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Architecture in Northern Ghana










Architecture in Northern Ghana A S T U D Y OF FORMS AND F U N C T I O N S / BY L A B E L L E PRUSSIN

University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University of California Press, Ltd. London, England Copyright 1969 by of the University of California The© Regents Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-84789 Designed by Douglas Nicholson Printed in the United States of America

To Rachel and Deborah


We shape our buildings and they shape us. —Winston Churchill

M an is a builder. He takes the materials supplied by nature, applies to them the crafts and engineering skills he has become master of, and fabricates for himself an artificial environment that satisfies his creature comforts, meets his social requirements, and fulfills his aesthetic tastes and religious sentiments. In turn, by shaping his environment he structures his social relationships and reinforces his cultural proclivities, for the circularity that characterizes all cultural matters, wherein cause becomes effect and effect cause, is particularly manifested in the buildings man creates. The significance of architecture in the character of primitive life has long been recognized: the pioneering study by Louis Henry Morgan, Houses and HouseLife of the American Aborigines, is an anthropological classic. Morgan understood, better than most who have followed him, that the study of housing should be sociological, not technological. As Paul Bohannan remarks in his introduction to the recent edition of

Morgan's book, Morgan raises the basic problem: "What does domestic architecture show anthropologists . . . about social organization, and how does social organization combine with a system of production, technology and ecological adjustment to influence domestic and public architecture?" Yet the anthropology of architecture remains primitive. "There have been practically no attempts," writes Claude Lévi-Strauss, "to correlate the spatial configurations with the formal properties of the other aspects of social life." Like others, Lévi-Strauss has given attention to village plan in his description of the Bororo in Tristes Tropiques (1964). Fred Eggan has shown how architecture reflects the social system among the western Pueblos; Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen explain how it expresses the cosmogenic view of the Dogon culture; and Edward T. Hall tells how architecture reveals man's inner view of social relationships. But such attempts to elucidate the social, cultural, and ideological aspects of man's vii


efforts to give form to space are rare; more frequently architecture in nonliterate societies is treated as a part of technology. Architecture is an aspect of culture which mediates between man and his environment; it therefore has an ecological, as well as a social and a cultural, significance. Since man must find his building materials in nature, the type of structures built in areas where transportation is limited is determined by what is available. Because they offer protection from the vicissitudes of the environment, structures reflect meteorological and other external conditions that offer the principal hazards or discomforts of life. And, for historic societies, important among the hazards to which structures must be adapted is the presence of predatory neighbors. Military considerations have been influential in the development of the architecture of historic societies, and there is no reason to believe that it has been otherwise among unlettered peoples. If anthropological literature on primitive architecture is scanty, the architects' contribution to the subject is virtually nil. Movements that have arisen in other areas of aesthetic expression, notably the plastic arts and music, where an appreciation of the quality of native arts was followed by a response to their inspiration, have had no counterpart in the realm of architecture. A few works, such as Bernard Rudolfsky's Architecture without Architects (1965), are steps in that direction. Articles like Cardwell Ross Anderson's in viii

the A.I.A. Journal (1961) and J. Marston Fitch and Daniel P. Branch's in the Scientific American (1960), though more academic in approach, hardly constitute the beginnings of an anthropology of architecture. If an anthropology of architecture is to be established, it mu,st be done by persons who have a thorough knowledge of both fields, who appreciate the the essential character of the art of shaping space as well as the social and cultural context in which these spatial forms must function. It is for this reason that I was happy to have Labelle Prussin as a student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and am pleased to write this foreword. Her background and training as an architect, combined with five years' work in Ghana, have given her a rare combination of skills and insights. Although this book, her first work, opens the door but a small way, it nevertheless casts light on the scene. Architecture in Northern Ghana is a study of village pattern and household architecture of six tribes occupying a limited region of high environmental constancy and basic cultural uniformity. A wide range of architectural styles and structural features within this selected group demonstrates the creative character of these Ghanaian tribesmen and display for us, in photographs and architectural renderings, the shapes that life takes on. Many influences help to create these shapes: available materials and technological limitations; economic activities and their by-products; social

FOREWORD relationships not only within the kindred, but in the community as a whole; religious beliefs and attendant practices; and, perhaps most important of all, traditional habituation. The present work only suggests the parameters that enter into architectural style in this area; it does not evaluate their relative importance. Miss Prussin raises many questions in this b o o k questions that are both necessary to ask and in themselves illuminating. To most of these questions she does not provide an answer. This seems to me proper in a pioneering work, for prematurely to provide answers would stultify further investigation, while raising the significant questions opens the field for study. This work does demonstrate that tribal architecture has a dynamic quality, both traditional and adaptive, both limited and innovative. It is responsive as much to the inner environment of cultural presupposition and social interaction as it is to the external environment of wind and weather. The responsiveness of tribal architecture to both internal and external forces is a lesson that has practical significance. The architect knows that in shaping life space he also shapes lives. According to LéviStrauss, for example, the Salesian missionaries realized that the surest way of converting the Bororo was to

make them abandon their circular villages and place their houses in parallel rows. A dwelling that satisfies physical comforts may also create social discomfort. If architecture—particularly the mass architecture of the future—is to serve the former and avoid the latter, it must take cognizance of the significant social relationships in the lives of those who inhabit the spaces it provides. Only through a true marriage between architectural skills and anthropological understandings can satisfactory housing be developed in regions of exotic culture. The architect cannot be expected to be a sociologist, even within the confines of his own culture. Where his skills are being used for peoples with alien ways of life, the anthropological understanding is a necessary corrective against the tendency of both architect and planner to find answers to the sociological implications of their actions through conjecture and introspection. It provides them not only with the essential fact that men are not all alike, but with the more vital implication that these differences affect the life style of a people. W A L T E R GOLDSCHMIDT

Los Angeles, May, 1968




c* rateful acknowledgment is made to the Ford Foundation, which through its Grant to the Research Group of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Science and Technology, Ghana, for a Village Survey, made possible the fieldwork that served as the basis for this survey; to senior staff members of the Faculty of Architecture who conducted some of the preliminary field surveys; to E. K. Akowuah, G. K. Klu, W. Segbefia, and E. K. Torkornoo, students in the Facultv of Engineering who helped carry out

the field surveys; to the clerical and technical staff of the Faculty of Architecture for their patient cooperation and help; to Mr. Lynden Herbert, architect, for his help with the illustrative material, both photographs and drawings; and, above all, to the many District Commissioners, chiefs, elders, and villagers who gave me permission to record their way of life. Responsibility for the errors and omissions lies with the author alone. xi





The Six Communities

4. Sekai, an Isala Village


5. Larabanga, a Gonja Village


6. Birufu, a LoWiili Settlement


1. Kasuliyili, a Dagomba Village


2. Yankezia, a Konkomba Hamlet


Comparative Summary


3. Ton go, a Tallensi Settlement




. . . just as every form contains its function, and exists by virtue of it, so every function finds or is engaged in finding its form. —Louis H. Sullivan, Kindergarten




M he architectural forms evolved by man in adapting to his environment are as diverse as the environment to which he conforms; they are as varied as the range of functions generated by his culture. Traditionally, the architectural discipline has narrowly delimited the boundaries of its domain by a socially conditioned aesthetic in which durability and monumentality are governing criteria. So parochial a focus relegates the overwhelming majority of man's building efforts to the realm of building technology. These building efforts, though occasionally termed "primitive architecture," have seldom been considered by serious students of architecture or architectural critics. In this survey I am attempting to illustrate that what has, in many instances, been termed "building technology" is, in a very real sense, architecture. Architecture may be viewed in several perspectives. It may be regarded as a building process, in which

man puts the available materials at his command to work for him. From this point of view, architecture is building technology. Second, architecture may be seen more conceptually, as the enclosure of space. Emphasis is then not on the technology of enclosing space, but on the nature and the quality of the space created by the technology. Finally, architecture may be construed as a material manifestation of a culture's symbolic system. As such, it is a quantification, graphically and formally, of the system of values inherent in a culture. The full comprehension of architecture anywhere, at any time, requires its consideration in this three-point perspective. Architecture in its usual sense is construed as the sum of the width, height, and length of the material elements enclosing space. Its working language consists almost exclusively of designations for those material elements. In many parts of the world, and par1


ticularly in warmer climates, life is carried on far less in the space so defined than in the spaces outside and surrounding the enclosure. It is, therefore, necessary to consider not only the elements that enclose space, but those that define it as well. Walls, floors, and roofs are tools in defining the relationship between spaces, and thus they become three-dimensional extensions of an enclosure. Such extensions are not limited to houses individually, but flow from one to another, linking them together. As a consequence, the architecture here considered cannot be isolated from its immediate physical environment; it can be viewed only within its larger framework, the settlement or village of which it is merely one element. The arrangement of building masses in itself constitutes a definition of space. The visual pattern of a community becomes, then, more than just the sum of its components—it has a quality of its own. The study of architectural form is inseparable from a consideration of settlement morphology. One of the difficulties in analyzing "primitive" architectural forms is that they can be described only in terms of geometric analysis and arithmetic measure, although their builders never perceive them as such. A linear two-dimensional drawing or photograph conveys to the Western viewer a visual image of spatial enclosure and definition, but the traditional builder conceives his creation rather in terms of the functions it will perform, measuring out with his arms and legs


a space that will serve his needs. To a great extent, the conceptual processes he brings to bear upon the problem are the result of his cultural milieu. Just as every language possesses a structure that is fully efficient for the particular culture in which it exists, so, too, every culture possesses an architecture that is, at any given point in time, a fully developed construct. In order to understand a particular architecture, one must examine it within the framework of the cultural matrix that created it. Since the forms that constitute an architecture are interwoven with and inseparable from the cultural milieu, they are not merely its material manifestation, but in turn act upon it. The presentations that follow vividly suggest that the appreciation and understanding of any architecture outside the Western purview must be accompanied by a knowledge of the cultural milieu that has generated it. A cultural milieu is the product of forces acting within it as well as of those external to but acting upon it; therefore consideration of a temporal dimension is also required. All cultures change in time and, as a consequence, architectural forms, which constiMap 1. Ghana, showing villages visited in the 1961 survey conducted by the School of Architecture, Kumasi College of Technology (now the University of Science and Technology at Kumasi). The six communities presented in this volume are marked by a dot enclosed in a circle. The shaded area is northern Ghana.

KEY T O MAP 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35.

Kuka Bawku Nangodi Tongo Bongo Nyaginia Navrongo Paga Tumu Sekai Tizza Birufu Charia Bamahu Chache Mandara Bole Larabanga Damongo Kasuliyili Yankezia Saboba Bimbila Babatokuma New Longoro Ofuman Techiman Bamiri Biadau Nsuatre Dumasua Yamfo Kwame Danso Amoawi Ahenkro

36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 53. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70.

Manhia Abuaka-Asoromaso Pramso Bosore Ntonso Safo Effiduase Kumawu Kenyase Ofuase Mperi Bodi Humgyibre Deaso Asankrangua Hiawa Ahobre Akwidaa Daboase Shama Japa Kisi Ampeni Biriwa Larteh Asutsuare Akodjokrom Todzi Vane Clefe-Dome Agormor Dodzi Agbogorme Afiadenyigba Tadzewu


tute an integral element of the cultural system, are themselves changing over time. T h e focus must then be historical as well. T h e descriptive studies that follow illustrate how architecture itself reflects the process of change. In 1961 the Ford Foundation provided a grant to the School of Architecture of the then Kumasi College of Technology to carry out a survey of villages in Ghana. T h e ostensible purpose of the survey was to establish the planning and building problems posed by rapid technological development taking place in Ghana. T o this end seventy villages, varying in size and physical amenities and representing all the regions of Ghana, were visited (see map 1 ) . Although the information recorded in these visits conveyed a panoramic impression of rural life in Ghana, the meager data that were collected offered little insight into the nature of village life. T h e survey had no specific theoretical orientation that might have dictated the selection of particular features for consideration. As a result, the only suggestions that could be made were the usual vague platitudes on improved sanitary facilities and amenities, higher standards of building, and better accommodations. It became apparent that an understanding of the architecture of Ghana required a survey narrower in scope yet deeper in detail. T h e original survey took no cognizance of the marked ecological differences within Ghana. Like many of the countries on the West African Coast, 4

Ghana encompasses two distinct ecological areas: the coastal rain forest and the southern savannah. These ecological belts have in turn yielded two distinct cultural areas, the Guinea Coast and the Western Sudan (see map 2 ) . As one travels from the coast northward, the terrain itself changes sharply from rain forest growth to grassland savannah at a line roughly coincident with the administrative boundaries of the Brong-Ahafo and the Northern Region. T h e patterns of land use change as rapidly as the vegetation and the climate. T h e mosaic formed by a multitude of ethnic groups stands in sharp contrast to the sweep of areas inhabited by the fewer but more populous tribal groups of southern Ghana. Euro-Christian influences, recently introduced, fade at the edge of the rain forest, to be superseded by centuries-old Islamic influences from the sub-Sahara. T h e architectural prototype of the rain forest, with its rectangular form, thatch roof, and red, lateritic color, gives way to the curvilinear roundhouse of northeastern Ghana and the rectilinear, flat-roofed, cellular house in northwestern Ghana. T h e survey, then, was initially narrowed to exclude southern Ghana. Within northern Ghana, despite its ecological unity, a number of variations in architectural form were immediately obvious. A review of the existing information suggested six representative forms that might be considered as modal for northern Ghana. T h e choice of a particular ethnic area representing each



type was influenced by the availability of published anthropological data that might offer some insight into architectural form. T h e choice of a particular village within an ethnic area was dictated by several additional factors that might make comparison more valid: if population could be kept fairly constant, and if recent Western technological influences were minimal, a more feasible basis for comparison would exist. Finally, since the more narrowly defined survey involved the participation of a number of Ghanaian students, the sites chosen had to be reasonably accessible. As the material from each of the six surveyed sites emerged, it became evident that there was no simple explanation for the existence of a particular architectural form. E a c h of the contrasting "styles" was the product of a number of variables. Among the variables that seemed significant were the materials and the technology available to the indigenous builder, the range and the level of economic activity in the particular community, the social organization, and the religious and secular ideology. Not least important was the modification of these variables by historical factors. Within each of the six communities surveyed, some of the variables were undoubtedly more important than others in structuring architectural form as well as settlement pattern. Furthermore, the relative importance of each variable has unquestionably changed over time.


No attempt has been made to determine the relative efficacy of any or all of the variables in producing diverse architectural forms in the six communities. Rather, it is my intention to suggest, in speculative fashion, the factors that might be relevant to scientific investigation. If the wide range of illustration serves to suggest the potential such investigation holds for the architectural historian in league with the social scientist, its presentation is justified. CHARACTER OF T H E NORTH HISTORY T h e origins of the peoples of northern Ghana have long been obscured by the vagueness of social mythology, so often a combination of fact and fantasy. More recently, the systematic collection and analysis of verbal traditions in conjunction with written Arabic sources have begun to lighten the obscurity. Amid the diversity and richness of the oral history of the northern peoples emerges a persistent theme of migration. Traditions of some of the peoples, notably those in the northeast, suggest a migration from the Sudan about the thirteenth century, probably a reference to the historic diaspora that followed the dissolution and destruction of the Sudanese empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, and the imposition of new political structures to replace them. Other peoples, notably those in the northwest, retain a tradition of origin which



suggests reference to the extended activity connected with the Mande dispersion. Although the area under consideration was not directly concerned in the rise and fall of the great Sudanese empires, it was affected by the arrival of the immigrants and the cultural heritage of the savannah they brought with them. The extension of the major trans-Saharan routes (see map 3 ) into northern Ghana was to reinforce this heritage. These routes, one from the northwest and one from the northeast, extended beyond the Sudanese emporiums of Timbuktu and Kano through the Guinea savannah down to the edge of the rain forest. One route led from Timbuktu through Djenne, Bobo-Dioulasso, Bonduku, and Kong to Begho, just below the Black Volta and northwest of present-day Kumasi. The other route moved westward from Kano through SansanneMango toward Yendi and Salaga. These two routes, converging at Kumasi, not only served to link northern Ghana with the trading centers of the Sudan, but were also axes along which the religious and political ideas of Islam and the Sudanese empires were disseminated. The Gonja state, for example, seems to have been created by Mande-speaking migrants traveling along the northwestern route from the area of the old kingdom of Mali, and the Dagomba and Mamprusi claims of origin from the region of Hausaland and Lake Chad can be related to the northeastern route moving down from Kano.


The central area of northern Ghana lying between these two converging axes was far less touched by northern influences. The myths of origin of the inhabitants contain no reference to the Sudanic migrations, and the architecture of the area shows little evidence of either Islamic or Sudanese contact. The influences exerted by Islam and the Sudanese empires on northern Ghana faced little competition from Euro-Christian influences introduced from the Guinea Coast during the period of European colonialism. The impact of the colonial regimes was a political demarcation of colonial territories, a demarcation that bore no relation to indigenous population pattern or natural geographic features. The boundaries of northern Ghana—the Ivory Coast on the west, Upper Volta on the north, Togoland on the east, and the BrongAhafo and Volta administrative regions of Ghana on the south—arbitrarily intersect ethnographically defined areas. The southern boundary, though following an ecological division, is more the result of the administrative exigencies of colonial authority. British control and influence extended only to the northern edge of the rain forest—Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo country —until the first decade of the twentieth century. Despite subsequent token efforts to control it, northern Ghana largely escaped the influences of western Europe and Christianity, for it held none of the economic attractions that might have stimulated sustained colonial penetration and organization.


The cultural character of northern Ghana thus derives principally from historical relationships with its northern hinterland. Despite this common background, however, variations do exist, and they are clearly demonstrated by the six villages chosen for study. The range of variation in the degree of synthesis and adoption of northern cultural elements by indigenous peoples, physically expressed in their architectural forms, decorative media, and village morphology, suggests the internal richness to be found in what is normally considered a single "culture area," an area usually characterized by a similar physical environment and similar patterns of social and economic organization. PHYSICAL


Climate The climate of West Africa shows wide variation. Its southern coastline has an equatorial climate with torrential rains, whereas its upper reaches have a Saharan climate, with no regular rainfall. Between these two extremes, stretching in belts from east to west, are the savannah climatic zones. Northern Ghana lies in the southern savannah climatic belt, characterized by a single rainfall season alternating with a single drought season. Rains begin toward the end of May, increase in intensity through June and July, abate slightly in August, and reach their maximum in September. The dry season, lasting from mid-October

to mid-May, is accompanied by increasing temperatures which reach their highest point in April. During January the desiccating harmattan winds from the Sahara blow in from the northeast, bringing with them a sheet of fine dust which increases the heat and aridity of the area. These seasonal changes in climate regulate annual patterns of human activity. The rainy months are intensely, almost exclusively, devoted to agricultural activity pertaining to crop cultivation. The demands of subsistence agriculture permit time for very little else. Then, during the first months of the drought season, the crops are harvested and stored. Only in the late months of the dry season does the tempo of life slow to a more leisurely pace. This is the time for building. Vegetation As elsewhere, climatic factors exert a major influence on vegetation, creating a woodland zone coinciding with the southern savannah zone described above, which geographers refer to as the Northern Guinea Zone. The area is believed to have been at one time more heavily wooded, offering a gradual transition from desert to forest. But because of man's bush-firing practices for purposes of cultivation and hunting, a gradual deforestation has taken place. Today the line of demarcation between rain forest and savannah woodland is abrupt and sharp.



In areas of high population density intensive cultivation has greatly modified natural vegetation. T h e tall, tussocky grasses native to the area, which are used for thatching, are scarcely visible as one scans the landscape. F e w trees remain to punctuate the low, monotonous grassland vista. Those that do exist are warped, gnarled by fire, short, and lacking in strength, and are thus difficult to utilize as building timbers. As in other parts of the world, the lack of timbers suitable for construction dictates the use of mud and sets the basic character of northern Ghanaian architecture. T h e baobab, shea, locust, dum palm, and kapok trees, permitted to m a t w e fully, rise prominently above the village roofscape. They provide both food products and building materials. In addition, they serve as sites for the performance of various rituals, as congregation points for social activity, and as shelter and shade for markets, meetings, reception, and relaxation, thus becoming an integral part of the daily life of the village. Geology Northern Ghana is characterized by two major soil groups: the granites and the sandstones (see map 4 ) . T h e Voltaian Basin, filled with sandstones, extends over a large part of the area. This basin, bounded by the western Gonja, W a , and northern Mamprusi plateaus to the northwest and the Mampong scarp to the south, is infertile, lacks topographic features, and re-


tains little water. Despite frequent flooding in the rainy season, rapid runoff and inadequate methods of water conservation and irrigation leave the area short of water as the dry season draws to a close. In contrast with the basin, the plateaus consist of granitic soils which form gently rolling hills. T h e r e the rainfall is heavier, the rocks are less permeable, and the soil is more fertile. Hence farming conditions are better and population densities (see map 5 ) and landuse patterns differ markedly from those found in the basin. In the basin the population density averages between 25 and 50 persons per square mile, but on the plateaus the average is more than 200 persons per square mile. T h e basin is characterized by small, nucleated villages surrounded b y miles of savannah bush; in contrast, the plateaus sustain dispersed settlements in which homesteads, regularly spaced 200 or 300 yards apart, extend as far as the eye can see. There is no population concentration such as the term "village" might suggest. At first glance, it seems surprising that the abundance of granitic soil is not utilized in building. Stone construction, however, requires specialized tools for cutting and trimming; it is also more time-consuming than mud construction. Furthermore, it presupposes a need for durability and permanence, neither of which seems to be desired. T h e absence of a single building wall constructed of stone suggests that technological and social factors take precedence over environmental ones in shaping architectural forms.


Sandstones Lorvor - Cambrtan



Map 4. SOURCE:

Geologic formation in northern Ghana. Geological Survey, Survey of Ghana (Accra, n.d.).



Hydrography The Voltaian Basin, much like a giant saucer in appearance, is drained by tributaries to the Volta River. The Black Volta rises in Upper Volta and travels south, marking the western and southern boundaries of northern Ghana. T h e White Volta, entering Ghana from the northeast, is joined by the Red Volta near Gambaga and continues in a southwesterly direction, joining the Black Volta west of Salaga. These rivers are rarely used as communication routes, and the high incidence of sleeping sickness and river blindness in their vicinity keeps their banks uninhabited. Thus the characteristic pattern of riverine communities, which a system of water transport and communication usually generates, is absent. ECONOMY Although the subsistence economy of northern Ghana is based almost exclusively on land cultivation, patterns of land use, farming methods, and crops vary considerably from area to area, as does the importance of supplementary hunting and cattle herding. Land-use patterns fall into two major categories, compound farming on the granitic plateaus and bush farming on the Voltaian Basin sandstones (map 6 ) . On the compound farms, the most actively exploited land immediately surrounds the family compound, radiating out from the family dwelling. Just outside the 12

compound a garden of okra, melon, gourd, and sweet potato, perhaps only a few rows in depth, forms a narrow ring around the compound perimeter. Beyond this horticultural plot extend the fields of cereal crops, such as sorghum, millet, and guinea corn. These fields, under continual cultivation, are fertilized with animal manure and human debris. T h e fields gradually fade out into the unmanured croplands on which land rotation is practiced. The greater soil fertility in the proximity of the compound dwelling is clearly marked by the gradually increasing height and greenery of the millet stalks as one approaches the compound walls. Because cereal crops are the basic food staple, granaries are an integral feature of the homestead dwelling. When a new homestead is established, the granaries, crucial to existence, are the first buildings erected; they are the physical expression of the family's economic viability. Because in recent years higher population densities on the plateaus have caused increased pressure on the land, short-fallow bush farms, farther removed from the homestead, have come into use. These farms, several miles distant from the compound, are subsidiary to the compound farms and have not altered the dispersed settlement pattern. Significantly, the areas characterized by compound farming and its resultant dispersed settlement pattern are coterminous with the boundaries of tribal groups whose myths of



/ /I




s \

4 'A N

Map 5.



Population densities in northern Ghana. Ghana Census Report of 1960 (Accra, 1960). 13


origin and land tenure suggest autochthony in the area. Landownership is intimately linked with a cult of the Earth, and the use of land is allocated through arrangement with a tengdaana or custodian of the Earth, whose politico-ritual authority derives from the "original" inhabitants. In contrast with the compound farms are the nucleated villages in the Voltaian Basin, where methods of land use create a distinctly different settlement pattern. As in the compound farming areas, horticulture is confined either to the immediate vicinity of each house in the village, or to fenced-off gardens on the periphery of the agglomeration. Tobacco, groundnuts (peanuts), and tomatoes are most commonly grown. Beyond the horticultural plots is a belt of grazing lands, broken by a scattering of economically useful trees and patches of permanently cropped farms on which cereals are grown. Small herds of cattle, owned by the more affluent members of the village for reasons of prestige, are pastured on the grazing lands. Beyond lie the village lands, subdivided into bush farms which are permitted to lie fallow for varying lengths of time. In the northeastern part of the basin, cereals are still the major food crop, but in the southeastern part, roots, grown first on newly cleared bushlands, are replacing cereals as a staple crop. Nowhere in the north is plough cultivation practiced; the hoe and the cutlass continue to be universal agricultural implements. The products of cultivation 14

are still primarily for consumption by the producer and his family. A surplus of staple crops is the exception rather than the rule. Although the increasing cultivation of yams as a cash crop and the recent encouragement of dry-season gardens by welfare agencies have partly commercialized the subsistence economy, the traditional marketing system based on exchange continues to flourish. Cowrie shells persist as a medium of exchange alongside the pennies and shillings of the Ghanaian monetary system. Architecturally, the low level of economic development is revealed by the nearly total absence of any foreign-processed building material. Iron or aluminum corrugated sheets, cement, and nails, not to mention the tools requisite for their use, are rarely seen. When they are present, they play a role of prestige rather than of function, a fact vividly impressed upon me by the owner of a compound at Birufu, who carefully brought out, unwrapped, and showed me his most precious possession: a saw. He had never used it. KINSHIP




Northern Ghana is a residential mosaic of three large, geographically expansive tribes interspersed with several smaller, segmented ethnic groups, and a large number of smaller tribes contiguous to them (see map 7 ) . The three tribes, Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Gonja, inhabit the Voltaian Basin, south and


Littk cul-h'fihd lififf*2eJ frée Aes+v+S

Map 6.

Patterns of land use in northern Ghana. J. Brian Wills, Agriculture and Land Ghana (London: Oxford University Press, 1962). SOURCE:




southwest of the Mamprusi scarp. Among them are isolated pockets of related but culturally distinct clusters, such as the Vagalla and the Tampolense. Strung out above the scarp are the smaller but separately identifiable ethnic groups, such as the Kusasi, the Tallensi, the Builsa, and the Isala. Each of these peoples, both above and below the scarp, is territorially distinct, linguistically discrete, and internally cohesive. The distinctiveness is expressed architecturally in building form and surface decoration. As the casual observer crosses over ethnic boundaries, he can identify each of the peoples by architectural nuances, even though he may be completely uninformed about them. Despite their territorial distinctiveness, the social organization of all the cultural groupings is similar, based as it is on a network of consanguineous relationships. Significant variations do occur, however, in the functional load carried by the kinship domain. This network is a major determining factor in the location of houses within a village, as well as in the siting of the entire village within a tribal domain. A village or settlement consists of a tribal clan, and within its boundaries each quarter or hamlet comprises an expanded lineage. This direct projection of consanguineous ties onto the land is modified when a differentiation in social, religious, or economic structure appears. In the positioning of compounds, for example, the special assignment of a site for a chief's or an elder's


residence in Tongo, the placing of a prayer space or a mosque in Larabanga, or the location of a corn mill in Kasuliyili takes precedence over kinship. The social cohesion of each of the smaller tribes above the scarp is achieved and maintained by ritual associated with ancestor worship. The ritual establishes close conceptual ties with the Earth, symbolically viewed as the source of all fertility. The concept, embracing the living and the dead, links a person both to his kinsmen and to the patrilineally inherited land on which he dwells. This ideology finds architectural expression in the conical ancestral shrines that are an integral sculptural element of many of the family compounds, in the aesthetic quality of unity between a building and the ground it occupies, and in the uniformity of style within the village as a whole. Unity with the earth is accomplished through the gradual transition from horizontal ground level to the vertical wall surface, whereas the uniformity in style derives from the lack of deviation from a prescribed building size and shape. Contrariwise, among the more heterogeneous Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Gonja, political organization has begun to subsume networks of kinship. There are no ancestral shrines in the villages, and a diversity of style shows up in the arrangement of form and in decorative surfaces, as well as between compounds belonging to chiefs and elders and those belonging to commoners.

fcusaft' Tall onsi Ourenai


Bo/tea gaba Bin/or Mampruai Tktgomba Manvmbq Konkamba 6'Moba See/a Nchumbatunj Nnatvura Isdh Aculo Kassesia Tampalensm. BosaSi' Tc.hakosi

Map 7. Distribution of ethnic groups in northern Ghana. SOURCE: Madeleine Manouldan, Tribes of the Northern

ITTW1 c m





Territories of the Cold Coast, International African Institute Ethnographic Survey, West Africa, no. 5 (London, 1952). 17


Each segment or hamlet within a village, representing a unilineal descent group, shelters a set of extended families, each residing in a separate compound. The family constitutes an economically viable unit, and the activity it generates takes form in the homestead—the compound residence and its farming lands. The family may consist of a father, all or some of his sons, both married and unmarried, together with their wives, children, and dependents, or of two or more brothers with their wives and offspring, farming together. Although polygyny is universally accepted, both its extent and the prescriptions attendant upon it vary from one group to another. Since the number of wives a man may acquire is a direct function of age, status, and wealth, and since each wife is always entitled to her own room within the compound, the extensiveness of the building complex and the multiplicity of room units serve as accurate indexes to a man's wealth and status. Furthermore, the relationship


that obtains between a wife and her husband, or between a wife and her co-wives, varies. As a consequence, the arrangement and definition of spaces within the compound, both open and enclosed, differ considerably from one ethnic group to another. The extended family is continually changing—growing, dividing, dispersing, or dissolving. Family growth is accommodated by the addition of new room units and/or the extension of walls separating the rooms. Division within a family does not necessitate the construction of a separate compound at a new location; the existing compound is simply altered through reassignment and reorganization of the space within it. Only when family division is concurrent with the establishment of a new economically viable unit through allocation of separate farmlands is a new, elementary nuclear compound established. Temporal change thus finds architectural expression in spatial definition.

1. KASULIYILI, a Dagomba Vi



In the heart of the Voltaian Basin lies the land of the Dagomba, one of the major tribal groupings in northern Ghana. The area of Dagombaland is extensive, spreading out over the whole of the southeastern quarter of the basin, from the White Volta in the west to the Oti River in the east, where Dagomba villages are gradually superseded by those of the Konkomba, the Tchakosi, and the B'Moba. According to their oral traditions, the Dagomba people (or perhaps more accurately their rulers) originally migrated, in the thirteenth century, from the region of Hausaland in the vicinity of Lake Chad. In that period of state formation, stimulated by Islamic penetration and cross-Saharan trade in both the Western Sudan and Hausaland, the struggles for trade and power generated movement by dissident kinship groups who preferred not to remain as subject peoples. Around the fifteenth century, the Dagomba cav-

alrymen, moving southwest, finally conquered the area of the Voltaian Basin below the Gambaga scarp —first its western part and then its eastern part. Their claim to these lands was constantly challenged, and more recent verbal history dating from the seventeenth century makes frequent reference to skirmishes with the Gonja in the west, the Konkomba in the east, and the Ashanti in the south. Apparently Dagomba history was marked by continual raiding and extortion, by advance and withdrawal. The Dagomba brought with them the fruits of their cultural contact with Islam and its Hausa variations. The original residents were absorbed into the society of the newcomers, and the language of the conquerors was gradually impressed upon them. A form of conquest feudalism evolved, in which a Dagomba political organization was superimposed on the indigenous social structure. The feudal allocation of land to Dagomba military leaders weakened the original system of land tenure, with its attendant cult of the



Earth, and severely circumscribed the role of the tengdaanas. Architecturally, this phenomenon meant that Dagombaland lacked the characteristic sculptural shrines and markers associated with ancestor worship, such as those at Tongo and Birufu. The prominent role of the cavalry in the history of Dagomba conquest and control led to the development of an equestrian tradition, which continues to influence Dagomba society despite the fact that the horse serves no function in the Dagomba economy. The tradition is still very much in evidence at annual festivals, where tribal chiefs, proudly astride horses colorfully bedecked in traditional leather trappings, are on parade. Architecturally, it is manifested in the attention paid to the physical accommodation and the needs of horses in the construction and spatial arrangement of the Dagomba compound. AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITY The Voltaic sandstone soils of Dagombaland are among the least productive in Ghana. The infertility of the soil has not only kept population densities low (except for urban centers such as Tamale, the average density is less than 50 persons per square mile), but has given rise to a pattern of agricultural land use in which bush farming predominates. The bush farms, usually about 2 or 2.5 acres in size, are from 1 to 5 miles distant from the nucleated village settlement.


Under the system of land rotation, farms are cultivated for three to five years and then left fallow for six to ten years, depending upon their proximity to the village. The principal crop on the bush farms is yam, invariably grown first on newly cleared land. Later, crops of maize, guinea corn, and occasionally millet are added. The responsibility for each bush farm is vested in a compound elder, and although his family is clearly acknowledged as a farming unit, the land the family farms is closely integrated with that of other families in the village. Family holdings are easily discernible as they are in other parts of northern Ghana. Bush farm cultivation of yams and cereals is supplemented with a cash crop of short-season tobacco. Grown in every available open space between compounds, tobacco plants envelop the entire village when fully mature, leaving only the conical thatch roofs visible to the scanning eye. Questioned as to the reason for tobacco cultivation, particularly within the village confines, the villagers sagely replied: "Goats do not chew tobacco." Therefore people do not have to restrict the daily meanderings of domestic livestock during the season of tobacco growth. While the cultivation of tobacco is a man's responsibility and the receipts of its sale accrue to the male members of the household, a woman maintains her own small, individual horticultural plot at the periph-

KASULIYIL1, a Dagomba Village

ery of the village. She controls crops of groundnuts, okras, garden eggs (a small yellow variety of eggplant), and tomatoes grown on her plot, and receives the cash realized from occasional sales of the produce in the local market. SETTLEMENT MORPHOLOGY All the Dagomba villages visited during the survey fall within the same range in area and population and exhibit the characteristic pattern of tight compound clustering (fig. 1-1). The nucleated settlement pattern stems from several factors. The area from which Dagomba tradition claims origin was already manifesting tight nucleated patterning in its population centers prior to Dagomba migration, suggesting a transplanting of physical pattern. More important, an already familiar nucleated pattern could easily be accommodated to the agricultural exigencies imposed by the low fertility of the Voltaic sandstones. Bush farming practices limit the size of a settlement, particularly when agricultural techniques are primitive and access to farms is only by foot. Since the distance a man can walk in a day is' limited, the area of exploitable land to which he has access is equally limited. These factors combine to establish a population maximum for villages, few of which contain more than 1,000 persons. The Dagomba village of Kasuliyili is located some

25 miles northwest of Tamale, the urban capital of Ghana's Northern Region (fig. 1-2). Its fifty-six compounds house more than 500 residents. Despite its proximity to Tamale, Kasuliyili offers almost no material evidence of contact with or influence by the urban milieu. Rather, its orientation is toward the west, toward Tolon, a village lying 10 miles away on the road to Daboya. For many centuries Daboya was a local source of salt in the Voltaian Basin. Because salt was at a great premium in the area, the Dagomba engaged in frequent struggles with the neighboring Gonja state for control of Daboya. Consequently; trade routes within the basin converged on the site of the salt deposits, and intermediate market locations were established on the routes. Kasuliyili's major market lies on the TolonDaboya road. Despite its nucleated pattern, Kasuliyili shows no signs of even the beginnings of urbanization. Urbanization presupposes an extension of economic activity beyond subsistence agriculture, and would be physically evident in a market, a centralized residence, or a school. None of these exists at Kasuliyili. There is no variation of density, no visible center of physical activity. The absence of such a locus is particularly striking to the first-time visitor, who finds it difficult to orient himself to a central reference point within the village. Although the village has several elders, a tengdaana, and a Muslim mallam (one versed in the 23

FIG. 1 - 1 . V i l l a g e s u r v e y of K a s u l i y i l i . a R u i n s of t h e c h i e f ' s c o m p o u n d , b. O p e n s p a c e e n c l o s e d b y t h e m o s q u e , t h e corn mill, a n d t h e mallam's c o m p o u n d , c L o c a t i o n of t h e illustrated c o m p o u n d , d. T h e c a l a b a s h m e n d e r s . ..fc


kasuliyili ;Y

a dagomba village loo iiniiiiiir i scale in feet



5o i

FIG. 1-2. The approach to the village during the dry season is marked by the pattern of tobacco farming in the foreground.

religious teaching of the Koran), there is no residence that serves as a point of social congregation. The absence of a distinct sociophysical center may be attributable to the dual hierarchy that marks Dagomba social organization. Dagomba myth, in relating the conquest of the indigenous peoples, speaks of the slaying of many tengdaanas, the appropriation of land by the conquering army, and the eventual establishment of a political structure above that of kinship, with its related system of land tenure. Nevertheless, some vestiges of earlier patterns of land tenure re-

main, as the presence of a tengdaana demonstrates. Superimposed upon this early synthesis, the more recent acceptance of Islam by the Dagomba people has given the social structure still another dimension. The bush road that brings the visitor to Kasuliyili leads to the ruins of what seems to have been a rather extensive compound. Upon closer scrutiny, the ruins are discovered to be an abandoned village center, comprising the compound of a now deceased chief and the open, tree-studded palaver, or meeting ground, fronting it. When questioned, the residents confirmed the supposition, noting that when the chief died the paramountcy was assumed by a neighboring village. The ruins, with their surrounding open space, sepa25

FIG. 1-3. A "street" in Kasuliyili. The curvilinear walls of the nucleated settlement create an interplay of spaces. Bundles of thatch are to be used for roof repair.

rate the village into two discrete sectors, one for pagan families and the other for Muslim families. This dual pattern is characteristic of every village in West Africa where Islam has been introduced and where it continues to exist side by side with the local religion. Its ancient prototype is perhaps to be found at Koumbi Saleh, capital of the ancient kingdom of Ghana, where the intrusion of alien elements was so extensive that two cities, existing side by side, emerged. The Muslim population of Kasuliyili is not, how-


ever, an alien one. Except for a transient group of calabash menders who are housed in temporary woven mat tents behind the Muslim sector (see fig. 1-1), there is no evidence of the recent intrusion of any foreigners. Normally, such intrusion would give rise to what is termed a zongo in southern Ghanaian villages, a variant of the rural ghetto in the United States. At the time of the survey, no new compounds had been built during the preceding dry season, nor had any changes in the physical relationship between compounds occurred. Repair of walls and roofs seemed to be the only major building activity (fig. 1-3). The equilibrium in size which Kasuliyili had apparently reached might be viewed as the physical expression of an ecological balance between population and techniques of land exploitation. The only physical change that was occurring was internal, generated by the interplay between the sociopolitical and religious elements within the village boundaries. More precisely, the physical changes might be interpreted as the direct result of Islam's increasing prestige and influence in Dagombaland, visually manifested by open prayer spaces and a mosque in the Muslim sector, and by the greater social activity in the sitting areas adjacent to them (fig. 1-4). One of the more affluent Muslim residents had recently built a corn mill adjacent to the mosque, and the open space on which both mosque and corn mill front has become a congregation center for the women. The new

locus that seems to be emerging in this open space is gradually replacing the abandoned palaver ground in front of the deceased chief's compound. In addition to the corn mill, the presence of imported amenities contributes further to the impression that the Muslim sector is wealthier than the pagan sector. For example, the mosque is the only building in Kasuliyili to boast a corrugated iron roof, in contrast with the typical thatch roof. Compounds in the Muslim sector are also slightly larger than those in the pagan sector. There are more room units per compound, and the compounds are more dense and crowded. These distinctions apparently result from the Islamic practices that create larger family units and from the greater affluence of the Islamic community. Polygyny may be the accepted norm of Dagombaland, but the acquisition of wives is a function of wealth: a wealthier man has more wives through his life span. The consequent family growth requires a larger compound. The currently accepted tenets of neighborhood planning, which Western planners subscribe to, recognize the role of a school in establishing a community focus. Thus, the recent establishment of a primary school in Kasuliyili by the Ghana government may in time contribute to the restructuring of the internal physical pattern of the village, though as yet the school has had no impact. Very little cultural importance or prestige is attached to it; indeed, resistance to the school has

FIG. 1-4. An open space for prayer marked off by stones. In the distance, behind the compounds, can be seen the corn mill with its galvanized iron roof.

been very strong. The increasing importance of Islam has emphasized the teaching of the Koran. The venerable mallam, or Islamic scholar-teacher (fig. 1-5), commands far more respect than the young government schoolteacher. The young man complained at great length about the reluctance of the villagers to send their children to the public school or to contribute to its housing. Although it had been in existence for several years at the time of the survey, the school was still being conducted under the trees (fig. 1-6).


FIG. 1-fi.

Kasuliyili's open-air primary-school.


The site of a new compound is dictated by the available space in the immediate vicinity of the compounds inhabited by members of the future owner's kinship group. Attempts by the survey group to ascertain how the precise location of a compound is selected (i.e., the measured distance from neighboring compounds) met with no success, but the marked regularity of spacing between the compounds suggests the existence of an underlying pattern of proxemic behavior.

The time for building construction and repairs is almost exclusively the latter part of the dry season, when the intensive demands of crop cultivation and harvesting taper off and leisure time becomes available. Although the dry season extends from January through April, the first two months are devoted to the cultivation of yams. Since Dagombaland lies in the heart of the yam belt, the period of greatest building activity is limited to the months of March and April.

Once the village elders have granted permission to build upon a chosen site, and the Earth's custodian has performed the appropriate ritual, a laterite borrow pit from which the mud for the walls is to be taken is marked out adjacent to the compound site (fig. 1-7). The primary compound contains three circular room units: an antechamber, the compound owner's room, and a room for his first wife and her young child(ren). As the most important room, the antechamber is al-

FIG. 1-5.


The venerable mallam of Kasuliyili.

KASULIYILI, a Dagomba Village

ways built first (fig. 1-8). The other two follow, one being fully completed before work on the other commences. Circular walls are built up in tiers to a height of about 6.5 feet by the spiraling of hand-molded mud balls (fig. 1-9). The balls of mud are formed in the borrow pit and passed over to the new compound owner, now turned mason. No internal reinforcement is used in the walls; their homogeneity is achieved by the cohesion of the wet, clayey soil. The term that best describes this process is "wet-wall," or "puddledmud," construction. FIG. 1-9.

FIG. 1-8.

Laying out the perimeter of the antechamber.

An indigenous scaffold used in wet-wall construction.





Occasionally a quite different structural technique is employed: old walls are knocked down and dry, broken clods are used as "bricks," wedged in place with a mud mortar (fig. 1-10). This technique, somewhat like that employed in masonry construction, is rare in Dagombaland; it is more prevalent among the peoples of northwestern Ghana. Whereas the surfaces of wetwall construction are marked by an even, nondirectional cracking pattern, masonry walls are always identifiable by erosion of the mud mortar which eventually occurs at vertical and horizontal joints. After the walls have been raised, a radial system of rafters is set into the top course of mud. Tied at intervals with a concentric series of plaited thatch rings, the rafters form a conical roof frame. Where the span is too broad for the rafter length or strength, as it often is in the antechamber, the apex of the roof is supported by a central post. If the antechamber is large, particularly in the residence of a village dignitary, a framework of four or six posts, to which a system of crossties is laced, forms an internal supporting ring. Finally, bundles of thatch are placed in overlapping layers over the conical roof framework. Unless annually maintained, the structure lasts only four or five years. The generic quality of mud as a building material presupposes nonpermanence, but in Dagombaland proximity to the rain forest and the failure to apply a protective surfacing, as the Konkomba and the Tallensi do, are contributing factors. 30

FIG. 1-10. Well-dried mud clods from a demolished room are sometimes used to build up new walls.

Unprotected by a partly waterproofed surface, the mud wall dissolves under the onslaught of heavy downpours in the long rainy season. The strength of a mud wall lies in compression, but maximum compressive strength can be achieved only if the structural continuity of the circular wall is maintained. Complete structural continuity can be maintained only if the mud wall is made impervious. When a room unit is rectangular, deterioration takes place even more rapidly. As a homogeneous building material, mud achieves its maximum compressive

K A S U L I Y I L I , a Dagomba Village

strength when the structure is circular. The techniques of wet-wall construction, developed in conjunction with circular forms, are inappropriate for rectilinear structures. Their structural inadequacy is most noticeable at corners, where initial disintegration is soon followed by collapse of the walls. SURFACE DECORATION The absence of protective surfacing on compound walls contrasts noticeably with the prevalence of embellished room openings. The style of the embellishment is unique to the Dagomba; it is, in fact, one of the features that give cultural definition to Dagomba villages (fig. 1-11). Although invariably found at the entrances to antechambers, decorative elements occur to a lesser extent at the entrances to rooms belonging to compound elders, and occasionally at the entrance to a senior wife's room. The decoration consists of segments of broken china, or even whole plates, set into a specially plastered surface at the jambs and lintel of the opening. The plaster, a mixture of mud and cow dung, provides a smooth, raised surface into which the broken segments are pressed. An unusual example of this decorative style surrounds a water "outlet from an interior bathing enclosure at the base of a compound wall (fig. 1-12). Fic;.



treatment of a water outlet.

Since its presence in so peculiar a location cannot be accounted for by any ethnically prescribed ritual, one is tempted to explain its presence by personal whim. Decorative entrance treatment is a measure of a compound owner's wealth. It is more elaborate in large compounds, and is more prevalent in the Muslim community, whose greater affluence has been noted. Its presence in the Muslim sector may be explainable in another way: although varying in motif and application technique, the same type of entrance decoration FIG. 1-11.

Decorative treatment of entrances.


is found in northern Nigeria, in the area from which the Dagomba claim to have migrated. There, too, it is a symbol of wealth. Similar emphasis on portal decoration also characterizes Islamized architecture in the Western Sudan, notably at Djenne and Timbuktu. The occurrence of decorative patterning in areas so widely separated offers an interesting field for speculation on historical reconstruction and on the impact of Islamic culture in the area. INTERNAL COMPOUND ORGANIZATION The compounds of the Dagomba people are larger in size and scale than those of other peoples in northern Ghana (fig. 1-13). The room units require higher, wider roofs because roof pitch, dictated by water runoff, remains a constant. Although the number of room units in a compound varies little from the number found elsewhere, the large, open internal courtyard around whose circumference the room units are arranged makes the complex as a whole more expansive. Entrance to the compound, marked by the decorative treatment, is through the antechamber (fig. 1-14). This room functions primarily as a reception center, its role and position reminiscent of the zaure or small reception chamber in northern Nigerian compounds. The persistence of an equestrian tradition in Dagombaland, requiring space for horses and their accouterments, has given rise to a much enlarged chamber; 32

instead of the smallest, it has become the largest room in the compound. Upon entering it one sees, in addition to the traditional reception dais, tethering posts, saddles, trappings, and fodder. Although each wife in the compound has her own sleeping room, the domestic activities of the household are a cooperative effort supervised by the senior wife. Both the open dry-season kitchen (fig. 1-15) and the enclosed wet-season one are shared jointly, as is the single bathing enclosure. This communal use of facilities gives a sense of spaciousness to the internal courtyard, for the physical barriers that normally define the private domains of individual occupants are lacking. The single exception to the open interior is the clearly defined and segregated subcompound of the unmarried sons. The physical separation apparently results from the social limitations the Dagomba place on the movement of young men in and out of the FIG. 1-13. Plan of the illustrated compound, a. Main internal courtyard area. h. Segregated compound area for the sons. c. Courtyard of the deceased elder, d. Congregation area at the entrance to the compound. 1. Reception antechamber. 2. Antechamber of the deceased elder. 3. Sleeping room of the compound founder (elder). 3a. Mound grave of the compound founder. 4. Present compound owner's room. 5, 5a-c. Wives' rooms. 6. Wet-season kitchen. la-c. Rooms of unmarried sons. 8. Chickens. 9. Goats. 10. Communal cooking stones. 11. Bathing enclosure. 12. Groundnut granaries.


' * *

W « » t * '«r * »

« fi





dagomba O mumm

compound 1


FIG. 1-14. Looking toward the antechamber entrance to the illustrated compound, with its flanking groundnut granaries.

KASULIYILI, a Dagomba Village

main compound courtyard. The entrance to their subcompound, immediately adjacent to the antechamber, enables them to bypass the domestic activity centered at the cooking stones. The subcompound deviates in another respect as well: its room units, rather than conforming to the characteristic circular Dagomba forms, are rectangular. The building techniques used in their construction are, however, identical with those used in the construction of circular rooms. Hence, the walls deteriorate more rapidly. Furthermore, since the occupancy of bachelor quarters is short-lived, their maintenance is neglected. These rectangular forms are probably the result of contact with southern Ghanaian building, which many of the young men of the village have seen during their annual dry-season migration to the cities on the coast. They expect to return with a few pounds in currency, having gained the prestige accorded to a man of the world. The rectangular house, symbolizing urban life, is a proclamation of their worldliness. Also, the rectangular rooms are the first to sport roofs of corrugated metal, which are obtainable only by cash purchase. In addition to its living inhabitants, human and nonhuman, the illustrated compound includes accommodation, in the form of a secondary subcompound, for a recently deceased elder (fig. 1-16). The subcompound consists of a small antechamber, a sleeping room, and several yam storerooms arranged around

FIG. 1-15.

Tin; communal dry-season kitchen.

the small open area within which a mound marks the grave. Although no daily household activity is carried on in the subcompound, access to the family's yam stores (normally controlled by the compound elder) is gained only by entry through its antechamber. The means of access to the food stores, their location, and





FIG. 1-16. Courtyard of the deceased elder, with his grave in the foreground.

the woven mats forming a temporary wall enclosure for the subcompound suggest that the death was a recent one, and that internal alteration of the compound's spatial organization was awaiting permanent definition in the forthcoming building season. 36

The division of agricultural labor and the benefits accruing to each sex are translated into the positioning and arrangement of storage facilities on the ground. The yam, although cultivated as a cash crop, is also a food staple. The portion of the crop allocated for domestic consumption requires a reasonably waterproof shelter. Unlike cereal crops, yams are not subject to attack by insects and rodents, nor is their potential storage life as long. They can be kept for only about four months before they begin to deteriorate. As a consequence, no special accommodation is provided for long-term storage of yams inside or outside the compound. Under the control of the compound elder, yams are usually stored in one of the room units, easily accessible from within the courtyard (fig. 1-17). Groundnut granaries, on the other hand, are always located in the open space adjacent to the compound entrance which the family, and more specifically its womenfolk, use for daily social activity. These small granaries are constructed by lining a large woven basket with cow dung (used as a waterproofing agent), and mounting the basket on a four-post frame. The basket opening is protected by a conical thatch bonnet. Since groundnut cultivation falls within the domain of the women, it is they who exercise exclusive rights over the granary and its contents. The position of the granaries outside the compound may be attrib-

KASULIYILI, a Dagomba Village

utable to Dagomba practices of patrilocal residence in which wives, never fully integrated into their conjugally acquired residence, maintain a measure of economic independence. Thus far, only functional factors have been mentioned as contributing to the expansiveness of Dagomba compounds. Another factor that merits as much consideration as the physical requirements in dictating a compound's arrangement is the behavioral aspect of Dagomba culture. Concepts of space are themselves the results of cultural conditioning. The cultural history of the Dagomba, with its traditions of conquest and intrusion, suggests that patterns of behavior are marked by aggressiveness and dominance. The equestrian tradition may provide the reason for the large antechamber, and the social organization for courtyard arrangement and spaciousness; but the explanation for building sleeping rooms of such magnitude may well be found in the proxemic behavior that marks Dagomba culture.

FIG. 1-17. store.

The compound owner standing in front of his yam


2. YANKEZIA, a Konkomba Hamlet



The Voltaian Rasin is bounded on the east by the Oti River, a tributary to the Volta. The Konkomba live on the Oti plain formed by the river. Although Konkombaland is now relatively free from Dagomba occupancy or control, the history of the Konkomba people is intimately linked to that of their Dagomba neighbors. Myths that would provide the background of and insight into Konkomba history are few in number and shallow in historical depth. Those that do persist make reference only to the more recent periods which are marked by skirmishes with the Dagomba. Anthropological evidence suggests, however, that at one time the Konkomba were resident as far west as Tamale, an area now lying in the heart of Dagombaland. During the fifteenth century, as a result of Dagomba aggression, some of the Konkomba people retreated to the east and settled in the Yendi area; others remained behind and were gradually as-


similated into the more fully developed Dagomba political structure. Several centuries later, in a final attempt to preserve and maintain their cultural identity, the eastern Konkomba retreated once more before the Dagomba and settled finally on the Oti plain. Here, having preserved their cultural homogeneity, they are linguistically distinguished as a discrete tribal group, speaking a Gurma dialect rather than the Mossi-Dagbane dialect of Dagombaland. The preservation of a cultural homogeneity seems to have been accompanied by an almost total rejection, not only of Islam, but of other external influences. The Konkomba have maintained their own social structure, as well as their own religious beliefs, over several centuries. Architectural evidence for their homogeneity lies in the almost complete absence of any building form or style that might be identified with characteristic Islamic motifs, with ethnic groups farther northwest, or with techniques and motifs attributable to southern Ghanaian cultures.

YANKEZIA, a Konkomba Hamlet

Despite this stylistic cohesion, the extended contact with the Dagomba exerted some influence on Konkomba architecture. A number of visual and material similarities between the two peoples are difficult to ascribe solely to a common physical environment, and suggest a less than total rejection. Konkomba architectural style seems to be a synthesis between the indigenous building technologies of the Tallensi and formal stylized elements that may have been acquired over time through intercourse with the Dagomba. The most clearly identifiable indigenous characteristics are the porthole entrances and the compact spatial arrangement of room elements. Architectural elements suggesting interaction with the Dagomba are the omnipresent antechamber, the rectangular room units for the exclusive use of unmarried sons, the segregation of cattle away from the compound proper, and the type of granary used for groundnuts, although the last may equally well be the result of ecological adaptation. A G R I C U L T U R A L PATTERNS Konkombaland lies northeast of the Voltaian Basin, on the periphery of the yam-growing belt. Cereal crops are the traditional diet staple, but in recent years yams are becoming increasingly popular as a subsidiary cash crop. The mixed pattern of cereal- and root-crop cultivation has generated a system of land use based on three different farming methods.

The three types of farms are small horticultural plots, compound farms, and bush farms. On the horticultural plots, adjacent to the compound walls, groundnuts and okras are cultivated by the women, who also reap the benefits of the harvest. The compound farm in the immediate vicinity of the compound is planted for cereal crops. It is kept under continual cultivation and depends upon manure for soil rejuvenation. Bush farms, radiating out from the hamlet to a distance of perhaps 5 miles, are devoted to yam cultivation. Like the Dagomba bush farms, they are subject to land rotation. Cattle herding, while not a major economic activity, is more prevalent than in Dagombaland, though cattle ownership does not seem to constitute a measure of wealth. During the day the cattle are tended by young boys, but at night they are corralled in several enclosures scattered throughout the hamlet. The location of corrals indicates no particular relationship to the compounds. In Yankezia, at the time of the survey, the tripartite farming system was apparently undergoing change, which generated friction among the residents. During the preceding planting season, the residents east of the access path (Upper Yankezia) had planted guinea corn on their compound farms, whereas those west of the path (Lower Yankezia) had planted it on their bush farms. The arguments that ensued did not, however, relate to the decision about planting, but to 39


the refusal of Lower Yankezia to tie up its goats, which were busily chewing on Upper Yankezia's cornstalks (fig. 2-1). SETTLEMENT MORPHOLOGY Sites in Konkombaland are limited in size and location by the wet-season floods created by the topography. Habitation is possible only along the ridges of higher ground. During much of the time between May and November, hamlets are isolated from one another, and frequently are unreachable. Oftentimes a farmer may find his bush farm, which may be 5 or more miles away from his residence, inaccessible during the heavy rains. Hence, the land available for cultivation at a given site is extremely limited. The population of Konkomba villages is so small that they might more accurately be described as hamlets. Yankezia, for example, with its twenty-eight compounds, is about half as large as Kasuliyili, both in number of compounds and in total population. The uniformly small size of villages is probably due to the limited productivity resulting from poverty and configuration of habitat. The settlement pattern in Konkombaland is semidispersed, in contrast with the totally dispersed Tallensi settlements and the tightly nucleated Dagomba villages (fig. 2-2). The pattern of dispersal is consistent with the cultivation of cereal crops outside the 40

sandstone basin. The limited extent of such cultivation may, however, be a function not only of topographic features, but of increasing emphasis on bush farming—an emphasis stimulated by the cash value of yams. The particular patterns of settlement in Konkombaland may therefore be indirectly attributable to the tripartite farming practices that characterize its economy. The absence of ancestral shrines, such as those in Tallensi compounds, suggests that the Konkomba lack a strong ancestor cult tying a man to his land. As a consequence, one might expect a more fragmented social structure and a less stable settlement, as well as a grea'ter permissiveness with regard to migration. In fact, the shortage of farming land, in conjunction with the attraction of yam cash cropping, could easily account for the migration of whole hamlets to areas farther south, where climate and soils are more suitable for the cultivation of yams. There is no physical definition of social activity within the hamlet, except for a small area in front of the lineage elder's compound. This open space, bounded by a small corn mill, a cattle enclosure, and the compound itself, lies at the end of the approach road into the hamlet. No market space, no palaver ground or gathering place, exists as a central focus for the hamlet. Only the antechamber of the lineage elder, rising slightly above the roofscape, announces the end of the road. The chapel, the communal latrine, and

FIG. 2-1. Village survey of Yankezia. a. Lower Yankezia. b. Upper Yankezia. c. Congregation area. d. Illustrated compound. e. Chapel, clinic, and latrine.









>Q f-4


yankezia a konkomba village mmn^ scale in feet




FIG. 2-2.

The approach to Yankezia along the bush track.

the clinic, all signs of European influence, stand in lonesome isolation, testimony to their rejection by the Konkomba culture. The spatial intimacy created by a tightly knit aggregation of compounds is missing. Such intimacy generates a sense of security, perhaps of permanence, and certainly a feeling of stability and cohesiveness. The seeming isolation of one compound from another tends to reaffirm the fragmentation and the instability of Konkomba hamlets. Spatial distance also serves as one of the criteria that distinguish Dagomba villages from Konkomba villages—a distinction that may not be so readily discernible when architectural criteria alone are used.


BUILDING TECHNIQUES Konkomba building techniques are similar to those of the Dagomba, establishing a close visual affinity between the two peoples. Although this visual relatedness may result in part from the availability and utilization of similar building materials, it is also undoubtedly due in part to the cultural contact that has existed historically between the Konkomba and the Dagomba. Similarity in form, on the other hand, seems to highlight the several differences that do exist between the two compound types. One such distinguishing difference, most striking to the observer and almost a hall-

mark of Konkomba compounds, is the treatment of wall and floor surfaces with a wash that contains lime in addition to the more common cow dung. The lime, obtained by grinding shells collected on the banks of the Oti River, makes the surfaces hard and smooth, renders them impervious to rain, and gives them their characteristic near-white, concrete-like color (fig. 2-3). Except for the limewash, there is no surface decoration such as the Gonja achieve by finger movement. Above the opening into each room unit, however, three or four cowrie shells are embedded in the mud. The numbers 3 and 4, symbolizing male and female, respectively, indicate the sex of the room's occupant. The other noticeable distinction between Dagomba and Konkomba compounds is the porthole entrance into each of the room units surrounding the courtyard. The portholes, cut into a wall after its completion, create the raised thresholds that characterize Konkomba compounds (fig. 2-4). Konkomba compounds are much smaller in scale than comparable Dagomba compounds, although the room arrangement is similar (fig. 2-5). The rooms have a smaller radius, and consequently the area of compound circle, the space enclosed by the walls, s more restricted. In contrast with Dagomba antechambers, which boast a complex central support ;ystem, only an occasional Konkomba antechamber las even a single central post supporting the conical oof. Not only are the room units smaller, but the dis-

Fic. 2-3. The smooth, concrete-like wall surfaces of Konkomba compounds. FIG. 2-4. The porthole entrance to the sleeping room of the fourth wife. In the foreground to the left is her oven and the wall of her bathing enclosure.


tance between rooms is also proportionately less than in Dagomba compounds. As a result, the internal courtyard is further reduced in scale. A comparison between plans of Dagomba and Konkomba compounds, each housing the same number of inhabitants, clearly illustrates this difference in scale. As a whole, the Konkomba compound is far more tightly knit and spatially restricted than its Dagomba counterpart. INTERNAL C O M P O U N D ORGANIZATION Like its Dagomba counterpart, the Konkomba compound is entered through an antechamber. The entrance jambs, instead of having the decorative surrounds that mark Dagomba compound entrances, are sculpted into a pair of chicken roosts (figs. 2-6, 2-7). The roosts are suggestive of those found in Tallensi compounds, where a space for chickens is hollowed out at the base of the entrance posts. The antechamber serves exclusively as a reception area, complete with dais, and seems to symbolize the presence of a lineage head. Yet neither formality, the accommodation of horses, nor an Islamic heritage justifies the existence of the antechamber. What suggests itself is an example of cultural borrowing from the Dagomba. There is much informality in the use of this space, and it has become, in lieu of a defined outside gathering place, the meeting ground for members of the household. There are no formal sitting 44

areas outside the Konkomba compounds; not even the elder of the major lineage in Yankezia, certainly the most venerated person in the community, can boast one. As previously noted, the antechamber with its related functions is found not only in Dagombaland and Konkombaland, but elsewhere in West Africa, and is thus suggestive of external borrowing. It seems to exist only among a limited number of tribal groupings in northern Ghana. The presence of an antechamber in Konkombaland, when viewed in conjunction with the porthole openings and the mud-molded chicken roosts (both characteristic of indigenous construction techniques), offers further evidence for speculation on the use of particular architectural motifs in historical reconstruction. In the compound courtyard each wife with her children has a specifically assigned area, in conjunction with her own room, her own cooking space, and her own bathing enclosure (fig. 2-8). Each wife is reFic. 2-5. Plan of the illustrated compound, a. Senior wife's courtyard, b. Second wife's courtyard, c. Third wife's courtyard. d. Fourth wife's courtyard, e. Subcompound of the unmarried sons. f. The open, informal, shaded area for congregation outside the compound. 1. Reception antechamber. 2. A partly disintegrated room formerly belonging to the deceased sister of the compound owner. 3a-d. Wives' rooms. 4. Wet-season kitchen. 5. Daughters' bathing enclosure. 6. Unmarried sons' rooms. 7. Chickens. 8. Pigs. 9. Pigeons.


a konkomba compound 10

scale in feet

FIG. 2-7. The molded entrance jambs from the interior of the antechamber.

FIG. 2-6. Antechamber entrance to the illustrated compound, with its jambs molded out to accommodate chicken roosts.

sponsible for preparing food for herself, her children, and, in her turn, for the husband. The allocation of well-defined areas for specific uses gives rise in turn to the restricted spatial character of the courtyard (fig. 2-9), in contrast with the spaciousness of the Dagomba courtyards. The assigned use of space and facilities also makes it possible to trace the growth of the compound structure from one accommodating an original elementary family to one housing a polygamous family group. The process of growth, as additional wives are acquired, can be traced by following the sequential arrangement of assigned spaces a, b, c, and d in figure 2-5. Although the space within a compound is usually divided among the wives, the compound of a lineage elder shown in figure 2-5 has a subcompound reserved


for the young men of the lineage group. Access to the subcompound is from the courtyard, and, despite the marked visual separation between the two, there seem to be no restrictions on the movements of young men within the courtyard, as there are among the Dagomba. One of the two rooms in the subcompound, built in the strikingly rare rectangular form, belongs to a young, unmarried man who is a schoolteacher. To become a teacher is an achievement of no small account in Konkombaland, and the rectangular room is a symbol of the prestige he enjoys. The compound, including its close environs, is devoid of ancestral shrines: there is no sculptural or architectural symbol denoting the ritual observance of a cult of the Earth. Evidently the household the compound represents is not a particularly important ritual unit. It is the major lineage that constitutes the most important unifying element, and the ritual acts that reinforce the unity take place in the bush, at clan shrines. Upon the death of a compound elder, the whole

FIG. 2-8. The cooking stones of the third wife in front of her bathing enclosure.

compound is abandoned. Hence, its life span is short - p e r h a p s thirty years at most. The head of the illustrated compound died sometime in the six-month interval between two of my visits to Yankezia; by the time of the second visit, the compound had been abandoned. Wives, together with their children, had dispersed, either to return to their own kinship groups or to be absorbed into the adjacent compound of the

FIG. 2-11. Interior of quadrupedal granary.

FIG. 2-10.

Quadrupedal granary in Yankezia.

deceased elder's brother. The compound was deserted, and, despite the brief lapse of time, the signs of physical deterioration were already visible. F O O D STORAGE The tripartite farming pattern, with its resultant crop diversification, has dotted the landscape with three different types of storage facility. Each is a unique structural solution to a particular storage problem. The tripedal, sometimes quadrupedal, earthen gran-


aries, structurally perhaps the most distinctive in the whole of Ghana (fig. 2-10), are used primarily for the long-term storage of sorghum and other cereal grains that have already been threshed and require special protection against insect and animal pests. Threshed grain in bulk acts like a liquid with respect to stress and flow, and the design of the granaries is, in effect, a hydraulic design, in the form of a gigantic pot. The interior is reinforced by divider walls, either three or four, radiating from a central post (fig. 2-11). The three or four legs, built up of stones, are placed directly under the center of gravity of each of the respective sections formed by the divider walls. Although the granary's major function is the storage of grain, yams intended for household consumption as well as unthreshed heads of millet are sometimes found in one of the compartments. Unlike grains, which make up the staple food crop, yams are grown primarily for sale. Because they can be stored for about four months at most, no special accommodation

FIG. 2-12. granaries.

A tripedal millet granary and adjacent groundnut

0 V!"

FIG. 2-13.

! 11 1 .

Granary, built of zanaa mats, for unthreshed millet.

is provided for them. Another possible reason for the lack of yam-storage facilities may well be that yam cropping itself is a relatively new phenomenon among the Konkomba and, as a consequence, no new storage medium has yet evolved. The second type of storage facility is the groundnut granary, consisting of large woven baskets set on wooden posts high off the ground (fig. 2-12). These

granaries are identical with the Dagomba basket granaries, as well as with those used in Gonjaland. Their position in relation to the compound is, however, less carefully prescribed. The third main type of storage facility houses unthreshed guinea corn and millet (fig. 2-13). Framed in timber, lined with zanaa or grass matting, and roofed with thatch, the structure stands several feet above the ground, offering little protection to its contents. Long-term protection is not necessary, however, since the contents are removed as the threshing proceeds and the grain is transferred to the permanent earthen granary. Unlike food-storage units in Tongo, Sekai, and Birufu, where granaries are an integral formal element in the compound structure, granaries in Konkombaland are set in apparently haphazard fashion adjacent to the compounds. Although a granary may be controlled by a compound elder, its position relative to the compound gives no clue to individual ownership or control. Possibly the anonymity reflects the household's function as a cooperative economic unit, as well as the reciprocal assistance that characterizes Konkomba social relationships.

3. TONGO, a Tallensi Settlement



The mosaic pattern of residence on the plateau above the Gambaga scarp is marked by a large number of small, culturally distinct, homogeneous tribal groupings; the Tallensi are one of these. Taleland, the area they reside in, is directly north of the Gambaga escarpment; its boundaries are demarcated by the Red and White Volta rivers which converge at the base of the escarpment. The verbal traditions of the Tallensi lack the historical perspective that characterizes Dagomba legends. They have no legends of migration showing how they came to their present abode; rather, they consider themselves indigenous. Their view of indigenousness is symbolized in a distinctive unifying institution, the office of the tengdaana, or custodian of the Earth. Tallensi culture shows few evidences of the type of inroad made into the neighboring cultures by the two transsavannah trade routes. Taleland, lying between

the two major routes, was bypassed by both. Nor does Taleland seem to have been subject to any particular processes of acculturation. Certainly there are few architectural features that indicate intercultural borrowing. The imposition of British rule in the first decade of the twentieth century incited the Tallensi to rebellion, but once the British had established a token Native Authority and retreated to the more remunerative Ashanti rain forest, the Tallensi had little contact with the Western world. In recent years, Ghana's closer attention to its northern hinterland has brought a considerable concentration of government infrastructure to the area. Bolgatanga was established as a regional capital; a first-class road was built through Taleland, linking the area to Tamale and Kumasi; a primary school system was introduced; and Roman Catholic missionary activity, already long present, received a strong impetus. Nevertheless, the innovations have had little effect on the traditional architecture and building technology of the Tallensi. 51





A G R I C U L T U R A L PATTERNS The subsistence economy that characterizes Tallensi agricultural activity differs markedly from the economy of the Dagomba. In contrast with the nucleated settlement pattern and its associated land rotation, the dominant pattern of land use—compound farming —is marked by dispersed settlement in family compounds and by the continual cropping of grains. In contrast, also, is the absence of any noticeable degree of commercialization within the economy which might serve as a buffer during bad cropping years. Two factors—dispersed settlement and continuous cropping —are directly related to an extremely high population density. Areas of compound farming in Taleland have one of the highest densities in all of Ghana—more than 200 persons per square mile. The resulting intensive farming (fig. 3-1) has denuded the country of much of its natural vegetation, leaving only a few economically useful trees and an occasional grove marking ancestral shrines. Immediately outside the compound walls there is usually a garden of okras, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes. The plot is small, and is invariably surrounded by a low mud wall or a thatch fence to protect the plants from freely wandering animals. The compound farm, on which millets and guinea corn are cropped, is limited to the few acrcs surround52

FIG. 3-1.

Taleland's intensive land use.

ing the family compound. It is haphazardly manured with household and animal refuse. The manured land grades gradually into unmanured rotation cropland whose fertility is maintained by the use of short fallows, in combination with incidental manuring by livestock grazing on it. Livestock consists not only of cattle, but of goats and sheep as well as fowl, their numbers varying in proportion to the density of population. The cattle, grazing farther afield, are one of the sources of manure for the rotation cropland; the goats and sheep provide the manure for the compound farm. The Red and White Volta rivers bounding Taleland, though flowing only during part of the year, are of vital importance to the Tallensi economy. During the dry season the rivers run dry, leaving only occasional small pools, so that both man and beast are beset by a scarcity of water. This perennial scarcity toward the end of the dry season is, however, less serious than a

TON GO, a Tallensi Settlement

drought or an inadequate wet-season rainfall, either of which may cause near famine. Whereas man may curtail his intake of water during periods of dry-season scarcity, an inadequate water supply during cultivation seriously threatens the harvest upon which the very fabric of existence depends. SETTLEMENT


The Tallensi landscape is an undulating plain with scattered boulder outcroppings. The plain is bounded on the south by the Tong Hills, which appear as a scenic backdrop to the homesteads distributed over the surface of the plain (fig. 3-2). The homesteads are not evenly distributed over the landscape: they huddle more closely at the base of the hills, spreading out like the spokes of a wheel, with decreasing density beyond the immediate contours. Two variables apparently influence this pattern of distribution: the Tallensi system of beliefs and the topography of the area. Tale ancestral shrines are located high in the Tong Hills, symbolically representing the locus of Tale origin. Kinship groups tend to cluster more closely around what they conceive to be the source of their ancestry. When British rule was being extended into this area, the Tallensi retreated into the hills to resist the imposition of British authority. Finally overwhelmed in 1911, they were driven from the hills and forbidden to resettle in them. Second, the

topography of the hill area provides agricultural advantages for the Tallensi farmer. The higher sloping grounds have better drainage during the wet season, whereas the depressed areas beyond are subject to flooding and consequent swampiness. In the more densely populated areas, homesteads are as close as 10 yards apart, but on the lower floodplain they may be separated by as much as a quarter mile. Land fragmentation is more marked in the denser areas, apparently because of greater population pressures; in less densely settled areas, where land is more plentiful, compound farms are larger. Because the landholdings are more fragmented in the denser areas, the cultivation of bush farms, located at some distance from the compounds, is more prevalent among kinship groups living closer to the hills. If the variation in compound density is attributable to a combination of ideology and physical morphology, the siting of a particular compound relative to another seems to be a function of consanguinity. Whenever possible, new compounds are built in the vicinity of the lineage elder's compound, preferably on the site of a patrilineal ancestor. Occasionally, where there is already too much pressure on the land, the head of a new compound may elect to move away from the homestead of his kinship group and establish himself and his family in a less densely populated area, where the land is not so intensively exploited. Thus the pattern of compound distribution, though 53


FIG. 3-2.

The landscape of Taleland, seen from the Tong Hills.

conditioned by topography, is determined by the Tallensi kinship organization and reinforced by its system of beliefs. A map of the area is, in effect, a diagram of the prevailing social structure (fig. 3-3). During the dry season its anatomy is in full relief: the


framework clearly defined by the ancestral shrines, the stones demarcating the boundaries of compound farms, and the footpaths tracing the strands that link the segments of a kinship group together. The wide population dispersal in Taleland makes

TONGO, a Tallensi Settlement


comparison with nucleated villages in other parts of northern Ghana difficult. The term "village" suggests a spatially composite group of dwellings. Tongo cannot be so identified. While it is a socially defined, coherent, discrete entity, its social dimensions have no

physical counterpart. Tongo is visually identifiable only by the expansive compound of the na'ab, or chief of Tongo, at the base of the Tong Hills and the grove of trees that marks the open marketplace. Twenty years ago a vaguely defined bush track led


to the solitary rest house adjoining the marketplace in Tongo; today a number of new buildings, white and rectangular, are seen at the end of the laterite road. The newly established District Commissioner's office, the classroom building, and the Roman Catholic Mission House are, however, strangely incongruous with the landscape; bare and isolate, they seen alien to Tongo's physical configuration. BUILDING TECHNIQUES Whenever possible, new homesteads are located on sites that have already been consecrated by previous human residence. Consecration is evident by the existence of conical ancestral shrines. A new shrine is added before construction of the new compound is begun. Building construction, as in Dagombaland and Konkombaland, is a cooperative effort by the future inhabitants of the compound and their kinfolk. Division of labor is simple: the men build up the walls and lay the roofs; the women apply the finish surfaces. The circular mud walls are built up tier upon tier with molded balls of wet mud, under the direction of the new compound head. The conical thatch roofs FIG. 3-3. Survey of the "center" of Tongo. a. The marketplace. b. The District Commissioner's office, c. Roman Catholic Mission House, d. The compound of the na'ab, or chief of Tongo. e. Illustrated compound.

FIG. 3-4.

The roofs of a new compound under construction.

are then lashed onto a radial framework of rafters (fig. 3-4). All the room units are thatched except the millet-grinding room, which has a domelike mud roof supported by horizontal wooden beams. Actually, the mud roof is a rounded extension of the tapered walls, giving the impression of a bullet-shaped enclosure. Responsibility for the surfacing of all walls, as well as for the patterning incised into the surface, belongs to the women. The "plaster" is a mixture of cow dung, locust bean-pod juices, and mud. As the surface dries it hardens and becomes impervious to water, lending smoothness and durability to the wall. The incised patterns are not made by finger application, but are 57

the internalization of a building process particularly appropriate to the physical environment has had a long history of maturation. The quality of their buildings lends support to the Tallensi claim of extended residence in this area. The compounds are, nevertheless, not completely impervious. The extreme variation in temperature between day and night during the dry season, as well as the wide range in humidity between the dry and rainy seasons, requires annual maintenance and repair of walls and roofs if a compound is to fulfill its life expectancy. COMPOUND ORGANIZATION FIG. 3-5.

Decorative wall treatment, with pito pots alongside.

cut with a sharp tool in deliberate patterns that bear no relationship to appliqué techniques ( fig. 3-5 ). Floor surfaces are also plastered so that they can be used to dry the various grains and greens that complement the staple diet. Tallensi buildings possess a quality of technical proficiency which far exceeds that of either the Dagomba or ( with the exception of their granaries ) the Konkomba. It can be seen in the regularity of wall surfaces, in the formation of curved surfaces, and in the careful transition effected between surfaces when the plaster is applied. This high level of proficiency suggests that 58

Just as the plan of a Tallensi settlement constitutes a diagram in space of its kinship organization, so the plan of a Tallensi compound constitutes a sociogram of the family that inhabits it, projected into three dimensions (fig. 3-6). The architecture of a compound may FIG. 3-6. Plan of the illustrated compound, a. Subcompound for the animals, h. Senior wife's courtyard, c. Second wife's courtyard, d. Brother's wife's courtyard, e. Son's wife's courtyard. f. Courtyard of the unmarried sons. g. Shade tree and sitting area. 1. Room of compound founder (father of present owner), containing his possessions. 2b-e. Wives' rooms. 3. Unmarried sons' rooms. 4. Dry-season kitchens. 5. Wet-season kitchens. 6. Bathing enclosure. 7. Millet granaries. 8. Millet-grinding rooms. 9. Sheep and goats. 10. Chicken roosts. 11. Ancestral shrines.



J* %


a tallensi compound scale in feet





FIG. 3-7.

Exterior walls of illustrated compound.

thus be viewed as the embodiment of the Tallensi concept of family. The building structure and the family unit form a single entity. Linguistically, the concept yir is interchangeably translated by the Tallensi as "house" or "joint family." The concept "yir" is also related to the nature of Tallensi ancestor worship, in which the Earth is viewed as the source of fertility and productivity. The intimacy with and dependence upon the Earth, when translated from the ideational to the concrete, are exFIG. 3-8. Looking over the wall of a molded seat into the subcompound of the unmarried sons.

FIG. 3-9. forefront.

Inside the subcompound, with the seat in the left

FIG. 3-10. Conical pillars with their nesting enclosures at entrance to cattle yard.

FIG. 3-12.

FIG. 3-11. Millet grinding room, with ancestral shrines in foreground.

pressed in the way each compound seems to rise out of the ground, as if it were simply a vertical extension of the Earth itself (fig. 3-7). This synthesis of form and function serves to transform the Tallensi compound into an architectural quintessence. Perfect balance is achieved between the spaces enclosed and the walls that enclose them. Curvilinear surfaces direct the flow of spaces into one another so that solids and voids merge. Each wall

Ancestral shrines in front of compound entrance.

surface, each depression, each space, whether a molded seat, a bathing enclosure, a conical pillar for nesting fowl, or an ancestral shrine integral with the surface from which it projects, has a raison detre (figs. 3-8, 3-9, 3-10, 3-11). Such simplicity and directness can only be the result of the extreme paucity of materials and human energy which characterizes Tallensi existence. The approach to each compound is marked by a shade tree, which may itself be an ancestral shrine. The open space between the tree and the compound entrance is a gathering place for all greetings, meetings, and negotiations, a resting place, and a shelter from the heat of the afternoon sun. In front of the compound entrance stand the ancestral shrines, spiritual guardians of the compound (fig. 3-12). Here, too, may be found the occasional horticultural plot. The entrance gateway is a pair of bullet-shaped pillars; at the base of each is a chicken roost. At night, the entrance gateway is boarded across to prevent predators 6i


from plundering the livestock in the cattle yard. But, more important, the gateway symbolizes economic independence. If the joint family in a compound comprises several separate farming groups, each group has its own gateway into the compound. Just inside the entrance is the cattle yard, surrounded by enclosures for sheep and goats. The casual observer looking in finds little to distinguish these enclosures from those that house human occupantsarchitectural testimony, perhaps, to the care, protection, and value accorded to livestock by the Tallensi. Adjacent to the entrance gateway, on the periphery of the cattle yard, is the room of the compound founder. Containing only his personal equipment, it is rarely entered or occupied, but is rather a symbol of lineage continuity and the elder's status within the lineage group. To reach the subcompounds used for human occupancy, one must pass through the cattle yard and step up and over a waist-high wall, which separates the domains of men and women. The physical separation is further emphasized by the significant difference in floor level and the striking contrast between the smoothly finished wall surfaces above and the rubbishstrewn surface below (fig. 3-13). The dividing wall, extending out from the bullet-shaped granaries with their caps of tightly plaited thatch, defines not only the separate spheres of economic activity for the two sexes, but also their respective areas of jurisdiction.


The area of the cattle yard is man's domain; that of human occupancy is woman's. The granaries represent, visually and symbolically, a fulcrum on which these two domains balance; they are the guarantee of a household's viability and sustenance, of its continued existence. The area of human occupancy is composed of selfcontained subcompounds, each under the jurisdiction of a wife, each visually and physically a discrete entity. A subcompound contains a sleeping room, an unroofed dry-season kitchen, a combined wet-season kitchen and storeroom, and an open courtyard space in which the full range of daily domestic activity takes place. The size of each subcompound, as well as its position in relation to the granaries and the millet-grinding room, reflects the social hierarchy that exists among the wives. For example, subcompound B, that of the senior wife, was the largest, and it was from this subcompound that one gained entry to the millet-grinding room. In the grinding room, the grindstone rests on a waist-high molded mud platform. There is space enough for only one woman to stand while she grinds. The interior is dark, illuminated only by the light that filters through the low entrance and a single porthole opening high up under the roof. The sleeping rooms are entered through a low, arched opening and over a semicircular curb in front of the opening. The curb defines a reception-vestibule





area, but a second purpose is to prevent the water that floods the courtyard at the height of the rainy season from entering the room. The sleeping rooms are dark because they have no openings other than the entrances, but they also retain the day's heat, a necessity during the cold nights of the harmattan. The retention of heat is more crucial than daytime ventilation or illumination, since daytime activity takes place in the compound courtyard, whereas the sleeping rooms are occupied only at night. Although young children and girls share their mothers' rooms, each of the young, unmarried men builds a room off their own subcompound. The Dagomba and Konkomba single men follow the same practice, but they build rectangular structures, whereas the Tallensi do not deviate from their indigenous architectural form (fig. 3-14). Only the few personally acquired possessions—a few bottles, a metal pan in place of the traditional basket, a small, twisted sheet of corrugated metal, perhaps even a bicycle—give any indication that the young men have been in contact with the outside world. The physical organization of a Tallensi compound manifests the inhabitants' social and economic interrelationships so directly that when internal family changes occur they are almost immediately translated into physical reorganization. The changes that had taken place during the six-month interval between my two visits to the illustrated compound were being fe-


FIG. 3-14.

Courtyard of unmarried sons' compound.

verishly transformed into their physical counterparts during my second, dry-season visit. The compound elder's mother, who had lived in the main subcompound, had died; fission in the joint family had taken place, and a younger brother of the compound elder now farmed his own land, creating thereby a separate, economically viable unit; a son of the compound elder had returned with his wife and children from southern Ghana to farm with his father. The senior wife had moved into the subcompound previously occupied by the elder's mother, and the sleeping room of the most junior wife had been demolished. In its place rose the new sleeping room, the wet-season kitchen, and the bathing enclosure for the son's wife (fig. 3-15). The wet-season kitchen of the brother's wife was being enlarged, a set of steps had been placed between the cattle yard and her subcompound, and, most important, a new entranceway, flanked by its characteristic

F i c . 3-15. New sleeping room and kitchen for the son's wife, under construction.

pair of molded pillars, had been cut into an existing wall, thus providing direct access to her subcompound through the cattle yard (figs. 3-16, 3-17) and from the outside. Implicit in the above description of Tallensi architecture has been the assumption that its unique quality is achieved through the synthesis of form and function, through the unity that exists between the social structure of a familial unit and its material manifestation. To this synchronic synthesis must be added the temporal dimension: the family compound reveals not only the interrelationships that obtain at a given point in time, but also internal changes that take place over time, from its inception, through its growth, and ending ultimately in its distintegration, when the compound structure is abandoned, its hollow shell crumbling back to Earth.

4. SEKAI, an Isala Village




The residential mosaic of the upper region of northern Ghana is bisected by an imaginary longitudinal axis which demarcates two different building shapes: the round and the rectangular. Northeastern Ghana is characterized, as has been shown, by circular dwelling forms. The landscape of northwestern Ghana, on the other hand, presents a medley of rectangular dwelling types to the observer's eye. The circular structure holds strong fascination for the present-day Western student of material culture in West Africa; its form and the space enclosed by the form are exotic and exciting to anyone who has been conditioned to the angularity and straightness of contemporary Western architecture. Nevertheless, the architecture of rectangularly in northwestern Ghana, though not so sensuously exciting, provides broader grounds for speculation on the whys and the wherefores of its nature. One of the ethnic groups that live west of the imaginary dividing line is the Isala, resident in central


northwestern Ghana. The Isala are heavily concentrated in the environs of Tumu, but their ethnic boundaries extend well into Upper Volta. The Isala clans have differing myths of origin: some claim they originated on their present sites while others claim to have migrated from the area of what is now Mamprusi, in northeastern Ghana. The fragmented ethnic patterns that characterize this part of northern Ghana are not conducive to an extensive verbal tradition; the oral history that does exist is scanty and of limited time depth. The nucleated Isala villages are scattered and autonomous. Unlike the Dagomba, with their highly developed political structure, the Isala, until recently, vested authority in a council of elders within each separate clan. Each clan was composed of a small number of villages. British penetration into northern Ghana in the first decade of the twentieth century brought with it insistence on a native authority for purposes of negotiation and administration. Only then was a hierarchy of authority established, with a paramount chieftaincy at Tumu.

SEKAI, an Isaia Village

Memory of the Samory raids in the latter part of the nineteenth century is still vivid in the minds of the Isala. In response to French penetration, Samory, a national Malinke leader, attempted to establish a unified state in what is now Guinea and the Ivory Coast. During the height of his struggle, frequent raids into the area of present-day northwestern Ghana were carried out, prompting the erection of a number of peripheral defense walls around villages. The remains of such walls can still be seen at Goluu, an Isala village northeast of Tumu. At Sekai, unexplained mounds in the vicinity of the outermost village compounds may possibly be the remains of a fortification system, but residents can throw no light on the matter. The existence of fortifications leads to the further speculation that the extreme compactness of Isala villages also stemmed from the need for defense. There is hardly enough evidence, however, to assume that defensive measures in the past would account for the persistence of the nucleated village form. A more valid explanation for the dense, compact village form may emerge from consideration of the exigencies of defense in conjunction with the dictates of land-use pattern. AGRICULTURAL PATTERNS This part of northwestern Ghana is characterized by the cultivation of bush farms based on a system of land rotation, a system that seems to go hand in hand with nucleai settlement. Yams, the major crop, are

interspersed with guinea corn and millet. The responsibility for cultivation of the bush farm rests with the extended family unit. During the dry season tobacco is grown at the village periphery, where animal droppings and household refuse serve to increase soil fertility. The most intense horticultural activity, however, occurs in the abandoned cattle corrals, where indigenous vegetables are grown. The prevalence and productivity of dry-season gardens are commensurate with the extent of cattle herding as a major economic activity. In the past, cattle were kept as a prestige symbol and for bride barter; today they constitute an important factor in the nascent cash economy. The cattle are herded by two families of Fulani, traditional cattle herders of the West African economy, who live in a symbiotic relationship with the Isala village. The cattle are owned by the Isala, who have rights over the richly manured corrals; the Fulani are entitled to the milk from the cattle. SETTLEMENT MORPHOLOGY Sekai is located about 10 miles south of Tumu, the seat of the Tumukoro, titular paramount chief of the Isala clans. Unlike the dispersed settlements normally found above the Gambaga scarp, Sekai strongly resembles, though on a minute scale, the ancient Islamized urban centers of the Western Sudan, for example, Segou or even Timbuktu.


FIG. 4-1. The perimeter walls of Sekai closely resemble those found farther north, in the vicinity of the Niger Bend.

Although the residents of Sekai are no longer practicing Muslims, they claim that at one time they did adhere to Islam, possibly in the period of Samory's expansion. Certainly Sekai's visual and structural similarity in material and form to Islamized villages elsewhere in the area of the Niger Bend lends credence to their claim (fig. 4-1). The inhabitants of Sekai also claim to have migrated, "sometime in the past," from a place near


Gambaga in Mamprusiland. If this claim is valid, it suggests further avenues for speculation, not only about their settlement pattern, but about their architecture as well. Mamprusi villages, like their Dagomba counterparts, have a tight, nucleate form. The nucleate settlement, however, is composed of circular compounds, whereas at Sekai the compounds are rectangular (fig. 4-2). The village stands on a slight rise—the high point in the landscape—some little way from the road. From a distance it looks like a miniature replica of a fortified town, replete with buttresses, pierced parapets, and a second-story lookout (fig. 4-3). Passing through a kind of entrance gateway to the village, one is confronted by a maze of passageways and courtyards flowing into one another in spatial sequence (fig. 4-4). The yards, like circumscribed open spaces, break out around the corners into narrow alleyways, reminiscent of the tortuous alleys of a medieval European town (fig. 4-5). It is almost impossible, except by query, to define the limits of individual compounds within the village. Sekai comprises a single clan, and, as the clan expanded, compounds were built onto and linked to one another, with little spatial definition to distinguish one from another. The flat roofs are used as walkways, and, because of the compactness of the village as well as the linking of compounds, it is possible to walk for a considerable distance on them (fig. 4-6). The individual compounds in the village are larger

FIG. 4-2. Village survey of Sekai. a. The old market, b. One of the blacksmith areas, c. Dry-season gardens, d. Cattle pens. e. The new market, f . The new primary school, g. One of the two Fulani compounds.


an isala


IIMIIII1I?0 scale in feet



FIG. 4-3. The entrance to Sekai.

FIG. 4-4. A "street" in Sekai. FIG. 4-5. An "alley" in Sekai.

and more complex in arrangement than those found in dispersed or semidispersed settlements like Kasuliyili and Yankezia. The 1960 census recorded more than 1,000 inhabitants living in thirty-four compounds. The average of about thirty residents per compound represents a large, extended family sharing a common domicile. Whether this large kinship group reflects the impact of earlier adherence to Islam is beyond the consideration of this survey, but it is appropriate to note that when large, individual compounds are clustered into a compact, easily defended settlement, as at Sekai, the resulting physical character is unique. Physical changes in an individual compound are perceived as changes in relation to adjacent compounds; that is, spatial relationships between compounds are altered. Such changes can be seen in the alleyways and in the communal courtyards. This interrelatedness between interior and exterior, between inside and outside, is in sharp contrast with more dispersed settlements, where changes effected in one compound have no spatial impact on neighboring structures. Sekai has a look of being run-down, of almost disintegrating, despite its recent record growth (fig. 4-7). This visual impression, though undoubtedly strengthened by the proximity of compounds to one another and by large amounts of filth and debris, results both from the failure to surface the walls and from poor construction techniques. The rectilinear form suffers far more in the humid southern savannah climate of

FIG. 4-6. The village roofscape.

northern Ghana than it does farther north, where there is less rainfall. Sekai's close-knit appearance is broken by several open spaces: a former market site, heavily populated with mature mango trees, and two blacksmithing sites. The former, though it had been abandoned in favor

of a roadside market location, was flanked by a covered sitting area used for reception by the Sekaikoro (the clan elder); a circular, thatched room which was pointed out as an ancestral shrine; and a smaller conical mound similar to those found in front of Tallensi compounds. The sheltered reception area marked this 71

FIG. 4-7. Alley leading to the old market. The second-floor room in the distance forms part of the Sekaikoro's compound.

open space as a focal point in the village. The unique circular structure, with its related conical mound, in an exclusively rectangular building complex is possibly additional historical evidence for the claim of Mamprusi origin, for the Mamprusi traditionally built roundhouses. I could not discover whether the conical mound related to the consecration of the market site or to the establishment of the village itself. The two blacksmithing areas (figs. 4-8, 4-9) presumably exist because of the surface deposits of iron ore a mile and a half from the village. They are both located in the southeastern quarter of the village, adjacent to the same compound, a position suggesting that the family resident in the compound included craft specialists. If so, the social differentiation at Sekai was more pronounced than in other neighboring communities. 72

FIG. 4-8. Blacksmithing area, one of the few open spaces in Sekai. FIG. 4-9. Blacksmith's shelter.

SEKAI, an Isaia Village The compounds of the two Fulani families that tend the cattle are permanently located outside and at some distance from the village. Nevertheless, they are obviously a part of the village environment; their very isolation reinforces Sekai's circumscribed character. The form of the Fulani compounds, to be discussed later, is completely alien to Sekai. In recent years, the government has given more attention to the northern regions of Ghana, stressing particularly education, agricultural aid, and an improved road network. The extension of government activity has brought far more striking changes to Sekai than to any of the other selected villages. The improvement of a bush track skirting the village into a laterite road capable of carrying long-distance traffic has already shifted the focus of activity from the village proper to the roadside. The new primary school, located across the new road, necessitated the construction of new classroom buildings. After the road had been improved, the market was moved from its original village site to the roadside, and new buildings mushroomed, straddling the road in ribbon formation (see fig. 4-2). These new buildings accommodate shops and rental units for "strangers," persons associated with school activities and with the newly generated commerce. As noted earlier, the village itself evidences no new construction or improvement, even though its population has increased considerably in the past decade.

The increased roadside activity and the enhanced communication possibilities generated by the road are bringing about a shift in the village focus and are thus setting the pattern of a dual village. Sekai is a village in transition. Whether the open area between the new roadside development and the old village will gradually be built up, or whether development will extend alongside and parallel to the road, is a question that cannot be answered now. The patterns of growth, if observed, could provide interesting data on the way in which technological innovations affect the physical shape of a northern Ghanaian village. BUILDING TECHNIQUES Isala building methods reveal the difficulties encountered when wet mud is used in rectilinear construction. Although load-bearing walls are erected in the traditional puddled-mud or wet-wall manner, the basic structural system differs from the roundhouse construction characteristic of the three villages previously discussed in that the walls are called upon to carry a much heavier roof load. The flat roofs are carried by timber beams over which a dense layer of branches is laid. Over the branches, a thick layer of mud is applied. The timber spanning members are sometimes embedded in the mud walls, but more often they require the introduction of forked upright posts for their support. Furthermore, flat roofs introduce the 73

FIG. 4-10. Pierced lintel and parapets in the Sekaikoro's courtyard.

problem of horizontal thrust, which is not encountered in roundhouse construction. The mud buttresses used to resist this thrust may at one time have been rationally placed, but as a result of continual internal change within the compounds, they are now haphazardly located. The Isala building techniques, originally derived from roundhouse forms achieved through wet-wall construction, have had to be modified to accommodate


the structural problems created by a flat-roof system. This duality in structural systems is more easily understood if viewed in comparison with the systems used by the LoWiili at Birufu and the Gonja at Larabanga ( subsequently). The LoWiili use a postand-beam system exclusively, without depending on mud walls for load bearing at all. The Gonja, in contrast, build with dried mud bricks, and place their flat roofs on load-bearing mud walls reinforced with mud buttresses. Because the two structural systems are difficult to combine, buildings at Sekai deteriorate rapidly. The existence of this building technology is difficult to account for; a possible hypothesis is that the Isala at Sekai brought familiar building techniques based on roundhouse construction with them from elsewhere. Later they may have found it desirable or expedient, for reasons of defense, prestige, or acculturation, to modify their building forms, but in so doing they retained a building technology more suited to roundhouse construction. Like roundhouse walls, the walls of Sekai have few openings other than the doorways. The lack of windows results not only from structural limitations (a bearing wall without reinforcement cannot accommodate many openings), but from the fact that, as elsewhere in northern Ghana, life is carried on in the courtyards. Enclosed rooms are used almost exclusively for sleeping and storage. Occasionally a skylight is

SEKAI, an Isaia Village

formed by inserting a clay pot with its bottom cut out into the mud layer forming the roof. The mud is then worked in around the body of the clay pot, and another pot is laid over the aperture to keep out the rain. The most striking architectural feature at Sekai is the triangularly pierced parapet and the pierced lintel (figs. 4-3, 4-10). The triangulation on the Sekaikoro's compound, though resembling an applied decorative wall treatment, is achieved structurally by the arrangement of crudely formed, dried mud bricks laid at angles to one another, so that the term "pierced" is not an accurate description. The use of dried mud bricks is totally incongruous with the method of wall construction previously described. This decorative feature, like the embellishment of Dagomba doorways, is an indication of wealth and position. As a structural motif, however, it is geographically widespread, appearing as a leitmotif in any area that at one time or another came into contact with the Mande-speakers who moved down through the Western Sudan, carrying Islam with them. It is not feasible in puddledmud construction, but derives rather from the Berber stone construction which can still be found in the archaeological remains of southern Mauretania, as well as at Koumbi Saleh.

The use of this architectonic motif in Isala villages (it occurs at Tumu as well as at a number of other Isala villages) testifies to the impact of centuries of Islamic activity on the residents in the Voltaian Basin. It is likely that Berber structural triangulation appeared in Sekai during the period of Islamization, and that it was an adaptation of the elements of material culture which symbolized identification with Islam's ruling ideology. The symbolism of Islam could then have been extended and transferred, so that the formal material elements in which the symbolism was vested were adapted by ruling members of kinship groups for secular use. Thus, although Islam as an ideology is no longer professed in Sekai, its material manifestations continue to perform the function of communicating, to the viewer, the presence of wealth and ruling position within the community. Such a hypothesis would also account for the presence and limited use of sun-dried brick construction only on select parapets and over singular lintels. Except for this decorative feature, Isala villages are devoid of wall-surface treatment. Since walls do not receive a finish coat of plaster the finger designs that characterize wall surfaces elsewhere are missing in Sekai. The absence of plaster hastens the deterioration begun by inadequate construction techniques.



C O M P O U N D ORGANIZATION The illustrated compound, by far the smallest in the village (fig. 4-11), houses two elements of an extended family unit. The elements are completely segregated, and each has its own entrance. Both entrances are approached from a widened alleyway. Timbers embedded in the ground suggest that at one time the alleyway was not so wide as it is now. The additional open space serves no particular purpose except to provide a playing area for children and a place for goats and chickens. The entrances are not demarcated in any way, either decoratively or structurally, thus contrasting sharply with the clearly announced entrances into compounds among most other northern Ghanaian peoples. Undoubtedly the absence of entrance definition in Sekai contributes in large measure to the serpentine, almost mazelike, quality of the village. The locus of each subcompound is its own internal courtyard (fig. 4-12); the back of each is turned on the perimeter alleyways that circumscribe it. Despite the courtyard orientation, room arrangement within the subcompounds is haphazard and ill defined, giving no indication of social or kinship relationships. The only clearly defined room arrangement is in the quarters of the compound owner, where a receptionsitting room opens up off a bedroom. This arrangement of space is reminiscent of that found in villages that


have been fully Islamized, where a reception chamber is a requisite element. Despite differences in form, the arrangement of space in the Sekai compounds is not unlike the antechamber-sleeping room relationship that marks Dagomba compounds. Activity on the flat roofs is casual and secondary to ground-level courtyard activity. Although roofs sometimes serve as walkways from one compound to another, they are more often used to dry grains and greens. The second-floor roof of the Sekaikoro's compound, in addition to serving as a vantage point for surveying the surrounding countryside, is occasionally used for reception purposes. The lack of daily activity on the roofs can be accounted for by the ample space for family activity in the compound courtyards. In contrast, the LoWiili at Birufu, where the compound arrangement permits maximum utilization of roof spaces, use the roofs in preference to the ground level for family activities. The ownership and assignment of granaries, and consequently their location, are as ill defined as the compounds themselves. Granaries are normally not structural elements within the compound building form, nor is their location in the compound complex indicative of any socially defined prescriptions within the family unit. Although there are two types of granaries, there is apparently no particular assignment of specific food crops to either. One type is an immense woven basket, approximately 2.5 feet in diameter and

Fic.. 4-11. Plan of the illustrated compound, a. Internal courtyard. b. Sheltered reception-sitting area facing the old market. c. Compound added for a second family, d. Ancestral shrine. fl. Granaries. 1. Compound owner's sitting room. 2. Compound owner's sleeping room. 3. Wives' rooms. 4. Wives' kitchens. 5. Sons' rooms. 6. Bathing enclosure. 7. Storerooms for granaries. 8. Sheep. 9. Chickens.


5 to 6 feet high, covered with a thin protective layer of mud. This type is found freestanding in the wives' rooms, in the compound owner's rooms, and in storerooms. The illustrated compound has, in addition, several earthen granaries built into the walls. In these granaries the floor is raised, resting on a row of stones that have been covered over and molded into a chicken roost. Access is from the roof. Aside from the ancestral shrine previously mentioned, there are no material manifestations of ancestor worship within the compound complex, suggesting that the individual household is not a particularly important ritual unit. In the courtyard of the Sekaikoro, though, one corner has been built up with mud and is crowded with a wide assortment of hunting trophies, such as horns and skulls, and of pots and calabashes, suggesting that the clan, rather than the household, constitutes the major ritual unit (fig. 4-13). FULANI COMPOUNDS Outside the village are the two Fulani compounds. The Fulani are traditionally a pastoral people whose nomadism has contributed to their diffusion over much of the West African savannah. Although in some areas they have become permanent, stable residents, their traditional role as cattle herders has persisted. Where they have settled, they form, in many instances, a zongo section adjacent to the indigenous community. 7«

Those that continue as transients live in symbiotic relationship with host villages in which cattle perform either an economic or a symbolic role. The two Fulani compounds at Sekai are similar to the tent-type structures used by nomadic tribesmen elsewhere in West Africa. The domed framework is built up by anchoring wooden ribs into the ground and arching them over to meet in a central apex. Over this structural frame, a covering of branches, leaves, or grassy materials is laid and held in place with mud. The Sekai Fulani, while retaining the traditional structural form, have overlaid the dome with thatch roofing in a manner reminiscent of Dagomba, Konkomba, and Tallensi roofs. The sides of the dome are enclosed with a woven thatch matting. Consequently, from the exterior the structures closely resemble a roundhouse, although structurally a vastly different system is used —a system that reflects the need for a lightweight, easily movable shelter. The arrangement of individual circular units within the compound corresponds closely to Fulani dwellings in northeastern Ghana. The individual units, placed around an internal courtyard, are linked together with woven thatch mats. The mats, in turn, define the boundaries of the internal space and enclose the Fulani family's activity. At the time of the survey, the illustrated Fulani compound (fig. 4-14) had been in existence for about ten years. Although it still retained its traditional form,

FIG. 4-12. Courtyard interior. Notched log serves as ladder to gain access to roof.




FIG. 4-13. Behind the ancestral shrine in the Sekaikoro's compound, and some of the offerings.

FIG. 4-14. One of the two Fulani compounds. Far to the left is a recently erected, mud-walled room.

the evidence suggested an adaptation to sedentary existence; a mud-walled, flat-roofed structure can be seen at the left of the photograph. Interestingly, the walls are built of sun-dried" brick, a technique not in

keeping with the majority of Sekai compounds, and obviously alien to the immediate environment. The mud building undoubtedly indicates a transition from transient to permanent residence.


5. LARABANGA, a Gonja


V _ > i u L T U R E HISTORY

Gonjaland is the largest ethnographically defined area in northern Ghana, stretching eastward from the country's western boundary, defined by the Black Volta, to meet Dagombaland. It is also the most sparsely populated: population density over much of the area is only 3 persons per square mile, in contrast with the 200 or more per square mile in the compound farming areas of northeastern Ghana. The density figures are somewhat misleading because the population is not evenly distributed, but lives in scattered, nuclear villages, separated by vast expanses of virtually uninhabited, desolate, desiccated land. Oral tradition suggests that early in the seventeenth century the then resident Guan, Vagalla, and Tampolense peoples were overcome by a wave of raiding Mande-speaking bands moving southeasterly from

across the Black Volta. This invasion was not an isolated phenomenon, but rather a late development in the Mande diaspora which had begun far to the northwest, at the Niger Bend, centuries before. Jakpe, the Mande leader and legendary founder of the Gonja state, established a ruling dynasty from which a centralized political organization subsequently evolved; in complexity and magnitude it was not unlike that of the Dagomba. Sweeping across the countryside from west to east, Jakpe captured Daboya, the salt-producing center in north central Ghana, from the Dagomba. From there he went on to extend his control beyond the Oti River. Administrative cohesion of so vast an area was facilitated by the assignment of conquered areas to members of Jakpe's immediate family. Eventually the Gonja were driven back into their present locale by the Dagomba, but the epic legends of these struggles remain a vivid chapter in 8i


the oral tradition of both the Dagomba and the Gonja. Although Jakpe and his raiding bands established hegemony over the indigenous peoples, they came as marauding bands of warriors, not as family groups. In the process of consolidating their conquests and establishing hegemony, the intruders lost their identity; they married into the local communities and acquired many of the cultural attributes of their subjects, including the Guan language. Gonjaland is divided into eastern and western sections by a line that roughly follows the White Volta. The divisions have distinctly different architectural forms; eastern Gonja compounds reflect a close affinity with those in Dagombaland, while those in western Gonja (of which Larabanga is an example) are reminiscent of the rectilinear construction seen in the "urban" centers to the north, centers of Mande-speaking population. The great Mande diaspora, of which Gonja history forms only a part, was intimately associated with the spread of Islam in West Africa. Jakpe and his followers also traveled under the aegis of Islam and, despite their integration into indigenous communities, they were able to impose Islam in varying degrees on the areas they conquered. The resultant cultural manifestations of such a synthesis are the key to an understanding of the architectural character of the villages in western Gonjaland.


AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITY Bush farming, based on land rotation and fallow periods, is the characteristic agricultural practice throughout the entire Gonja area. Subsistence crops are guinea corn, millet, and maize; yams are cultivated for consumption as well as for sale. The cultivation of the bush farms is dependent upon participation by a family group, and the assignment of lands for cultivation derives from traditional systems of land tenure prevalent elsewhere in northern Ghana. The soils in western Gonja are probably among the least productive in all of northern Ghana. The bush fallows are much longer, and rotation of land is more frequent. Despite the hardships imposed by the scarcity of fertile soils, villages have maintained themselves for hundreds of years in a single location. Recently, however, there has been a marked decline in Larabanga's population. Obviously, the conventional explanation for such a decline—soil exhaustion—seems inadequate. Traditionally, the Larabanga bush farms were located east of the village, 3 to 5 miles distant. In 1954, however, the Gold Coast government created the Damango Game Reserve, a vast area whose boundaries extend eastward from Larabanga's periphery, and prohibited farming within the demarcated area. Larabanga farmers were forced to shift their bush farms

LARABANGA, a Gonja Village

from traditional sites over to the western side of the village. The move must have disrupted not only farming activity, but the social organization with its accompanying traditional systems of land tenure. Such disruption, without attendant measures to mitigate its disastrous impact, could easily account for the marked decline in the village population during the past decade. Compound gardening, as practiced at Sekai, is almost nonexistent at Larabanga, despite the abundance of suitable open spaces between compounds. Since the cultivation of compound gardens invariably falls within the wife's realm, it presupposes her freedom to move. Adherence to Islam emphasizes the seclusion of women and rigidly prescribes their movements outside the compound. The absence of compound gardens, then, may be a reflection of the orthodox Islamic parctices to which Larabanga adheres. Cattle herding is practiced to a greater or less degree throughout the savannah zone, but its prevalence appears to be closely associated with areas of higher population density and available nutrient grasslands. The Gonja area, with its low population density, its lack of adequate grazing lands, and its proximity to river sources of tsetse fly infestation, is hardly conducive to cattle herding. Larabanga has only two small corrals, both located in the vicinity of the chief's compound. Cattle ownership is presumably nothing more than a mark of prestige.



The chief of Larabanga claims that the village was founded by his "grandfather," one Fat Mouhkpe, who was a mallam for Jakpe. The mallam had come from Dakrupe, a village east of Bole, to settle on this site. A second version of the founding suggests that a Muslim group from Bouna, a major trading community across the Black Volta, migrated to and settled in the area. According to a third version, a notable from the "Land of the Arabs," who was living in the house of Jakpe's mallam at Bole and was called Ibrahim Laraba, was granted land to settle on. Hence the name Larabanga. Comparison of the architectural forms, the building technology, and the settlement pattern with those of Bole, Bouna, or Dakrupe amply reinforce any one of these claims of origin (fig. 5-1). Regardless of variations in the versions of its founding, Larabanga reached the height of its prominence during the eighteenth century, when it became an important Islamic center of commerce. It was situated on a trade route linking Bouna and Bole with Salaga and Yendi, important historical centers of trade in what is now northeastern Ghana. Although its renown as a center of Islam persists, Larabanga, long bypassed by more economically advantageous communication and transportation routes, has declined as a commercial center in recent decades. There is a tendency to associate rectangular, flat83




FIG. 5-1. Village survey of Larabanga. a. Compound of the Al-hajj. b. The chief's compound, m. Mosques.

roofed houses, with their pinnacles and their waterspouts emptying into confined alleyways, with urbanism (fig. 5-2). This tendency stems, perhaps, from the physical character of many of the ancient urban centers farther north along the trans-Saharan trade routes. Larabanga, although possessing some of the physical features that suggest an urban quality, nevertheless remains as much a rural center as Tongo with its dispersed settlement pattern, or as Kasuliyili with its nucleated pattern. Larabanga lacks the physical amenities, the social differentiation, and the commercial or economic activities associated with even rudimentary urbanization. The water supply is inadequate; there is no school, secular or koranic. There is no marketplace, and the only commercial activity is that generated by vehicular traffic along the Damongo-Bole road. This road, an important east-west communication route in northern Ghana, partly counterbalances the agricultural hardships mentioned above. Certainly it accounts for the appearance several years ago of a shop, owned and operated by a resident Nigerian trader. Unlike the Sekai compounds, which are indistinguishable from one another, the Larabanga compounds are well defined by the open spaces around them. Again there is little decorative treatment which might distinguish compound entrances. Occasionally such entrances can be identified by the groundnut granaries that stand like guards in front of them (fig. 5-3).

FIG. 5-2. A street in Larabanga. FIG. 5-3. A groundnut granary at the entrance to a compound.


The compounds are extremely large in comparison with those seen elsewhere in northern Ghana. Although a compound now houses only about twentyseven persons on the average, a decade ago it sheltered at least forty occupants. The number of compounds has not decreased, but some rooms in many of them have fallen into decay, or are being occupied by strangers to Larabanga. The noticeable presence of strangers, as well as their residence within family compound complexes, is unique in the rural communities and villages of Ghana. Their presence in this community may be accounted for by Larabanga's proximity to, and the available transport from, Damongo. Perhaps the less tightly knit social cohesion developed by the Islamized Gonja over hundreds of years of commercial activity also contributes to the greater tolerance of stranger elements by a host society. In some of the open spaces within the village, a large dawadawa tree or a mango tree shelters a sitting area with benches made of built-up logs. The open spaces are apparently intended for formalities, not for the usual village activities. In fact, there are no physical features, except for these benches, to suggest patterns of social interaction. The daytime activity in any village is generated by women's work; since Islamic adherence carries with it some variant of purdah, such activity in Larabanga is closely restricted to the internal courtyards of individual compounds. Streets are


literally deserted during the daytime. Thus the social relationships that obtain between a family unit and its neighbors are clearly manifested by the presence or absence of material features such as meeting places. BUILDING TECHNIQUES Building techniques in this area are of two distinct types: one is the puddled-mud or wet-wall construction which is characteristic of both circular and rectangular housing in northern Ghana; the other, of far greater significance, reaches a new level of technology in its use of dried mud bricks. The first is identifiable by the strong horizontal lines that denote the lapping of wet-mud layers (fig. 5-2); the second, by the definition of actual bricks that are revealed when surface erosion takes place (fig. 5-4). The bricks, usually at least 12 inches thick, are hand molded and then sun dried. They are laid in true masonry fashion, with wet mud being used as a mortar. When erosion takes place, the mortar is washed away and the harder brick shows the uniform masonry pattern. The walls, containing no internal reinforcement, are fully load bearing for compression. The use of flat roofs, however, creates a horizontal thrust which must be resisted. Such resistance is achieved by building up tapering buttresses of mud and extending them so that they merge with the parapet system. These buttresses, haphazardly located and indiscriminately

FIG. 5-5. Timber shores supporting a mud wall.

FIG. 5-4. Tapering buttresses supporting the walls of a compound and, behind, a wall in which erosion has revealed the use of molded, sun-dried brick.

placed, sometimes appear at a corner, sometimes at a wall junction. Consequently, frequent recourse must be had to additional shoring with timber (fig. 5-5). The indiscriminate placing of tapered buttresses is based less on irrational decision than on the dilemma created by combining two different methods of wall construction. In all the compounds, each the product

of many years of addition and subtraction resulting from internal change, both construction techniques were used. Thus the building problems that Larabanga attempted to grapple with are an amplified version of the difficulties that faced the mud builders at Sekai. As suggested earlier, a building technology employing sun-dried brick might have been introduced at Sekai during a period when the village was under the aegis of Islam. The even wider prevalence of sun-dried brick walls at Larabanga reinforces such a hypothesis, but at the same time it provides a broader and more tenable explanation of the origin of this technique. Sun-dried rectangular brick was used in wall construction wherever there had been migration or intrusion by Mande-speakers, down to the edge of the rain forest. Although many Mande communities that



exist as pockets within wider ethnographically defined groups are pagan, they still use a masonry-type construction, even when their neighbors continue to build with puddled mud. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the Mande diaspora, of which the impact of Islam was only one facet, was responsible for the introduction of a building technology alien to the climate in which it persists. Once the walls have been built up, whether by one or the other technique, the flat mud roofs are laid. First a primary system of wooden beams is placed directly on the bearing walls, and over that a secondary system of small rafters is closely laid. The mud is then placed over this dense layer of wood. Finally, the roof perimeter is described by a parapet through which the characteristic waterspouts project. Except for the serpentine walls that surround the open cooking spaces, the compounds contain no freestanding .walls which link discrete room units to one another or mark the compound boundary. Instead, each room is contiguous with the next, so that walls actually divide space, rather than enclose it. The dividing walls are load bearing for two sections of roof, whose combined weight sometimes causes them to collapse. After the roof is in place, the walls are given an additional coating of mud. This finish coat, however, possesses neither the cohesive agent used by the Tallensi nor the waterproofing ingredients used by the


Konkomba. Among both these peoples, cow dung was an essential ingredient for achieving these qualities. Obviously, the absence of cattle herding among the Gonja, which would supply the cow dung required to ensure a modicum of protection, partly accounts for the poor quality of the mud rendering. The mud is applied by the women who, using their fingers, create the almost arabesque striations that mark the wall surface. This decorative application is more pronounced and more meticulously executed around door openings in the interior of the compound (figs. 5-6, 5-7). The design motif sometimes incorporates broken pottery and pan lids, not unlike the decoration found on Dagomba entrances. The similarity in entrance treatment once again invites speculation on the extent of acculturation that may have taken place between the two ethnic groups. FIG. 5-6. Decorative treatment of wall surfaces. The doorway behind the wall shows the impression of plates that must at one time have formed part of the entrance decor.

LARABANGA, a Gonja Village

F i c . 5-7. A decorative door treatment.

COMPOUND ORGANIZATION The Larabanga compound here illustrated (fig. 5-8) is that of the Al-hajj, the spiritual leader of this Muslim community. Having made the pilgrimage to Mecca, he enjoys a position equal to that of the chief, and, from appearances, his economic standing is better that the chief's. The Al-hajj's compound is organized around a central courtyard, whose main orientation is toward his own apartment unit. Several secondary courtyards, though possibly relating to social division and jurisdic-

tion among the wives, do not physically define the elements composing the Al-hajj's joint family, which includes a younger brother and two sons. In other words, the definition of courtyards is achieved, not deliberately through wall position, but through the addition of contiguous room units. There is no clear pattern of space assignment as among the Konkomba, for example. The apartment of the Al-hajj, with its corrugated metal roof, presents a sharp contrast to the remainder of the flat-roofed compound. Furthermore, its foundation and floor slab are both of concrete, and the walls, though made of mud brick, are plastered, both inside and out, with cement. The apartment had been constructed by "skilled" labor—one of the few instances when imported skills were employed to build with imported materials in the rural villages of northern Ghana. The imported corrugated metal used on the roof of a third mosque (put to shame by its two traditional counterparts) and on a porch in the chief's compound had been installed by local residents. The presence, position, and arrangement of this elaborate apartment recall the more modest rooms occupied by the compound owner at Sekai. Despite the contrast in elegance, both perform the same function: reception by and segregation of the compound elder. The wives cook separately, each in an open place adjacent to her sleeping room. These dry-season cooking areas are partly enclosed by shoulder-high ser89

LARABANGA, a Gonja Village

FIG. 5-9. Dry-season cooking areas defined by shoulder-high walls.

FIG. 5-10. A wet-season kitchen, and courtyard.

FIG. 5-8. Plan of the Al-hajj's compound, a. Main courtyard. b. Open cooking areas, c. Nigerian trader's shop front. 1. Al-hajj's apartment. 2. Al-hajj's brothers' rooms. 3. Al-hajj's sister's room. 4. Al-hajj's "stepmother's" room. 5. Al-hajj's aunt's room. 6. Al-hajj's eldest son's room. 7. Rooms of Al-hajj's wives. 8. The wives' kitchens. 9. The brothers' wives' rooms. 10. A brother's wife's kitchen. 11. "Stepfather's" second wife's room. 12. Unmarried sons' room. 13. Rooms occupied by strangers. The two nearest the main courtyard are used by the Nigerian trader. 14. Storerooms. 15. Bathing enclosure. 91


pen tine mud walls, which extend outward from the sleeping-room entrances (fig. 5-9). The two wet-season kitchens bear no spatial reference to the dry-season cooking areas (fig. 5-10). One of them belongs to the senior wife of the Al-hajj, and the other to the senior wife of his younger brother. Bathing is evidently confined to the privacy of the sleeping rooms, for the one bathing enclosure, located behind the rooms occupied by the Nigerian trader, is reserved for his family's use. The Al-hajj has a bathroom in his apartment for his own personal use. The area immediately adjacent to each of the compounds is laden with debris—eloquent testimony to the absence of latrines. Several of the rooms in the Al-hajj's compound and in other compounds as well are occupied by strangers, persons who are neither members of the joint family nor natives of Larabanga. They are, in fact, not even Gonjas. In addition, the Nigerian trader has his shop and his sleeping quarters in the compound. These extraneous residents, though they may have increased the Al-hajj's affluence, also contribute to the sense of physical disintegration which seems to pervade the compound. Granaries do not occupy the same prominent position as do those of northeastern Ghana, nor are they so prevalent as those at Sekai. They are of the same large basket type, however, and are located either in a storeroom, along with the firewood and the chickens, or in the wet-season kitchens controlled by the senior 92

wives. Occasionally a groundnut granary, similar to those of the Dagomba and the Konkomba, is seen at the entrance to a compound (see fig. 5-3). Since groundnuts are cultivated by the women, the previously suggested reasons for the absence of garden plots may equally well explain the scarcity of groundnut granaries at Larabanga. MOSQUES Larabanga's architectural character, as well as its settlement morphology, has been attributed in large measure to the impact of Islam. But neither architecture nor morphology speaks so eloquently for Islam as do the two Sudanese-type mud mosques, well maintained and preserved, which rise above the roofscape of the village. In both form and color, they constitute its most striking architectural feature. The mosques are typical of a unique architectural style that developed concomitantly with the penetration of Islam into the southern savannah of the Western Sudan. Like the building technology on which this pinnacle architecture depends for its form, its wide dispersal is attributed to the Mande traders. These Islamized traders, or Dyula, carried the architectural form with them as they moved southward, establishing an intersecting network of trade routes. The geographic location of the mosques marks, in effect, the route itself, for they served as staging posts along the way.

LARABANGA, a Gonja Village

As one traces the mosque in its journey from north to south, a gradual transformation takes place, not in its total form, but in its architectural and structural detail. Sharply defined true vertical buttresses and welldelineated, carefully articulated crenellated parapets give way to more rounded forms, irregularly and casually molded, reminiscent of the ubiquitous termite hills (fig. 5-11). The transformation is visual testimony not only to the diminishing impact of Islam as it approached the rain forest, but to the stronger impact exerted by increased humidity on a pervious building material. The clusters of mud pinnacles, with their projecting wooden spokes, are joined together with mud-filler walls and held together by horizontal wooden struts. FIG. 5-11. A termite hill.

The triangular voids over the entrance lintels (fig. 5-12) recall the Berber motif at Sekai. The tapering surface of the pinnacles offers minimum exposure to the heavy, driving rains, so that with annual care and close attention to the surface rendering the mosques survive far longer and far more successfully than the residential structures that surround them. Mud buildings normally have a short life span in this climate. If the social organization of a community does not require that the life span be extended, the pervious building material is allowed to take its natural course. But if there is justification for prolonged existence, as there is for a mosque, proper maintenance and care will guarantee a long life span. The average life of a compound, unless attended to, is at most ten years. The mosque structure may survive for a hundred years. The smaller mosque on the west side of the road is used exclusively by the chief of Larabanga (fig. 5-13); the larger one is the Friday mosque for the village (fig. 5-14). On other days, prayers are observed in open spaces marked off with a circle of stones. Such prayer spaces are a common feature in all Islamic communities. Islam requires a formally defined structure for worship as well as frequent attendance to prayer. As a consequence, the mosque must be centrally located and easily accessible. Indigenous patterns of pagan worship, on the other hand, prescribe less frequent 93

FIG. 5-12. Entrance facade of the Friday mosque.

FIG. 5-13. The mosque used by the chief of Larabanga.

assembly at specified ritual events in a sacred grove or at an ancestral shrine. Thus the mosque is a far more powerful factor in determining the physical pattern of a settlement than is its pagan counterpart. The adoption of Islam by a pagan group, whether superficially or integrally, affects not only the social structure of the group, but the material manifestations of that structure as well. The weakening of kinship ties, the alterations in family pattern and size, the changing domestic rights and obligations with respect to women, the gradual substitution of a new ideology for ancestral beliefs, as well as changes in the domain of economics and polity—all find physical expression in Larabanga. The absence of sharply defined compound patterns might be attributed to the weakening of kinship ties; the size of compounds, to alterations in family pattern; the type and extent of activity beyond the compound walls, to the changing domestic rights

FIG. 5-14. East facade of the Friday mosque, behind whose "tower" is the mihrab.

and obligations; the absence of sacred or ancestral shrines, to the substitution of a new ideology; and, finally, the relative position of select compounds within the village might be attributed to the changing patterns of economy and polity. Larabanga, then, illustrates the extent to which Islamic penetration has molded the physical form of a rural settlement in an environment that formerly was predominantly pagan.


6. BIRUFU, a LoWiili Settlement



The architecture thus far considered has been that of discrete, discontinuous groups of people who consciously identify themselves with a particular cultural milieu. One of the manifestations of the unity inherent in such an identity is the distinctive architectural style characteristic of each of the groups. In the extreme northwest of Ghana, however, material evidence that might distinguish one resident group from another seems to be lacking. The area around Lawra, north of Wa, is in fact host to a multiplicity of segmented social groupings which have neither a cohesive ritual institution like that of the Tallensi nor a centralized polity such as the Dagomba have developed. Unilineal descent groups are widely dispersed among peoples having different languages and different types of social organization. There is thus a linguistic, social, and material overlapping of contiguous groupings, none of which can be identified by a specific tribal nomen96

clature. The LoWiili, then, are not a distinct group with an identifying name, but represent rather only a geographic designation for a location. There are no defined cultural boundaries which delimit their ethnic identity with respect to their neighbors. The absence of a conscious, discrete cultural identity which might provide a historical base accounts, in turn, for the scarcity of oral traditions in this area. Those that do exist relate only vaguely and indirectly to the trade routes that linked the Sudanese empires with the area. The corridor of influence created by the trade route from Bobo-Dioulasso through Wa to Bole was narrow; its imprint was limited to the trading centers along the way. As the LoWiili area was bypassed, the route had little direct effect on the institutions of its indigenous population. The recorded history of the area consists primarily of European notebooks which chronicled the activities of colonial administrators and their triumphs over the local residents at the turn of the century.

BIRUFU, a LoWiili Settlement

The lack of definition in tribal or ethnic identity is clearly reflected in the absence of an architectural style. There are no identifying features to announce to the viewer any cultural distinction. Rather, LoWiili architecture comprises a medley of unrelated forms, none of which emerges as a dominant feature. Each of the formal elements also seems to derive from another area or motif. Although the LoWiili build flat-roofed, rectilinear houses, in keeping with the architectural style of northwestern Ghana and in contrast with the northeastern pattern of thatch-roof, roundhouse construction, the physical organization of their compounds, and the building technology and architectural motifs they employ, must be clearly differentiated from the architectural phenomena that have been attributed to the impact of Islam.

Garden plots yield peppers, tomatoes, and groundnuts. Compound-farm crops consist of maize, guinea corn, and millet. The bush farms, located along the banks of streams tributary to the Black Volta, are most suitable for rice cultivation, although some maize and millet are grown on them as well (fig. 6-1). The family compound, as elsewhere in northern Ghana, is an economically viable unit; compound farms are identifiable with compound occupancy. The extent of cultivation (which actually defines the compound farm as well as the bush farm) varies with the size of an extended family forming a viable unit at a given stage of its development. Land tenure thus has meaning only in terms of use. A family has claim to a site only when it actively cultivates the land, and inheritance is therefore applicable only to cultivated land.


FIG. 6-1. Compound farming at Birufu. The mounds remain from the harvest of guinea corn.

The agricultural patterns in the LoWiili area are almost identical with those of the Tallensi, despite the wide contrast in social organization between the two peoples. The LoWiili, like the Tallensi, farm on Lower Pre-Cambrian soils marked by a high percentage of granitic content. Population density in both areas is extremely high, and both areas depend on a combination of manured compound. farms, small, dryseason gardens in the compound vicinity, and bush farms, subject to land rotation, some distance away.


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B I R U F U , a LoWiili Settlement

In contrast with the Tallensi, the LoWiili at Birufu show little evidence of cattle herding; the manuring of compound farms depends primarily upon the keeping of goats and sheep. The presence of a pigsty in the illustrated compound seems to be unique; the pigs are maintained solely for their value as a cash commodity. S E T T L E M E N T MORPHOLOGY The agricultural pattern of the LoWiili creates the same kind of dispersed settlement pattern as in Tallensiland. Compounds are unevenly scattered over the landscape in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish where one settlement ends and another begins (fig. 6-2). The topography of the landscape is sharply divided by an escarpment that runs north and south and roughly parallels the Black Volta. It is below this escarpment, on the plain formed by the river, that the majority of the homesteads, extending for miles, are found. The area illustrated in figure 6-3 covers only a small section of the occupied landscape immediately below the scarp. The presence of two discrete descent groups is indicated by the absence of connecting footpaths between the southern cluster of compounds and the northern cluster. In the southern Mwangil area there is a much tighter clustering of compounds, and compound structures seem, on the average, to be more extensive, than in the northern Kjaa section. This im-

pression of contrast is borne out by the 1960 census, which indicates a much higher population for the Mwangil area than for the Kjaa area. Although reasons for the contrast in density must be many, certainly the more intensive cultivation of rice, which a tributary to the Black Volta in the Mwangil section favors, suggests itself as a contributing factor. Birufu, the center of LoWiili residence, is physically identified only by the chief's compound, suitably located on the plateau above the escarpment. The road leading to his compound is a recent improvement, and its direction was dictated by the location of the compound and its ancestral shrines (fig. 6-4). A group of market stalls built along the new road by Ghana's Department of Social Welfare are not being used; tall bush grasses have engulfed them, almost hiding them from view. Babile, a major market center several miles away on the Lawra-Wa main trunk road, continues to be Birufu's marketplace. BUILDING TECHNIQUES Mud is a universal building material among the sedentary dwellers of the savannah, but the methods employed in exploiting its limited structural properties vary, as we have seen, from place to place. The LoWiili compounds employ some of the variations already discussed; in addition, they illustrate other variations in rectangular building techniques which 99

Fig. 6-3. Birufu landscape, looking down from the escarpment.

are far more sophisticated structurally than those encountered at either Larabanga or Sekai, their closest counterparts. Construction, repair, and extension of LoWiili compounds take place, as elsewhere in northern Ghana, during the dry season. But, unlike the Konkomba, the LoWiili commence building activity early in the season, immediately after the guinea corn is harvested, when water is still available in the pools and ditches of the low-lying areas adjacent to compounds. The deteriorating effects of the wet-season climate and the continually changing composition of the residence group demand annual attention to the compound structures. 100

The structure of the rectangular room units that constitute the LoWiili compound is based on a simple post-and-beam system, a system unique in northern Ghana. Each room, although an integral element within a larger, very compact mass, is an independent structural entity. Each room has a series of forked wooden posts along its perimeter which carry the supporting beams for a dense layer of rafters (fig. 6-5). The flat mud roofs laid over the rafters are like those at both Larabanga and Sekai, but the unique feature is the supporting system of posts. The mud walls, laid in traditional tiered fashion, are not load bearing, for the roof load is carried by the posts. These screen-walls last longer than load-bearing walls be-

FIG. 6-4. Ancestral earth shrines in the vicinity of the chiefs compound.

cause they are subject to fewer stresses. Their surfaces show less deterioration than Sekai's and Larabanga's load-bearing walls do. The unique post-andbeam system is thus utilized in conjunction with more characteristic building techniques. The flat roofs are built, with the exception of the regular beams supporting them, in much the same way as are those at Sekai. Skylight openings, made by inserting the neck section of a clay pot as a ring form around which the mud roof is molded, are found over or adjacent to cooking spaces within the compound structure. Flat mud-roof surfaces of the LoWiili compounds are, however, more meticulously and carefully rendered than those at Sekai or Larabanga. They

Fir. 6-5. A compound interior showing the typical post-andbeam construction.




are finished with several layers of the traditional cement, a mixture of mud and dung and vegetable juices. The closer attention to roof finish can readily be explained by the more extensive and more frequent use of roofs by the LoWiili, a point to which we shall return. The flat roof of each room unit is clearly circumscribed by a projecting parapet formed by extending the wall up beyond the roof itself. So regular is the parapet system that it actually becomes a projection of the floor plan of the compound onto the roof surface (fig. 6-6). This peculiarity is closely related to another unique feature of LoWiili compounds: the absence of a centrally located open courtyard as the locus of daily domestic activity. The internal courtyard is replaced by a roofed-over longroom, or reception room. The cellular form that is created by the absence of a courtyard has structural implications in building technology; rather than a series of discrete room units linked together with freestanding walls, a LoWiili compound is an integrated structural mass that is far more resistant to deterioration by virtue of its homogeneity. The compactness in turn lends itself to another feature noted at Sekai: second-story construction. The construction of a second-story room unit does not, however, call for any innovative building techniques; it is in fact not a second story in the true sense because it merely rests on a built-up, filledin foundation.


FIG. 6-6. Section of the roof level of the compound, with the projecting parapets which demarcate the rooms below.

Interspersed with the characteristic flat roofs are the occasional thatched, conical roofs. The mud walls supporting them, although rectilinear, are load bearing. These walls project above the adjacent flat roofs, and the parapet formed by the projection becomes the eave line for a radial system of rafters (see fig. 6-6). The conical thatch roof is alien to the general pattern of building in the northwest. Its provenance has unfortunately not been pursued, but speculation offers

BIRUFU, a LoWiili Settlement

a round neck, are initially built just outside the perimeter wall of the compound. As soon as possible, however, encircling walls and a post-and-beam structure with its accompanying mud roof are erected. The section of what was formerly exterior wall is demolished, and the granary is now inside the compound structure. Only its rounded neck, capped by a thatch bonnet, projects through the roof. This sequence of construction suggests that the thatch roofs mentioned above are only a temporary building measure. FIG. 6-7. A granary under construction. The adjacent walls and timber construction suggest that the granary is probably being reconstructed.

several alternatives. It may be a vestige of the roundhouse, an earlier building prototype for the area; or it may have been intended to serve only temporarily, until the room could be incorporated into the total compound structure through the addition of internal posts and a flat roof. The first alternative seems feasible in view of the fact that the LoWiili are a Mossispeaking people, and the Mossi, living to the north in Haute Volta, traditionally build roundhouses with conical thatch roofs. The second alternative seems equally feasible when one considers the method by which the LoWiili incorporate granaries into their complex (fig. 6-7). Cylindrical granaries, rising from a square base and molded from a rich mix of mud, straw, and dung into

COMPOUND ORGANIZATION The spatial arrangement of a LoWiili compound contrasts diametrically with that of compounds in other parts of northern Ghana. As shown in all the previous illustrations, the spatial character of the compound consists essentially of a central open courtyard whose circumference is described by room units and the connecting walls. The visual focal point of these compounds is the courtyard. At Birufu, on the contrary, the compound is an agglomeration of roofed, hive-type spaces linked in cellular form (fig. 6-8). The open courtyards, created by circular, freestanding walls, billow outward as appendages to the building mass. Although these courtyards are still a center of daily domestic activity, they are neither its structural nor its visual locus. The center of gravity of the building mass lies rather in the longroom: it is also from the 103


scale in feet

longroom that access to all other ground-level rooms is gained. This tightly knit, cell-like arrangement of spaces is unique in northern Ghana; it recalls the spatial configurations that characterize building arrangements much closer to the Niger Bend, as among the Dogon. The illustrated compound houses a joint family, but the two brothers of the joint family farm separately. Thus the family seems to be in a process of fission. Each of the two farming groups has its own granary, its own courtyard, and its own set of rooms. Food preparation, as well as consumption, is separate for each of the farming groups; however, the granaries for both elements of the joint family, like the farms themselves, remain under the control of the compound elder. In this instance, since the compound elder is deceased, the elder brother exercises control. The compound approach is clearly defined by an open area in the midst of which rise several shade trees. Under the trees there are several logs on which FIG. 6-8. Plan of the illustrated compound, a. Compound owner's courtyard and living area. b. His brother's courtyard and living area. c. An outside sitting area. d. The roof plan. 1. Longroom. 2. Ancestral shrines. 3. Granaries. 4. Room formerly used by compound owner's deceased father. 5. Owner's mother's room. 6a. Compound owner's room ( a t roof level). 6b. Owner's brother's room. 7a. Kitchen and sleeping room of owner's wife. 7b. Cooking and sleeping quarters of brother's wife. 8. Bathing enclosures. 9. Storage areas for pito pots. 10. Goats. 11. Pigsty.

FIG. 6-9. Approach to the compound. Toward the left, in front of the wall, is an ancestral shrine.

one can sit, facing two ancestral shrines that guard the entrance. These conical shrines, though similar in shape to those in Tallensiland, are far more modest in scale (fig. 6-9). Access into the compound courtyard from the outside is traditionally gained over the courtyard wall by means of a notched trunk ladder. This means of entry contrasts sharply with the decoratively announced antechambers used by the Dagomba or even the formal gateways that mark Tallensi entrances. Protection from animals and marauders has traditionally been offered as an explanation for this curious type of entry. Since such an explanation would be equally 105

FIG. 6-10. Conical clay mounds that support the pito pots during the brewing period, in courtyard of owner's wife.

applicable to compounds in other areas of northern Ghana, it is hardly sufficient here. Access to the illustrated compound does not require the usual agility; this particular compound is entered through an opening in the courtyard wall, facing the cleared approach area. The existence of the approach area suggests that there was no intention of closing the gap in the wall. In addition to its function as a dry-season kitchen, the courtyard is the locale of a major domestic activity—the brewing of pito (fig. 6-10), a beer made from 106

FIG. 6-11. A similar arrangement in brother's wife's courtyard.

guinea corn. Pito is a basic food supplement to the meager diet. Since guinea corn is the main crop of the compound farm, the brewing of beer plays an important role in the daily domestic life. The specially assigned storage area for the extremely large pito pots, and the conical clay mounds in the courtyard specifically designed to accommodate the large pots during the day-long brewing process, are striking visual testimony to the importance attached to this activity (fig. 6-11).

During the wet season domestic activity moves into

FIG. 6-12. Wet-season kitchen at one end of longroom, with granary wall behind it.

FIG. 6-13. The molded mud stairway leading to the roof level can be seen behind the entrance opening in the courtyard wall.

the compound structure. Food is prepared over the mud ledges and conical mounds in each of the wives' rooms and in the longroom. The longroom kitchen is usually in front of the granary so that heat from the fire will help to preserve its contents (fig. 6-12). The compound houses a joint family, and, though the two brothers farm separately, the area of the compound designated as the younger brother's domain is accessible only through the longroom. His own room, his wife's room, and her cooking courtyard all seem to be extensions of what must have been the original

compound structure. The room arrangement suggests that social fission has already begun, although a second longroom, symbolizing the new farming group, has not yet been built. The younger brother's set of rooms has a conical thatch roof. The molded couch in his room, reminiscent of the one noted at Tongo, together with a number of material possessions alien to indigenous LoWiili life, suggests a period of residence elsewhere. Unique to this particular compound is the set of molded mud stairs leading to the roof areas, replac107





FIG. 6-14. Owner's room at roof level, located immediately above the fill within deceased father's room below.

ing the traditional notched tree trunk. Once again, this innovation suggests a cultural borrowing from northern neighbors. As an architectural-sculptural element, the set of stairs serves not only to emphasize the importance of rooftop activity, but acts as a visual link integrating the two levels. Domestic activity flows imperceptibly from one level to the other (fig. 6-13).

As a result of the compact compound arrangement, the flat roof area accommodates many of the functions that normally take place in central ground-level courtyards. The drying of various grains and greens, 108

F i c . 6-15. Statuary and pottery constituting part of the furnishings for the ancestral shrine.

sleeping during the afternoon heat of the dry season, formal receptions accompanied by the drinking of pito—all take place on the roof level of LoWiili compounds, which also gives access to the granaries. It is from this upper level, at the doorway of his sleeping

BIRUFU, a LoWiili Settlement

room, that the compound owner—the elder b r o t h e r sits and surveys his domain (fig. 6-14). The upperlevel sleeping room is superimposed on what must have been the original structure of the compound, since it is placed directly above the compound founder's room. When the compound founder died his room was filled in with earth, and thus it serves as the foundation for the second-story addition. The compound founder's wife continues to occupy an adjacent room, which contains sole access to the family's ancestral shrines. The relationship between the mother's room and these shrines (fig. 6-15) suggests the existence of a kinship relationship based on matrilineality. In summary, the building forms found among the

LoWiili appear as a medley of diverse structural principles. The diversity is a major contributing factor to the absence of architectural homogeneity and uniformity in LoWiili compounds. There is neither the disciplined form of Dagomba buildings, the precise, prescribed spatial arrangement seen in Tallensi compounds, nor an identifying motif, structural or decorative, which both the Isala and the Gonja possess. The absence of architectural unity may be construed as reflecting the absence of an ethnic identity, since architectural style has, as one of its prerequisites, an ethnic consciousness. The LoWiili, one might say, have not yet regimented their architectural expression into an identifiable style.




M he six northern Ghanaian villages here discussed illustrate the great diversity of architectural forms and settlement patterns which exists within what is generally considered to be a single cultural area, where the physical environment is fairly uniform and the inhabitants have made similar ecologic adjustments. Diversity and variation appear in agricultural patterns, in settlement morphology, in building technology, and, above all, in architectural style. The economy of the area is based on a sedentary agriculture at the bare subsistence level. The two basic soil groups, possessing different levels of fertility, have, however, created two distinct farming patterns—compound farming and bush farming. These patterns have in turn structured the settlement morphology in different ways. The dispersed settlements of the Tallensi and the LoWiili, among whom compound farming predominates, present a sharp contrast to the semidispersed Konkomba hamlets and the nucleate village forms of the Dagomba, the Isala, and the Gonja, where bush farming prevails.

Although soil exhaustion and land pressure may account for internal changes within the settlement pattern, as at Tongo, it took a major economic upheaval, such as the building of a new road to Sekai, to effect extensive change in the physical arrangement of a village. In like fashion, the commercialization of the yam crop could effectively initiate the removal of an entire Konkomba hamlet to a new location. The differences in farming patterns are also related to patterns of recurrent migration and to population growth within a village. While population densities and the consequent land pressure in areas north of the Gambaga scarp certainly account for the pronounced emigration from such areas, the seasonal nature of grain cultivation also affects the temporal patterns of migration. In the dry season, when there is no intensive agricultural activity in grain-growing areas, young men take the opportunity to go south in order to earn a few pounds. This dry-season migration contrasts with the far less noticeable migrations that occur at Kasuliyili and Yankezia, where yam cultiva-



tion, a year-round activity, prevails. Furthermore, while the Tallensi migrants are always individuals who have every intention of eventually returning to Taleland, the Konkomba migrate as family units. It is not uncommon for entire Konkomba hamlets to move farther south to the yam-growing Krachi area. Additional physical variations within each of the two basic settlement structures — nucleate and dispersed—result from historical and sociopolitical factors. The unique spatial relationships that are created at Kasuliyili derive from the combination of circular structures with nucleate form. The existence and persistence of the roundhouse may be attributable to Dagomba origin and to continuing contact with Hausaland. On the other hand, a cohesive, welldeveloped polity has historically generated nucleate residence patterns in both towns and cities. Kasuliyili has integrated two physical forms that normally are mutually exclusive into a singular entity. Sekai, also nucleate in form, gives another, totally different visual impression. The definition of spaces recalls its contact with the Islamized, Mande-speaking Dyula who traditionally build rectangular houses, and its need for defense at some stage in its history. The result is a conglomerate cluster that seems to turn in on itself. Although no actual defense walls exist, the way the village has turned its back on the outside world creates an illusion of protective walls. So introvert a quality is difficult to achieve in a clustering of circular 112

forms. Larabanga, on the other hand, is far more open than Sekai, and the explicit, regular definition of its open spaces suggests a closer affinity with the urban forms found farther north in the entrepots on the Niger Bend. When the two dispersed settlements, Tongo and Birufu, are contrasted, distinguishing physical features likewise emerge. The more differentiated social structure at Tongo, with its hierarchies of lineage and chieftaincy, is reflected in the denser grouping of compounds in the immediate vicinity of a lineage elder's compound. At Birufu, however, where kinship organization is not quite so stratified, the clustering is less pronounced. The internal physical arrangement of a settlement may thus be construed as a projection of the residential social structure as it exists at a point in time. The actual disposition of compounds in relation to one another can, in most instances, be projected from a genealogical chart. On such a base reference map, variables that might cause minor modifications could be superimposed. The probable existence of a family of smiths at Sekai would account for the particular configuration of open spaces, and the arrangements for cattle herding would explain the siting of the Fulani compounds with respect to the village as a whole. The two discrete sectors at Kasuliyili—pagan and Islamic—might be attributed to the recent growth of Islam in Dagombaland, whereas the disagreements


in farming policy between Upper and Lower Yankezia have not as yet affected its base reference map. When major economic changes are introduced, as at Sekai, the settlement form undergoes rapid revision. Building a motor road at Sekai introduced a rudimental cash economy: the market was transplanted; roadside buildings mushroomed; dry-season gardening flourished. All these developments effected a radical change in Sekai's form. The corn mill established at Kasuliyili by an affluent member of the Islamic community attracted activity like a magnet, shifting Kasuliyili's center from one side of the village to the other. At Tongo, government activity imposed from without has begun to effect internal shifting. Although the locus of the settlement continues to be the compound of the na'ab, or chief of Tongo, the new District Commissioner's office is assuming prominence as well. Thus, while agricultural patterns may establish or determine the basic form of a settlement, historical and sociocultural factors, unique to each community, may play an equally important role in structuring the internal physical arrangement. The architectural diversity within the confines of a single culture area is even more marked than is the variation in settlement pattern. Despite the overall visual similarity of buildings within the area, specific ethnic groups are clearly identifiable by their unique architectural styles. A comparison of related and diverse styles found in the area could offer a number

of fruitful hypotheses on, or directions for investigation into, the extent of cultural contact between ethnic groups. An assessment of such contact, as manifest in architectural motifs, might in turn provide evidence for historical reconstruction. When one begins to make comparisons among the various architectural motifs, the basic building rules laid down by the physical environment (which in themselves dictate a certain degree of visual similarity) are transcended by stylistic distinction. When placed against the uniform backdrop of the savannah landscape, these stylistic details are magnified in the mind's eye. Cultural borrowing may account not only for some degree of uniformity and leveling, but for the origin of and variations in the building forms and their decorative treatment. The adaptation and assimilation of particular features could then be used as quantifiable measures of the ability of a particular ethnic group to accept or reject externally imposed cultural elements. The rectangular variation of a roundhouse prototype, as in northwestern Ghana, suggests contact with the Mande-speaking Dyula. The prominence of the reception antechamber among the Dagomba, on the other hand, suggests contact with the Hausa. The unique configuration of the LoWiili compound, with its lack of a central courtyard and of stylistic uniformity, suggests once again the possibility of migration. A detailed analysis of the formal variations as well as of the anomalies in 113


architectural styles offers fruitful ground for establishing the extent and intensity of contact between groups. The acceptance or rejection of externally imposed forms also depends upon the community's ability to absorb such impositions. If social structure, economic structure, or rigidity makes the group unable to accommodate the new forms, the skills acquired elsewhere cannot be exploited. Although the District Commissioner's office at Tongo may be an enviable symbol of prestige, the surrounding compounds continue to be built in the traditional manner, and the occasional attempts by the young men to emulate its form result in failure—the rectangular rooms rapidly collapse. Building activity takes place only during the dry season, but particular cropping patterns dictate during what part of the dry season it is most intensive. Where yams are a major crop, as among the Konkomba and the Dagomba, construction and maintenance do not begin in earnest until after the harvesting of the late yams, halfway through the dry season. Because grains are harvested early in the dry season, construction commences earlier in areas where cereal crops predominate. In Islamized communities the observance of Ramadan discourages building activity during one month of the dry season. The use of mud as a building material is universal in the savannah, and its very nature endows forms 114

molded from it with a plastic quality. The structural principles employed in its use are, however, widely diverse. The Dagomba, the Konkomba, and the Tallensi take full advantage of its compressive strength and its homogeneity by using it to build load-bearing curvilinear walls. In the construction of granaries, the Tallensi and the Konkomba achieve a quintessence in the exploitation of mud's structural and plastic potential. The rich mix they use provides stronger cohesion and better workability, and the resulting perfection of the granary form is evidence of a potter-like skill. On this optimum use of a material's structural potential in the service of a specific function rests the judgment of its aesthetic value. Although the fulfillment of function alone is no criterion for beauty, the technical perfection of these granaries evokes the same type of admiration as a meticulously wrought, wellproportioned piece of pottery. When the Isala and the Gonja use mud for their rectilinear structures because of its load-bearing strength, the structural solution is far less satisfactory. Corners of rectangular buildings, unless adequately reinforced, are unable to transmit vertical and horizontal stresses. Hence crumbling and deterioration set in more rapidly. The LoWiili, on the other hand, use a post-and-beam system as their base structure; mud is used primarily as a filler wall. As a consequence, their rectangular buildings do not suffer the same severe deterioration. Mud is never used struc-


turally in roof construction, as it occasionally is in northern Nigeria for a dome. Horizontal spans impose tensile stresses which mud is incapable of resisting without reinforcement. Roofs are either thatched or framed with a horizontal timber system over which mud is merely a finish surface. The foregoing structural consideration suggests that the roundhouse is a prototype in mud at the technological level that obtains in the Western Sudan savannah climate. Certainly a survey extending across the breadth of the savannah would tend to reinforce such a hypothesis. If the roundhouse could be posited as the prototype, the alien presence of rectangular housing would reinforce speculation that it was introduced either by cultural borrowing or by migration. Northern Ghana's subsistence economy rarely permits the luxury of specialized craftsmen engaged in full-time building activity. Furthermore, the level of differentiation rarely extends beyond the kinship level, so that building everywhere is a cooperative family effort in which all the participants are equally skilled. The process of design and construction allows for the exercise of very little individual creativity, imagination, or deviation; socially prescribed joint participation, on the other hand, creates not only uniformity, but a continuum of style. Only among the LoWiili, whose apparent lack of a discrete ethnic identity may account for the absence of an architectural "internationalization," is uniformity missing.

Discipline and uniformity of architectural style within a particular village stem not only from the collective building process and the limited sources of building material, but from its cohesive social organization, its conscious group identity, even its welldeveloped polity. Thus there is little variation from the architectural prototype or the compound arrangement at Kasuliyili and Tongo. At Birufu, on the contrary, there is diversity to the point of disunity, in both the form and the organization of the compound building structure. Although each compound, encompassing a single, discrete family unit, may evidence some architectural idiosyncrasy, the extent of conformity within the village nevertheless seems to be a function of the degree of cohesiveness and identity in the ethnic group as a whole. Building specialization occurs only as a division of labor between the sexes with respect to the surfacing and decorative treatment of walls. Women have the sole responsibility for such finishing, perhaps because the ingredients used are those normally falling within the domestic domain. The patrilocal residence pattern of northern Ghana also presupposes a wider dispersal of women than men over a given area. These two factors combined may account for the wider dispersion of decorative motifs than of architectural forms. Whereas the marriage practices inherent in northern Ghana's social structure may explain the wide diffusion of decorative wall patterns, it is difficult to specu115


late on the reasons for the rapid disappearance of wall decoration itself and the absence of new avenues for aesthetic expression in the decorative media. The disintegration of handcrafts cannot be explained by the development of, or contact with, a material culture based on industrialization, for northern Ghana has been only imperceptibly touched by either Westernization or industrialization. A satisfactory answer would have to go beyond the simple platitudes offered thus far. Climatic zones characterized by long, dry, hot seasons are conducive to extensive outdoor living activity. When most of one's waking hours are spent in the open, a fluidity of movement between open and closed-in spaces is generated, a fluidity that in turn creates a unity between the residential structure and the spaces immediately adjacent to it. Thus the architecture of a compound consists not only of the enclosed room units, but also of the spaces created by the grouping of these units around an internal courtyard. When compounds are compactly arranged, as at Birufu, and internal open spaces are limited or nonexistent, roofs take on a spatial importance. If the enclosed internal space is a courtyard, the fluidity of movement is restricted to two dimensions; but if living is extended to the roof level, a third dimension is brought into play. Northern Ghana's daytime climate requires minimal 116

provision for shelter; yet the physical accommodations that are provided are elaborate, and compound rooms have few openings for light or air. The heat, however, is deceptive. During the dry season there is a tremendous temperature differential between day and night, and the heat built up inside the room during the day becomes essential for comfort at night. The absence of windows is deliberate; warm air is trapped and retained within the room at night. Perhaps the very elaborateness of the compound itself is significant in suggesting the tremendous symbolic importance attached to a family abode. Emotional attachment to one's place of origin is a major characteristic of northern Ghana's cosmology. Such attachment apparently derives from the concept of the Earth as a controlling agency in life. The source of fertility, of prosperity, of survival, is embodied in the Earth. This concept, expressed through the agency of ancestor worship in which continuity of attachment and identity is reinforced, takes material form in a man's residence. His house becomes, in a sense, an extension of the Earth in which the past, the present, and the future are centered. As a consequence, the architecture, rather than being an objectively conceived sympathetic alliance between a building and its natural setting, is a projection of the unity that man visualizes as existing between himself and the Earth.


The intensity with which man views his ties to the Earth varies from one ethnic group to another. It may be measured architecturally by the extent to which a building residence is integrated with its natural surroundings. At Tongo, where there is a very strong cult of the Earth and where ancestor worship holds sway, the integration of a compound residence with its surrounding topography is far more' striking than at Larabanga, where conceptual ties to the Earth have been weakened by Islamic beliefs. Just as a settlement or a village may be viewed as a master plan of kinship organization, so the compound can be seen as a detail drawing of one of its elements, the family unit. But the family's relationships are constantly changing, and hence continual revisions of the plan are required. The compound arrangement reflects this developmental cycle; like a living organism it is in a process of continual change, a process facilitated by the plastic quality of the material of which it is fashioned. A man's compound takes on a lifelike quality as his life unfolds within it. Each of the illustrated compounds, at the time of the survey, had been subjected to either major or minor revision within the short span of a single building season. Perhaps Such a phenomenon is possible only when one builds with pervious building materials; changes in family relationships can more easily and rapidly be effected. Certainly, the more durable a building material is, the

more resistant it is to change. And yet, by its lack of flexibility, the initial form in which it is cast will in turn begin to dictate the social relationships of its occupants, relationships that obsolesce rapidly. The architect's dilemma, the world over, has always been the choice between these two opposing principlespermanency and flexibility. Kinship organization dictates not only the physical arrangement of a compound, but its life span as well. When a family unit dissolves, the ancestral compound is abandoned. The life span of a structure is not viewed in terms of its potential material duration, but in terms, of the time span of a family cycle. Compounds are not abandoned because they collapse; they collapse because they are abandoned. The impermanence of a compound residence results not from the perviousness of the building materials, but rather from the transient quality inherent in the family that occupies the residence. When an extended life span is requisite for a structure, such as the Larabanga mosques, traditional means have been satisfactorily devised to guarantee longevity. "Form follows function" has long been a prime desideratum in architecture; as a goal its achievement continues to be equally elusive. From the illustrated examples it would seem, however, that northern 117


Ghana has been successful—albeit in pristine fashion —in achieving such a desideratum. Yet to look wistfully at and to attempt superficially to emulate northern Ghanaian architectural forms would be both eclectic and romantic. To study and review them for their own sake would be pure academism. Cultural change is inevitable, and changes produce new archi-


tectural forms, forms that result from a synthesis between existing cultures and cultures from elsewhere with which they are rapidly establishing a liaison. The study of how architectural change has evolved in time can, however, provide the understanding that is requisite for contending with the increasingly rapid changes the future holds.


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