Research Article


Carola Lentz


S. W. D. K. Gandah was the son of an influential chief and witnessed first-hand the way the conflicts, pressures and transformations of colonial rule played out on the ground in northern Ghana. Belonging to the first generation of educated northerners, he put his literary and intellectual attainments to original use throughout his life. In addition to an autobiography (The Silent Rebel), he wrote a fascinating history of his father (Gandah-yir), extracts from which are published here. In this introduction I discuss the author's development as a writer and local historian. I analyse his ambivalent perspective on Chief Gandah's life, as loyal son, but also critic of many aspects of village life – a perspective typical of a first generation of indigenous intellectuals who embodied both a traditional upbringing and new values instilled through Western education. I look at Kumbonoh's reflections on the task that he has set himself for his Gandah-yir manuscript, namely reconciling oral tradition, local memories, and written history in an attempt to produce a historical account not only for his immediate family and the wider Dagara community, but for a broader readership.


S. W. D. K. Gandah, fils d'un chef influent, a été le témoin direct des conflits, des pressions et des transformations du régime colonial qui se sont joués sur le terrain dans le Nord du Ghana. Appartenant à la première génération d'instruits dans cette région, il a consacré ses œuvres littéraires et intellectuelles à ces origines tout au long de sa vie. Il est l'auteur d'une autobiographie (The Silent Rebel), mais aussi d'un récit fascinant sur son père (Gandah-yir) dont cet article publie des extraits. Dans cette introduction, l'article retrace le cheminement de l'auteur en tant qu'écrivain et historien local. Il analyse sa perspective ambivalente sur la vie du Chef Gandah, en tant que fils loyal mais aussi de critique sur de nombreux aspects de la vie de village; une perspective typique d'une première génération d'intellectuels indigènes qui incarnaient à la fois une éducation traditionnelle et des valeurs nouvelles inculquées par l'enseignement occidental. Il examine les réflexions de Kumbonoh sur la tâche qu'il s'est assignée pour son manuscrit Gandah-yir, à savoir de concilier tradition orale, mémoire locale et histoire écrite pour tenter de produire un récit historique s'adressant non seulement à sa famille immédiate et à la communauté Dagara, mais aussi à un lectorat plus large.

Carola Lentz is Professor of Social Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology and African Studies of Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz. Since 1987 she has been conducting research on labour migration, ethnicity, the history of chieftaincy, land rights, and the politics of belonging in northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. Her current research project explores the changing career strategies and home ties of the members of an emerging middle class in northern Ghana. She also supervises a group of junior researchers who have studied the 2010 African independence celebrations in nine different countries. She is author of Ethnicity and the Making of History in Northern Ghana (Edinburgh University Press and the International African Institute, 2006), Land, Mobility and Belonging in West Africa (Indiana University Press, forthcoming) as well as other monographs and numerous journal publications, and she has edited, among others, Land and the Politics of Belonging in West Africa (Brill, 2006). She is president of the German Anthropological Association. Email: