The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi, Being the First Part of An Analysis of the Social Structure of a Trans-Volta Tribe

By Meyer Fortes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTORY

The Natural Environment of the Tallensi

THE Northern Territories of the Gold Coast lie entirely within the Sudanese Zone. i It has been variously described as 'parkland', 'savannah', or 'orchard bush' country, terms which indicate the sparse and uniform forestation characteristic of this zone. Stretching irregularly and almost right across Africa, between the eighth and the sixteenth parallels N. latitude, it merges into the Sahara on the north and is bounded by the tropical rain forest on the south.

The traveller in West Africa who enters this region from the south is impressed by the contrast with the forest belt. According to his predilections he will view it with pleasure or dismay after the massive and gigantic gloom of the forest. Here are no great trees a hundred or two hundred feet high rooted amid thick undergrowth and enveloped in tenacious creepers. The orchard bush country is a vast plain, in some parts monotonously flat, in others gently undulating and diversified by an occasional range of hills or a steep scarp. The tracts of bush, sometimes fairly extensive, which may be encountered in the less populated areas, resemble the secondary forestation of abandoned cultivations in the rain forest. Scattered trees, no larger than our oaks and beeches, man-high grass, and scrub constitute these patches of standing bush. In the dry season the landscape appears harsh and bare, and its general drab hue is hardly relieved by the shade trees in front of the native homesteads or the remnants of vegetation along the dry watercourses. The mud walls and thatched roofs of the homesteads seem to blend indistinguishably with the dusty country-side. In the middle of the wet season, when every footpath becomes a rivulet and every depression a bog, the homesteads are hidden behind ramparts of luxuriant grain, and the whole country‐ side is resplendent with the green of flourishing vegetation.

The climate of the Sudanese Zone exhibits two clearly defined seasons, a dry season lasting about half the year (October to March) and a wet season lasting the remaining six or seven months (April to October). Not only are there marked variations in the mean rainfall from one area

____________________
i
For a short account of the principal ecological and climatic features of the part of the Sudanese Zone that concerns us in this book, see Lynn, C. W. , Agriculture in North Mamprussi, Bulletin No. 34 of the Gold Coast Department of Agriculture, 1937. Climate and vegetation are more fully discussed in Bégué, L., Contribution d l'Étude de la Végétation Forestière de la Haute Côte d'Ivoire, Publications du Comité d'Études Historiques et Scientifiques de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, 1937. These writers give lists of the common trees of economic value found in our area, of which the following are the best known and most frequently seen in inhabited places: Shea (Butyrospermum parkii); locust bean (Parkia filicoidea); baobab (Adansonia digitata); various species of acacia; the silk cotton (Ceiba pentendra); the tamarind (Tamarindus indica).

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