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  • Examining Text Sediments–Commending a Pioneer Historian as an “African Herodotus”: On the Making of the New Annotated Edition of C.C. Reindorf’s History of the Gold Coast and Asante1
  • Heinz Hauser-Renner


In 1995 Paul Jenkins, the former Basel Mission archivist, called my attention to Carl Christian Reindorf’s Gã manuscripts kept at the archives in Basel, knowing that I had lived and worked in Ghana in the 1980s and that I was able to speak, read, and write the Gã language of Accra and its neigborhood. 2 Of course I already knew Reindorf and his monumental History of the Gold Coast and Asante published in 1895 in English, as I had written my M.A. thesis on late-nineteenth-century Asante history, and moreover I was very much interested in Gã history. Reindorf’s massive, substantive, and systematic work about the people of modern southern Ghana may be considered a pioneering intellectual achievement because it was one of the first large-scale historical work about an African region written by an African, and it was highly innovative, including both written sources and oral historical narratives and new methods for the reconstruction of African [End Page 231] history. The book has excited interest ever since it first appeared 110 years ago because it contains an unrivaled wealth of information on the history and culture of southern Ghana.

A preliminary glimpse at the two heaps of folios wrapped with linen ropes at the archives showed that the manuscripts–none of them were dated–contained two different versions of the English History. That day, when I first laid my hands on the brownish, carefully folded papers, I was not aware that I was to embark on an intensive period of arduous transcribing and translating work (sometimes “lost in translation”), breathtaking archival investigations in Basel, London, and Accra, and of an exciting text/context research (unearthing sources, excavating informants, examining sediments/versions). The feelings that accompanied the analysis and treatment of the texts were something between falling in love, tracking down a deer in the forest, the goose-skin emotions of a crime scene investigator finding evidence, and the satisfaction of a mad Bacchus tearing apart Orpheus. Looking at the “disjected members” of Reindorf and his History, at times I felt I had both disenchanted the author and his work. But now, after twelve years of work on the new edition (even surpassing the “nonumque prematur in annum”), I can commend a pioneer historian and a unique piece of African historiography.

This paper aims at documenting decisions, procedures, practices, and complications in the editing process. Moreover, it attempts to set Reindorf’s work into a historiographical context, and it presents the history of Reindorf’s texts and the reception of the published History after 1895.


Except the historian, that monarch of the past, using his noblest privileges, when he takes a survey of his dominions, has only to touch the ruins and dead bodies with his pen, in order to rebuild the palaces, and resuscitate the men. At his voice, like that of the Deity, the dry bones re-unite, the living flesh again covers them, brilliant dresses again clothe them; and in that immense Jehoshaphal (Joel 3.2.12), where the children of three thousand years are collected, his own caprice alone regulates his choice, and he has only to announce the names of those Maroons, or those Settlers he requires, to behold them start forth from their tombs, remove the folds of their grave-clothes with their own hands, and answer like Lazarus to our blessed Saviour, “Here am I, Lord! What dost thou want with me?”3 [End Page 232]

The study of historiography commonly focuses an all human endeavors to communicate and record the knowledge or the memory of past experiences, events, conditions, processes, and expectations in durable and (often) esthetic forms. Historiography was intimately linked with literacy up to a few decades ago, but since then also is meant to include the oral transmission of historical knowledge. In the process of contextualizing Reindorf’s historical writings in both English and Gã, the following questions had to be dealt with: What exactly is meant...


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