Moving through and Passing On: Fulani Mobility, Survival, and Identity in Ghana

By Vermeer, Donald E. | African Studies Review, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Moving through and Passing On: Fulani Mobility, Survival, and Identity in Ghana


Vermeer, Donald E., African Studies Review


Yaa P. A. Oppong. Moving Through and Passing On: Fulani Mobility, Survival, and Identity in Ghana. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2002. xiv + 259 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. Price not reported. Cloth.

Yaa Oppong conies to this study with an uncommon set of talents and a background that permits her to ferret out information and insights that often remain hidden in ethnographic investigations. She has command of Twi and Ga, two principal languages in southern Ghana, and she studied Fulfulde in France in preparation for her eighteen months of fieldwork among Fulani immigrants. The bibliography of the monograph reveals Oppong's intimate familiarity with both published literature and with unpublished materials in the library of the University of Ghana at Legon.

Oppong seems to have been predestined to her study. Her father served thirty years earlier as a veterinarian on the Accra Plains, and he subsequently wrote a Ph.D. thesis on skin diseases of cattle in the region. Her mother, an academic, eagerly supported her daughter's work: On one occasion while Oppong was in the field she gave her cows as a birthday gift, an act that could only endear the ethnographer to her subjects, who prize cattle so highly! The cows remain in Ghana, but Oppong moved on to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and then to Harvard.

Moving Through and Passing On focuses on the nature and perpetuation of Fulani ethnicity in the Greater Accra Region, an administrative area stretching about 120 km chiefly eastward from Accra and reaching inland approximately 40 km from the coast. The Fulani, resident in this area less than one hundred years, have retained their traditional interest in cattle, but increasingly they are being swept into the vortex of urban Accra and crowded by the expansion of that city. The initial two chapters of the book recount movements of Fulani in West Africa through space and time. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 constitute the core of the study. The final three chapters analyze elements instrumental in perpetuating-and dismembering-Fulani identity in this setting: secular education versus traditional Koranic instruction, deliberate displays in public parades, development of associations to foster "Fulaniness," and the like.

The study is based on ethnographic data developed through the life stories of 99 females and 105 males, with the informants divided roughly equally between urban, peri-urban, and rural settings. …

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