Extracts from the Diary of Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor of the Gold Coast (1934)
Meyer Fortes in Bulsaland
Notes by the Editor (F.K.):
Meyer Fortes (1906-83) is regarded as one of the most prominent representatives of the functionalist school of thought. Many students of social anthropology are advised to read his two publications on the Tallensi of Northern Ghana (The Dynamic of Clanship among the Tallensi, 1945 and The Web of Kinship among the Tallensi, 1959). In this way the ethnic group has become well-known even among scholars who worked among societies in other parts of the world.
A reader of the mentioned books will note that Fortes mentions the Bulsa quite often and apparently has a good knowledge of them.
Studying colonial documents in the National Archives (U.K., Kew), I hit upon some passages in the Governor’s diary describing Meyer Fortes’ and his wife’s visit to Sandema in 1934. As the context entails further interesting details about the Bulsa, we also present these passages to our readers.
Tour of the Governor in the N.T., National Archives CO 96; 715/5, pp. 21-22
[Interpolations in square brackets by the editor F.K.]
In the afternoon drove out to Sandama (seventeen miles). The chief [Afoko] is quite young and stands about 6 ft 4 in. Indeed, the Kanjagas are a fine lot of men, and many of them enlist in the Regiment. We went over the chiefs’ compound which is unusually large, and probably some 200 persons inhabit it. It contains two or three burial places of former chiefs, the sites marked by round mounds. In this country, too, persons who die of sleeping sickness are buried separately, and the bones of their right hand are broken first. The hand is then placed in a right-angle position to the arm, upright.
Inspected station after the morning’s meeting. Here also there is a cool and good D.C’s house and a really excellent hospital built from funds (some ₤ 600) contributed by the people themselves. It is in charge of Dr. Vaugham who has a good reputation and a sensible wife. At the entrance is an engraved slab of rock surrounded by large stones laid in cement, and inscription states that each family who lost a man in the War brought a stone. As nice a War Memorial as could be imagined. Practically the whole station was built by Whittall (late Provincial Commissioner) who also started the tree planting along the roads. He has left his mark in the Northern Territories to a far greater extent than I for one had ever imagined. Good gaol [jail] and police lines, rest house, Medical Officer’s house, etc.
In the evening Lynn [Agricultural Officer] brought over Dr. and Mrs. Fortes who are going to work round Zuaragu [Zuarungu]. Fortes seemed delighted in his prospects among an unspoilt people and his wife seems strong and ready to make the best of things...
Fortes has a theory that the kola trade is the key to much of the development in this country. No reason to suppose that it is not very ancient and in the old days kola was really all that Ashanti had to sell. He is intending to try and develop this theory.