Skip to main content Accessibility help

Of Trees and Earth Shrines: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Settlement Histories in the West African Savanna1

  • Carola Lentz (a1) and Hans-Jürgen Sturm (a2)

For a vegetation geographer and an anthropologist to come together to write on the settlement histories of segmentary societies in the West African savanna is unusual or at least rare. A few words on the origin of this cooperation therefore seem appropriate. For over ten years, in the context of an interdisciplinary research program at the Universität Frankfurt am Main, archeologists, anthropologists, linguists, botanists and geographers have been working together on the history of cultures, languages, and natural environment of the West African savanna, especially the interaction between human activity and the natural environment. That one should actually be speaking in many cases of a culturally mediated “landscape” rather than a “natural environment” is one of the outcomes of the research projects, which have focused mainly on different regions of Burkina Faso (in the sahel and Sudanese zone) and the Lake Chad area of northeast Nigeria.

The present paper has emerged from a botanical and an anthropological-historical project on the history of vegetation and of settlement in south and southwest Burkina Faso. This history has been shaped by the great expansion of the Dagara-speaking population. In the last two hundred years (possibly longer), small groups of Dagara patrilineages, related and allied to one another, have migrated north and northwest, probably from the region around Wa in present-day Ghana, and have founded numerous new settlements—a process of land appropriation that is still going on today, though with changed circumstances regarding land rights (see map 1).

Hide All

The English translation of this paper is by Robert Parkin.

Hide All
Aubréville, André 1938. La forêt coloniale. Les forêts de l'Afrique occidentale francaise, Paris
Beidelman, Thomas O. 1970. “Myth, Legend and Oral History: a Kaguru Traditional Text,” Anthropos 65:7497.
Biersack, Aletta 1999. “From the ‘New Ecology’ to the New Ecologies,” American Anthropologist 101:518.
Brooks, George E. 1993. Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000-1630. Boulder.
Crumley, Carole L. ed. 1994. Historical Ecology: Cultural Knowledge and Changing Landscapes, Santa Fe
Fairhead, James and Leach, Melissa 1996. Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge.
Falola, Toyin 1993. “Alternative History: the World of Yoruba Chroniclers.” Passages (Evanston) 6:26.
Goody, Jack 1957. “Fields of Social Control among the LoDagaba.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 87:75104.
Goody, Jack 1993. “Peuplement: études comparatives, Nord-Ghana et Burkina Faso” in Fiéloux, Michèle, Lombard, Jacques, and Kambou-Ferrand, Jeanne-Marie. eds. Images d'Afrique et sciences sociales. Les pays lobi, birifor et dagara. Paris. 5155.
Harneit-Sievers, Axel 1997. “Igbo Community Histories: Locality and History in South-Eastern Nigeria.” Working Papers on African Societies (Berlin) 24.
Hébert, Jean 1976. Esquisse d'une monographic historique du pays dagara. Par un groupe de Dagara en collaboration avec le père Hébert. Diébougou.
Horton, Robin 1985. “Stateless Societies in the History of West Africa” in Ajayi, J.F.A. and Crowder, Michael, eds. History of West Africa, London, 87128.
Jones, Adam 1990. Zur Quellenproblematik der Geschichte Westafrikas, 1450-1900. Stuttgart.
Kuba, Richard 2000. “Marking Boundaries and Identities: the Precolonial Expansion of Segmentary Societies in Southern Burkina Faso.” Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/14, 415–25.
Kuba, Richard, Lentz, Carola, and Werthmann, Katja (eds.) 2001. Les Dagara et leurs voisins. L'histoire du peuplement au sud-ouest du Burkina Faso. Frankfurt: Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/15.
Labouret, Henri 1931. Les tribus du rameau lobi. Paris.
Labouret, Henri 1958. Nouvelles notes sur les tribus du rameau lobi, leurs migrations, leurs évolution, leurs parlers et ceux de leurs voisins. Dakar.
Law, Robin 1984. “How Truly Traditional is our Traditional History? The Case of Samuel Johnson and the Recording of Yoruba Oral Tradition.” History in Africa 11:195221.
Leach, Melissa and Means, Robin 1996. “Challenging Received Wisdom in Africa” in Leach, Melissa and Mearns, Robin, eds. The Lie of the Land. Oxford, 133.
Lentz, Carola 1994. “A Dagara Rebellion Against Dagomba Rule? Contested Stories of Origin in North-Western Ghana.” Journal of African History 35:457–92.
Lentz, Carola 1998. Die Konstruktion von Ethnizität. Eine politische Geschichte Nord-West Ghanas, ca. 1870-1990. Köln.
Lentz, Carola 1999. “Colonial Ethnography and Political Reform: the Works of A.C. Duncan-Johnstone, R.S. Rattray, J. Eyre-Smith, and J. Guiness on Northern Ghana.” Ghana Studies 2:119–69.
Lentz, Carola 2000a. “Contested Identities: the History of Ethnicity in North-western Ghana” in Lentz, Carola and Nugent, Paul, eds. Ethnicity in Ghana: The Limits of Invention. London, 137–61.
Lentz, Carola 2000b. “Of Hunters, Goats and Earth-Shrines: Settlement Histories and the Politics of Oral Tradition in Northern Ghana.” History in Africa 27:193214.
Lentz, Carola 2000c. “‘This is Ghanaian territory:’ Land Conflicts in Transnational Localities on the Burkina Faso—Ghana Border.” Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/14, 477–95.
Linz, Volker 2000. “La dynamique historique et politique des réseaux religieux au sud-ouest du Burkina Faso.” Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/14, 455–65.
Luig, Ute 1984. “Probleme bei der Erforschung oraler Traditionen.” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialforschung 26:178–94.
Luig, Ute and von Oppen, Achim 1995. “Einleitung. Zur Vergesellschaftung von Natur in Afrika” in Luig, Ute and von Oppen, Achim, eds. Naturaneignung in Afrika als sozialer und symbolischer Prozess. Berlin, 528.
Marchal, Jean Y. 1978. “Vestiges d'occupation ancienne au Yatenga (Haute-Volta). Une reconnaissance du pays Kibga.” Cahiers ORSTOM, série Sciences Humaines 15:449–84.
Miller, Joseph C. ed. 1980. The African Past Speaks. Folkestone.
Moniot, Henri 1995. “L'histoire à l'épreuve de l'Afrique.” Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines 138/139:647–56.
Neumann, Katharina, Kahlheber, Stefanie, and Uebel, Dirk 1988. “Remains of Woody Plants from Saouga, a Medieval West African Village.” Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 7/1:5777.
Pélissier, Paul 1980. “L'arbre dans les paysages agraires de l'Afrique tropicale.” Cahiers ORSTOM, série Sciences Humaines 17:131–36.
Père, Madeleine. 1993. “Chronique des villages de la province du Poni, en contribution à l'histoire du peuplement au Burkina Faso.” in Fiéloux, Michèle, Lombard, Jacques, and Kambou-Ferrand, Jeanne-Marie, eds. Images d'Afrique et sciences sociales. Les pays lobi, birifor et dagara. Paris, 5673.
Raison, Jean-Pierre 1988. Les parcs en Afrique. Etat de connaissances et perspectives de recherches. Paris.
Rival, Laura, ed. 1998. The Social Life of Trees: Anthropological Perspectives on Tree Symbolism. Oxford.
Somda, Claude Nurukyor 2000. “Espace et mobilité lignagère dans le sud-ouest du Burkina: l'exemple des Dagara,” Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/14, 449–53.
Sturm, Hans-Jürgen 1995. “Das Uberweidungsproblem in der westafrikanischen Savanne. Neue Ansätze und Perspektiven” in Brunk, Karsten and Greinert-Byer, Ursula, eds. Mensch und Natur in Westafrika. Frankfurt, 163–76.
Sturm, Hans-Jürgen 1997. “Kulturbaumparks in der Provinz Boulgou (Burkina Faso)” in Reikat, Andrea, ed. Landnutzung in der westafrikanischen Savanne, Berichte des Sonderforschungsbereichs 268/9, 169–88.
Sturm, Hans-Jürgen 1998. “Development and Dynamics of Agricultural Parks in West Africa” in Kirby, Keith J. and Watkins, Charles, eds. The Ecological History of European Forests, Wallingford, 2532.
Tauxier, Louis 1912. Le Noir du Soudan. Pays Mossi et Gourounsi. Paris.
Vansina, Jan 1985. Oral Tradition as History. Madison.
Vansina, Jan 1990. Paths in the Rain Forest: Towards a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. Madison.
Vansina, Jan 1995. “Historians, Are Archeologists your Siblings?History in Africa 22: 369409.
Vansina, Jan 1998. “It Never Happened: Kinguri's Exodus and its Consequences.” History in Africa 25:387403.
Zwernemann, Jürgen 1968. Die Erde in Vorstellungswelt undKultpraktiken der sudanischen Völker. Berlin.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

History in Africa
  • ISSN: 0361-5413
  • EISSN: 1558-2744
  • URL: /core/journals/history-in-africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed