Cavalieri, imām e gente comune. Note storico-mitiche sul regno pre-coloniale del Gonja (Ghana settentrionale)

Simone Ghiaroni


This paper sketches the outlines of the history of the African pre-colonial state of Gonja (Northern Ghana) in order to emphasize the importance of cultural structure in the construction of historical discourse. Typically seen as a device of legitimation and reproduction of the social order in so-called oral societies, oral tradition is here characterized by mythological leaders, dynasties and battles which form the ideological base of the social structure. In this paper, these mythological constructions are challenged and de-constructed, in an attempt to avoid ethnocentrism and give a 'thick' interpretation of how the Gonja oral tradition both reports the past and shapes social structure. As a conclusion, the ideological and social structure of the Gonja is compared to other 'black trifunctionalisms', exposing weaknesses in Georges Dumézil's theory of 'indoeuropean trifunctionalism'.

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