Chiefs Know Their Boundaries: Essays on Property, Power, and the Past in Asante, 1896-1996

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Using a series of local episodes and case histories, the essays in this volume explore changes and continuities in the ways people have made and exercised claims on land in Asante, Ghana, during the colonial and postcolonial periods. Convinced that customary rules and rulers provided a stable foundation for colonial rule, British officials decided early on that ownership of the land was vested in Asante chiefs. As land values rose, due to urban expansion and the growth of commercial agriculture, mining, and timber, struggles intensified not only over land and land-based income, but also over the meaning of "custom" and its relevance to the colonial order. As claims on land multiplied, so too did debates over the scope of chiefly authority and jurisdiction, and the meaning of historical precedents for contemporary claims to land and office. Although postcolonial Ghanaian governments have legislated sweeping reductions in the scope of chiefly authority and customary law, most land in Asante remains subject to multiple, overlapping claims and continued debate.

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Editorial Reviews

Drawing upon her fieldwork in 1993 in Kumase, Ghana, Berry (history and anthropology, Johns Hopkins U.) examines the changes in the way people in the Asante region have made and exercised claims on land since the end of the 19th century. The text also explores broader issues of property in Africa, its relationship to authority, and its place in the political and economic transformations of the 20th century. In a series of six essays, the author presents a sampling of the ways that land claims have been negotiated and contested at particular times and places. The volume is not intended to be a comprehensive history of land tenure in Asante. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780325070032
  • Publisher: Heinemann
  • Publication date: 10/17/2000
  • Series: Social History of Africa Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents


Elusive Boundaries: Rent-Seeking, Land, and Citizenship in Early Colonial Asante

Unsettled Accounts: Stool Debts, Chieftaincy Disputes, and the Questions of Asante Constitutionalism

Who Owns Kumase?

On the Suburban Frontier: Stories of Dispossession, Development and Indirect Democracy

Migrants, Tomatoes, and History: Negotiating Family, Land, and Citizenship in Kumawu

Battles for the Afram Plains





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