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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).

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The English translation of this paper is by Robert Parkin.

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History in Africa
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