Chiefs, Priests, and Praise-Singers
History, Politics, and Land Ownership in Northern Ghana
In his new book, the eminent anthropologist Wyatt MacGaffey provides an ethnographically enriched history of Dagbon from the fifteenth century to the present, setting that history in the context of the regional resources and political culture of northern Ghana. Chiefs, Priests, and Praise-Singers shows how the history commonly assumed by scholars has been shaped by the prejudices of colonial anthropology, the needs of British indirect rule, and local political agency. The book demonstrates, too, how political agency has shaped the kinship system. MacGaffey traces the evolution of chieftaincy as the sources of power changed and as land ceased to be simply the living space of the dependents of a chief and became a commodity and a resource for development. The internal violence in Dagbon that has been a topic of national and international concern since 2002 is shown to be a product of the interwoven values of tradition, modern Ghanaian politics, modern education, and economic opportunism.
MacGaffey is deservedly one of the most celebrated anthropologists alive today, not only for his significant ethnography in west central Africa but also for his contributions to our understandings of belief systems and therapeutic strategies. Here he has produced a magical book which enables the reader to understand the dynamism of 'tradition' and 'traditional authority.' A mature work written by an admirable scholar at the peak of a long career.
A very interesting and important case study on the Dagbon chiefdom in northern Ghana. MacGaffey offers a nuanced analysis of the intricate relationship between secular and ritual/religious sources of chiefly power and how these have changed over time.
Wyatt MacGaffey is Professor of Anthropology Emeritus at Haverford College and the author most recently of Kongo Political Culture.