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The History of a West African God

Jean Allman and John Parker

Publication Year: 2005

For many Africanist historians, traditional religion is simply a starting point for measuring the historic impact of Christianity and Islam. In Tongnaab, Jean Allman and John Parker challenge the distinction between tradition and modernity by tracing the movement and mutation of the powerful Talensi god and ancestor shrine, Tongnaab, from the savanna of northern Ghana through the forests and coastal plains of the south. Using a wide range of written, oral, and iconographic sources, Allman and Parker uncover the historical dynamics of cross-cultural religious belief and practice. They reveal how Tongnaab has been intertwined with many themes and events in West African history -- the slave trade, colonial conquest and rule, capitalist agriculture and mining, labor migration, shifting ethnicities, the production of ethnographic knowledge, and the political projects that brought about the modern nation state. This rich and original book shows that indigenous religion has been at the center of dramatic social and economic changes stretching from the slave trade to the tourist trade.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. i-iv


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pp. v

List of Maps

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Our debts in the completion of this project are many. Jean Allman’s research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United States Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Program, the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, the University of Minnesota, and the Research Board and Center for Advanced...

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pp. 1-22

Neither of us set out in 1992 to become enmeshed in the history of Tongnaab. We were both busy with our separate research projects based in Ghana’s south—a social history of the capital, Accra, and a history of gender and colonialism in Asante—when we decided to take a break and together visit the northern savanna region of the country. Like...

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1. Tongnaab and the Talensi in the History of the Middle Volta Savanna

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pp. 23-71

The history of Tongnaab and its Talensi guardians before the colonial conquest of 1911 remains beyond the reach of detailed reconstruction. While British documents and the oral testimonies of elderly informants provide enough evidence to piece together the opening phase of colonial encounter, the precolonial Tong Hills emerge only in the vaguest of outlines.

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2. Gods and Guns, Rituals and Rule, 1911-1928

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pp. 72-105

When the Whiteman first came to your country you were backward and primitive, a prey to slave raiders from the north and south. You had no cohesion and in many cases no constitution to speak of which was really the root of your troubles.

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3. "Watch Over Me": Witchcraft and Anti-witchcraft Movements in Ghanaian History, 1870s-1920s

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pp. 106-142

By the 1920s, the pilgrimage network focused on the Tong Hills began to expand beyond its established heartland to Asante and the Gold Coast. Tongnaab’s passage across the savanna-forest divide represents the key shift in the twentieth-century history of the bo’ar cult—a shift that occurred in three overlapping phases. First, the imposition of colonial rule and the refashioning...

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4. From Savanna to Forest: Nana Tongo and Ritual Commerce in the World of Cash and Cocoa

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pp. 143-181

Persons who have consulted the Fetish are satisfied that they received value for their money.¹ As we have seen, a significant expansion in Tongnaab’s ritual field was well under way by the time of R. S. Rattray’s visit in 1928. Building upon the established mobility of the great bo’a in its savanna heartland, ritual intermediaries like Tengol began to grant to favored southern pilgrims the right to transport Tongnaab’s...

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5. Tongnaab, Meyer Fortes, and the Making of Colonial Taleland, 1928-1945

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pp. 182-216

The inter-war period witnessed the greatest efflorescence of organized witchcraft eradication in Ghanaian history. Expanding physical mobility and ritual commerce enabled the peoples of southern Ghana to draw on the powers of distant savanna shrines and to deploy those powers in new and innovative ways. They did so in order to reinforce their spiritual armory in the face of a growing range of...

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6. Tongnaab and the Dynamics of History among the Talensi

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pp. 217-236

R. S. Rattray sketched them onto the edges of an amorphous Asante hinterland. Meyer Fortes painted them into intricate webs of kinship that, in their overlapping complexity, embodied wider dynamics of clanship. For decades the western ethnographic pen, sometimes retracing the very lines drawn by early colonial officials, interned the Talensi and their gods in a timeless, unchanging present.


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pp. 237-238


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pp. 239-277


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pp. 279-292


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pp. 293-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111838
E-ISBN-10: 0253111838
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346650

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 40 b&w photos, 5 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005