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OPINIONS

Ethnicity And The Making of History In Northern Ghana

Series: International African Library

Copyright Date: 2006

Published by: Edinburgh University Press

Pages: 384

Source

INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-13)
‘The loyalties of the people are still extremely local’, wrote Lawra-Tumu District Commissioner Mead in 1947 in support of a chief’s demand for political independence from a neighboring chiefdom, and strongly recommended that British administrative reforms draw on this ‘local patriotism … rather than suppress it’.¹ Like his predecessors, however, Mead harbored no doubts that beyond their attachments to kin, village and chiefdom, the Africans living under his administration also belonged to ‘tribes’ which, though these had not (yet) developed into self-conscious political communities, were clearly identifiable by historical roots, language and ‘custom’. The British anthropologist Jack Goody, on the…

  1. THE NORTH-WEST IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (pp. 14-32)
    In the pre-colonial period, the dominant reality of the Black Volta region was the existence of small, relatively mobile groups of relatives, overlapping networks and flexible boundaries. There was no local ideology, let alone the social and political reality, corresponding to what British colonial administrators later represented as the ideal tribe, that is a population linked by descent, sharing a single language and culture, living in a particular territory and ruled by a council of elders or a chief. The ‘house’ (local kin group as well as supra-local clan) and the earth-shrine area were the cornerstones of local societies and…
  2. THE INTRODUCTION OF CHIEFTAINCY (pp. 33-71)
    In October 1897, H. P. Northcott was appointed Commissioner and Commandant of the Northern Territories, with the task of controlling areas in the hinterland of the Gold Coast that were tied to Great Britain under treaties of friendship or protection. The Anglo-French Convention of 1898 delineated the territorial boundaries of the new protectorate, while the Northern Territories Order in Council of 1901 defined its legal status as formally independent protectorate, though at the same time subject to the Gold Coast Governor. The British had brought the Northern Territories under their control in order to prevent European rivals from establishing themselves…
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3 THE DISCURSIVE CREATION OF ETHNICITY (pp. 72-103)
‘Could not obtain any information about the Lobi as a tribe, and could not find out what tribe Kontol [the founding ancestor of Lawra] belonged to’, complained Jackson, the new Lawra District Commissioner, when he set out on the task of writing the first report on the ‘laws and customs’ of the ‘native communities’ in his district in 1907. However, he added that ‘they think he was a Lobi, hence they call themselves Lobi’, apparently after some leading questions to Issa, a Wangara Muslim who worked for the Lawra Naa as an interpreter.¹ When, some forty years later, the native…

  1. THE LAWRA CONFEDERACY NATIVE AUTHORITY (pp. 104-137)
    Limited self-government under strong chiefs: this basic tenet of indirect rule was recommended for the Northern Territories as early as 1921 by Governor Guggisberg.¹ However, Chief Commissioner Walker Leigh regarded any reform that granted the chiefs more responsibility to be premature. It was only in the late 1920s that a number of younger officials – foremost among them Duncan-Johnstone, now stationed in Tamale as the Commissioner of the Southern Province – began to push for changes in the native administration. In the wake of the world economic crisis, expenditures on colonial administration were to be cut, and the introduction of…
  2. LABOUR MIGRATION, HOME-TIES AND ETHNICITY (pp. 138-152)
    For the British, ‘nakedness’ was an indicator of native primitiveness; and if, as was almost always the case, men carried bows and arrows, it was a sign of dangerous aggressiveness. By as early as the 1920s this nakedness was largely covered up and the aggressiveness disciplined, a development that the Lawra District Commissioner Eyre-Smith, the author of the above remarks, attributed to the impact of labor migration. Through work in the mines, in railway construction and on cocoa plantations, an increasing number of young men were not only earning the money required to buy clothing, but also adopting new ideas…
  3. ‘LIGHT OVER THE VOLTA’: THE MISSION OF THE WHITE FATHERS (pp. 153-174)
    In 1985, together with hundreds of believers, the bishop of Wa, the archbishop of Tamale and more than fifty priests celebrated a festive mass in the large brick church of Jirapa. For the first time, a young Dagara, Alphonsus Bakyil, from Jirapa, was entering the order of the White Fathers, which since 1929 had converted thousands of men and women from the North-West and the neighbouring French colony to Catholicism. At the same time, Father Remigius McCoy from Canada, at that time Father-Superior in Jirapa, was celebrating the jubilee of his ordination. In his commemoratory sermon, Bishop Kpiebaya, a Dagao…d
  4. DECOLONISATION AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM (pp. 175-198)
    ‘Social democracy’, ‘self-government’ and the ‘partnership of free peoples’ – these should be the new goals of post-war British politics, both in the Gold Coast and in its marginalized, underdeveloped hinterland, wrote Harold Ingrams, reflecting on his brief experience as Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territories (1949: 193–5). In Ingrams’ view it was high time to propagate the idea of a ‘common citizenship throughout the Gold Coast’ and to grant the Northern Territories appropriate political representation in colonial institutions. Moreover, the chieftaincy should be transformed into a kind of ‘constitutional monarchy’ (ibid.: 210). Ingrams’ time in office, from 1947…
  5. ‘THE TIME WHEN POLITICS CAME’: PARTY POLITICS AND LOCAL CONFLICT (pp. 199-227)
    In January 1955 Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah visited Lawra District. The welcome organized by the British Government Agent was to be the last opportunity for many years to come that Confederacy chiefs would meet peacefully. A delegation of elders sent by the Lawra Naa whose son was serving the oppositional NPP in Parliament presented its concerns that Lawra District CPP activists could ‘give the Prime Minister a vociferous welcome as Life Chairman of the Party’. Yet the CPP district executive kept its promise ‘that they would do nothing to detract from the dignity of the Prime Minister’s visit’ so that…
  6. ETHNIC MOVEMENTS AND SPECIAL-INTEREST POLITICS (pp. 228-251)
    In December 1979, more than 150 ‘sons and daughters of Nandom’ working in Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Bolgatanga and other Ghanaian cities travelled to their home town to join Dagara teachers, doctors and priests active in Nandom and neighbouring towns and villages in founding the Nandom Youth and Development Association (NYDA). Nandom Naa Polkuu urged those attending the inaugural assembly to abandon the ‘armchair approach’ and the ‘path of individualism’, which had hampered the ‘total development of Nandom’. Jacob Yirerong, the chairman of the NYDA’s Accra branch and the meeting’s organiser, exhorted all to prove to hard-bitten sceptics that Nandome could…
  7. THE CULTURAL WORK OF ETHNICITY (pp. 252-274)
    In the summer of 1989 Dr Gbellu, a doctor from Nandom living in Germany invited Dagara friends and family as well as their German wives and children and even Dagara migrants from other parts of Europe to come together at his home for a ‘Dagara family meeting’. For two days more than twenty adults gathered, as they had done in previous years, in order to celebrate and to reflect on Dagara culture and history. During the 1989 meeting, to which I had been invited, a number of those attending held avidly discussed lectures on topics such as traditional religion, initiation…
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EPILOGUE (pp. 275-279)
During my last visit to Ghana, I found all my friends and acquaintances avidly discussing the results of the December 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections and the appointments of ministers, ambassadors and district chief executives that would follow. Why had the candidates of the NDC (National Democratic Congress), the once ruling, but now oppositional party won such a clear majority in the North, specifically in the Upper West Region? How had the three serving NDC parliamentarians from the former Lawra District managed to get re-elected, even though, as some of my interlocutors believed, the governing NPP (New Patriotic Party) was…

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