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American Ethnologist

"This is Ghanaian territory!": Land conflicts on a West African border



Most African borders have remained permeable, not least because the colonial and postcolonial states have lacked the necessary resources to enforce them more rigidly, "top-down." In this article, I analyze the ways in which an African border has been dealt with "from below," partly ignored or subverted and partly appropriated. The border between Ghana and Burkina Faso, drawn up in 1898, was soon adopted by the borderlanders as a political resource, capable of shielding them from colonial tax and forced-labor requirements. Local networks of kinship and strategies of land use, on the other hand, usually ignored the border. Although the border cut through many earth-shrine areas, the indigenous institution on which land rights are traditionally based in the region, the shrine custodians continued to exercise their ritual control on both sides of the border. In recent conflicts over land, however, lineal boundaries separating sovereign national territories have been used to usurp traditional land rights. I discuss one such conflict, in which rights to use a fishpond are contested, to explore local perceptions of space and boundaries and how these change in relation to international borders, [international borders, concepts of space, earth shrines, land rights, authochthony, West Africa, Dagara, Sisala]

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