Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana

By Carola Lentz | Go to book overview

3
THE DISCURSIVE CREATION
OF ETHNICITY

‘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 authorities were about to be replaced by local councils, the Birifu Naa insisted that the area under his rule must be independent of Lawra, because ‘Burifo is an entirely different tribe to that of Lawra and our customs are not the same’.2 By this time, local actors had thoroughly adopted the tribalistic discourse as their own and were using it to pursue their own political interests. Ironically, this came right at the moment when the British model of the tribe as a natural political community was gradually being replaced by the new postwar discourse of community development.

In this chapter,3 I discuss the British production of an ethnic map of the North-West and of a corpus of ‘tribal laws and customs’. However, I am also concerned with the adoption and, at the same time, transformation of tribalistic discourse by African chiefs and interpreters. From the start, the intellectual colonisation of the North-West by the British was not a onesided hegemonic imposition of a new discursive order, but a process of communication marked by many (interest-led) misunderstandings and mutual manipulations. In the course of time, a growing number of Africans began more forcefully to make themselves heard, and it became increasingly obvious that neither they nor the British spoke with one voice. Colonial ethnography and historiography were not a monolithic block of ‘invented traditions’ that had successfully, and irreversibly, reified what had once been flexible, authentic African ‘customs’ (Ranger 1983), but were rather the result of ‘creative negotiation between agents of both discursive communities, the British and the African’ (Pels 1996: 740), marked by unexpected and often also undiscerned moments of mutual instrumentalisation.4

The tour of inspection, with ‘palavers’ in every village visited, was the

-72-

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Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps and Plates vi
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The North-West in the Nineteenth Century 14
  • 2 - The Introduction of Chieftaincy 33
  • 3 - The Discursive Creation of Ethnicity 72
  • 4 - The Lawra Confederacy Native Authority 104
  • 5 - Labour Migration, Home-Ties and Ethnicity 138
  • 6 - ‘Light over the Volta’- The Mission of the White Fathers 153
  • 7 - Decolonisation and Local Government Reform 175
  • 8 - ‘The Time When Politics Came’- Party Politics and Local Conflict 199
  • 9 - Ethnic Movements and Special-Interest Politics 228
  • 10 - The Cultural Work of Ethnicity 252
  • Epilogue 275
  • Notes 280
  • Abbreviations 322
  • Glossary 323
  • Divisional (Paramount) Chiefs of Lawra District 324
  • References 325
  • Index 337
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