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 II
THE MEANING OF 'TALLENSI'

Tribal Divisions

TALELAND is, as we have seen, merely a portion of a far greater, ecologically uniform region, marked off only by an artificial boundary. The same kind of subsistence farming is practised throughout the whole region of which Taleland forms a part. The culture of its inhabitants likewise represents a far more widely spread type. Before we embark on our sociological analysis we must know what sort of a unit we are dealing with. Have the people of Taleland any form of cultural or structural unity and singularity that differentiates them from neighbouring socio‐ geographical areas ? Or are they a fraction of a greater society arbitrarily circumscribed to suit the convenience of the field worker?

The question is not so easy to answer as might be expected. For the natives of Taleland, like the other so-called 'tribes' north of the Gambaga scarp, have no obvious political unity distinguishing them from like political units. In terms of their own political and social organization there is no single government exercising authority over all the people of Taleland, and only over them, within their own defined territory. This has been the most serious obstacle confronting British administration in this area. i We must approach the problem from a different angle.

In the literature and in administrative practice the inhabitants of Taleland are called the Tallensi 2 and are distinguished as a 'tribe' from neighbouring 'tribes', the Kusaasi on the east, the Namnam or Nabdam on the north, the Nankansi or Goransi (in Talni, Garisi) on the west, the Mamprusi on the south of them. All these groups speak dialects of Mole‐ Dagbane. But Kusal, Nabte, and Garni are closely akin to Mole, whereas Talni and Mampurule have closer affinities with Dagbane. These dialect areas have no strict boundaries. At the frontiers one passes through intermediate zones where the people speak intermediate dialects or are equally familiar with two contiguous dialects. But it is clearly recognized, both by the natives and by outside observers, that the tribes enumerated above have more in common with one another linguistically than any of them have with the peoples of the same cultural type farther away, such as the Woolisi (usually called the Kassena in the literature and by the

____________________
2
Sc. Talense (Rattray), Talansi (Cardinall), sing. Talenga, Talanga. This form, correctly Talansi, sing. Taləηa, is taken from the dialect of the Zuarungu district (Gorəni, or in the dialect of the Tallensi, Garni). The artificial spelling I use has been adopted to show that the Tallensi regard this phonetic form as a foreigners' version of the name by which they designate themselves. In their own dialect (Talni) they call themselves Talis, sing. Taləηa. Talni forms will henceforth be used for all vernacular words in the text.
i
For an outline of Tale political organization and a discussion of some of the theoretical problems raised by it, see African Political Systems, edited by M. Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Oxford, 1940.

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