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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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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Aletta Biersack 1999. “From the ‘New Ecology’ to the New Ecologies,” American Anthropologist 101:518.

James Fairhead and Melissa Leach 1996. Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic. Cambridge.

Robin Law 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.

Carola Lentz 1994. “A Dagara Rebellion Against Dagomba Rule? Contested Stories of Origin in North-Western Ghana.” Journal of African History 35:457–92.

Carola Lentz 2000a. “Contested Identities: the History of Ethnicity in North-western Ghana” in Carola Lentz and Paul Nugent , eds. Ethnicity in Ghana: The Limits of Invention. London, 137–61.

Carola Lentz 2000b. “Of Hunters, Goats and Earth-Shrines: Settlement Histories and the Politics of Oral Tradition in Northern Ghana.” History in Africa 27:193214.

Katharina Neumann , Stefanie Kahlheber , and Dirk Uebel 1988. “Remains of Woody Plants from Saouga, a Medieval West African Village.” Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 7/1:5777.

Jan Vansina 1995. “Historians, Are Archeologists your Siblings?History in Africa 22: 369409.

Jan Vansina 1998. “It Never Happened: Kinguri's Exodus and its Consequences.” History in Africa 25:387403.

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History in Africa
  • ISSN: 0361-5413
  • EISSN: 1558-2744
  • URL: /core/journals/history-in-africa
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