in Ufipa,” a wonderful article published in 1989 in the book Societies at Peace: Anthropological Perspectives that has just been scanned for the Archive in this website.
He describes the evidence for their former lifestyle of warfare and violence and compares it with the testimonies of three different European visitors to Ufipa in 1880, all of whom said, in so many words, how peaceful the Fipa people were. Willis also found them to be quite peaceful when he studied them 40 years ago. He suggests that the beliefs and social values of the Fipa changed dramatically about 1850 when they disavowed their former violence and formed two new states that were founded on beliefs in complementary, though polarized, human natures.
As they developed a complementary, gender-based (though un-equal) administrative system, the men were in charge of the overall administrative structures of the states and the powerful, senior women in the villages came to be in charge of the local judicial systems. The relative equality of the sexes encourages men and women to eat and play board games together, an unusual characteristic compared to many African societies
Willis concludes his essay by indicating that while negative emotions such as anger and spite are certainly present in Fipa society, they are not openly expressed. Their fears of witchcraft and poisonings, and their traditional stories involving murder and mayhem, all indicate the reality of those emotions. He believes that their fantasy worlds include acts that they would only dream of committing, but the achievement of their society is that they effectively keep those negative emotions in bounds.