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Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana

Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana: The Encounter between the LoDagaa and 'the World on Paper'

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 488
  • Book Info
    Writing and Colonialism in Northern Ghana
    Book Description:

    Drawing on the work of a variety of other fields and disciplines ? from the ancient Mediterranean to colonial Spain, and from anthropology to psychology ? the author argues that colonialism in Africa needs to be understood through the medium of writing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5756-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Maps, Tables, and Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. Map
    (pp. xvi-2)
  6. Introduction: Colonialism as an Encounter between “the World on Paper” and the World of Experience
    (pp. 3-36)

    “Empire,” to use Coetzee’s singular archetype, attempted to appropriate people through the medium of writing, to colonize them through the power of writing, and to regulate their lives through the order of writing. That it did not entirely succeed in these aims in no way diminishes the central role that writing played in the imperial project. More than steamboats, quinine, breechloading rifles, machine guns, or any other material instruments commonly associated with conquest, writing made colonialism possible; yet the subject has been relatively neglected in studies of twentieth-century African history.¹ Belloc’s offensive imperial conceit – “Whatever happens we have got /The...


    • Chapter One Maps and Narratives
      (pp. 39-62)

      In order to rule the LoDagaa it was necessary to appropriate them. The British did this in at least five different ways. The first was to locate them in space as part of the wider European project of exploring Africa — a project that had been under way for most of the nineteenth century. The second was to situate the LoDagaa in time. Just as the British saw the creation of the Northern Territories as a matter of defining boundaries and filling in blank spaces on their maps, so too did they see the LoDagaa past as uncharted and in need...

    • Chapter Two Labor, Bodies, and Names
      (pp. 63-104)

      To appropriate the LoDagaa, the British situated them in versions of space and time that belonged to the world on paper. However, situating them was not the same as using, controlling, or knowing them. This chapter looks at how the British attempted to use, control, and know the LoDagaa, focusing in particular on British efforts to expropriate their labor, dress their bodies in colonial attire, and name them according to the terms of ethnographic science. Labor migration became a central feature of LoDagaa male culture during the twentieth century. The bow and arrow had been the symbols of male courage...


    • Chapter Three Rewriting the Past
      (pp. 107-137)

      By making one type of history, that of stasis, authentic, and another type of history, that of change, illegitimate, the world on paper bequeathed forms of historicism that were debilitating to the exercise of LoDagaa historicity. Indigenous intellectuals attempted to regain sovereignty lost through colonial conquest and missionary evangelism by rewriting the past. They appealed to the conventions of a static, authentic history which held that legitimacy resided in the past; in doing so, they succumbed to the historicism of the world on paper. However, real sovereignty resided in history of the second type, which belonged to the world of...

    • Chapter Four Reimagining God
      (pp. 138-162)

      Shortly after the Society of Missionaries of Africa began their evangelical work among the LoDagaa in 1929 they claimed that the indigenous god was remote and inaccessible whereas their own God was more immediate and approachable, and therefore unique.¹ Indeed, because of this alleged theological incommensurability, the missionaries rejected all forms of indigenous religious beliefs and practices save for the name of the indigenous god,Naangmin, which they adopted to refer to their God. As the missionaries understood thatNaangminwas neither prayed to nor propitiated according to what they could see, this gesture of accommodation did not threaten their...


    • Chapter Five Suppressing Knowledge
      (pp. 165-189)

      During the twentieth century the LoDagaa experienced a series of changes that affected their sense of space. The world on paper reconfigured their relationship with important aspects of their own culture and their social relationships with each other by suppressing the cultural knowledge that had once informed how social tensions were expressed and resolved, and by eliminating practices that had once mediated social interaction outside areas of shared ritual jurisdiction. The suppression of knowledge used to define and resolve disputes within areas of ritual interdependence changed the relationship between the world of experience and the noumenal world. Similarly, the elimination...

    • Chapter Six Missionary Medicine and Colonial Money
      (pp. 190-224)

      The arrival of missionaries had been preceded by a generation of British political engineering, during which an autocracy of indigenous colonial appointees (i.e., chiefs) exercised unprecedented powers. However, colonial power was not hegemonic, and at the end of the 1920s many LoDagaa still strongly resented this new order. A few years later they created their own alternative order, one that promised, among other things, refuge from the rule of the chiefs. This parallel world mirrored the colonial world it sought to displace, but the source of its power was not summonses, court records, and other bureaucratic practices; rather, it was...


    • Chapter Seven Women, Marriage, and Adultery
      (pp. 227-276)

      The suppression of indigenous means of defining and resolving disputes made the courts inescapable. By the beginning of the 1930s the rule of the chiefs had become firmly entrenched in practice as well as on paper, although this by no means indicated the total conquest and displacement of LoDagaa knowledge and social practice by colonial ideas and methods. The chiefs dominated the LoDagaa politically in the name of different British monarchs; the cash economy transformed the meaning of work; and the courts intruded on experiences. Still, by decade’s end many LoDagaa had succeeded in creating an alternative political order that...

    • Chapter Eight Postcolonial Litigation of Personal Identities
      (pp. 277-321)

      During the colonial period, women demonstrated their autonomy outside the courts regardless of how conjugal unions were represented by colonial administrators, chiefs, and litigants. Women’s autonomy, male competition for wives, and the resulting instability of conjugal unions among the LoDagaa threatened the idea that marriage was an indigenous institution; but administrative convenience, chiefly connivance, and patriarchal interests maintained the pretense. During the postcolonial period, the courts began to search for the existence of marriage in precise social practices rather than the “fantastic” and “fictitious” improvisations that had been wrought during the colonial period, in order to restrict the freedom of...

  11. Conclusion: Writing, Blood, and the Politics of Legitimacy
    (pp. 322-328)

    Such are the doubts that afflicted the Magistrate in Coetzee’s enigmatic allegory of colonial rule. Pressed by the Colonel, his superior, into an interpretation, he concluded that the script could be read in different ways depending on the reader’s orientation. Similarly, there are many different ways of reading the documents that this book has analyzed: as relics of a time when the production of knowledge was one of the fundamental by-products of conquest as well as a necessary condition for its perpetuation; as a means of inventing and appropriating colonial subjects; as discourses that either denied historicity or invented history...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 329-422)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 423-446)
  14. Index
    (pp. 447-468)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 469-469)