Andrea Herbert (Marburg)

A New Book on Northern Ghana

Ethnological publications centred on the ethnography of Northern Ghana as a whole are quite rare. After Cardinall's (1921) and Rattray's (1929) books dating from colonial times and written by colonial officers and after Manoukian's book of 1951, which mainly summed up the results of fieldwork on the "Northern Territories" conducted before her time, we must mention P.A. Ladouceur's Chiefs and Politicians: The Politics of Regionalism in Northern Ghana (1979) and Y. Saaka's Regionalism and Public Policy in Northern Ghana (2001). Both works are, however, more concerned with political than ethnographic subjects.

Ghana's North (2003) edited by F. Kröger and B. Meier was probably planned to fill the gap. Fifteen authors from Ghana, Great Britain, the USA and Germany present the results of their field research among various ethnic groups comprising the following areas of cultural life in Northern Ghana: politics and economics (Jack Goody and Brenda Chalfin), migration between Northern and Southern Ghana (Bruce T. Grindal and Barbara Meier), religion (Eugene Mendonsa, Franz Kröger, Albert Awedoba), music (Michael Schlottner) and oral expression (Rüdiger Schott and Tony Naden). Several authors (Steve Tonah, Benjamin Kunbuor, Carola Lentz, Jon Kirby and Volker Riehl) treat the very topical subject of conflicts and peacebuilding. Contributions not only include tribal conflicts (Kirby: Dagomba - Konkomba; Tonah: Mamprusi - Fulani) but also disputes over land rights (Kunbuor), debates among Dagara intellectuals (Lentz) and traditional festivals (Riehl).

The book deals with a selection of Northern Ghanaian peoples, e.g. the Dagara, Dagomba, Fulani, Kasena-Nankana, Konkomba, Kusasi, Tallensi. A complete consideration of all ethnic groups in the three Regions is, of course, not feasible.

Among the contributors to Ghana's North there are three authors who have dedicated the bulk of their field research to the Bulsa and their culture: Rüdiger Schott, Barbara Meier and Franz Kröger.

In his contribution, R. Schott, who in the 1970s and 1980s collected more than 1200 Bulsa folktales, examines how the ideas of death, the dead, ancestors, ghosts, witches and funerals are treated in Bulsa folktales. The results of his treatise are quite interesting: "The 'reality' of the religious beliefs and practices of the Bulsa... is only partly congruent with the fictitious world depicted in their folktales" (p. 308). The explanation for this he sees "in the alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) produced by non-real, fictitious figures and processes" (p. 309).

B. Meier, also a specialist on Bulsa culture, treats problems of Northern migrants (Bulsa, Tallensi, Kassena and Frafra) particularly in Nima, one of the big migrant quarters of Accra: their aspirations before migration, the reality as inhabitants of Nima, their relations to other "Northerners", the real and supernatural dangers they have to cope with, their religious affiliations in their new urban environment and also their still-existing ties to their home regions in the North.

One conclusion from F. Kröger's field research in Wiaga is that ancestor veneration is not only a religious affair, but in some way regulates the possession of land and cattle. Among the Bulsa, ancestral shrines rotate within lineages up to a depth of about 10-11 generations and ancestral land and cattle rotate with the shrines from compound to compound.

One of the particularities of Ghana's North as compared to similar publications on Northern Ghana is its extensive range of subjects and the co-operation of authors from three continents. The reader has the opportunity to compare articles seen from a more European standpoint with the treatises of Ghanaians writing about their own "people" from a more-or-less insider's point of view. The work offers much information to experts of Ghana's culture as well as to those who want to gain a first insight into a region not (yet) known to them.

The appendix of biographical notes on the contributors gives a good outline of the regional and thematic specialities of scholars participating in research on Northern Ghana. Including e-mail addresses of most of the current contributors enables the reader to contact the authors whenever he needs further explanation or wants to provide negative or positive criticism.

The book can be recommended to everybody who is interested in Northern Ghana.

Franz Kröger / Barbara Meier (eds.), 2003: Ghana's North. Research on Culture, Religion, and Politics of Societies in Transition. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang, 354 p., 2 maps.