"Too much power is not good": War and trade in nineteenth-century Sisalaland, northern Ghana

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Christopher DeCorse


Power, War, Trade, Sisalaland, Ghana, Nineteenth century

Subject Categories

African History | Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | History | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Recently, there has been renewed interest in tracing the history of change in the social and political institutions of what are called 'decentralised' or 'stateless' societies over the last five hundred years, a period that saw widespread changes in economic and social relations and the emergence of global-scale inequality and hierarchy. Rather than privileging these large-scale processes, however, recent work in ethnohistory and history has focused on delineating change as experienced at the local level. This dissertation is an investigation of such local level change as it occurred in Sisalaland, northern Ghana, an area inhabited by 'decentralised' societies that was heavily impacted by slave-raiding in the latter part of the nineteenth century. This is achieved through an historical archaeological study of the fortified hilltop settlement, Yalingbong , that was occupied during the nineteenth century and the early colonial era (twentieth century) site of Zanbulugu . More specifically, changes in settlement organization, ritual organisation, warfare and defense, and trade patterns that are found in connection with the rise to power of 'big men,' co-incident with increased warfare and slave-raiding in the period post-dating the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, are documented. Drawing on archaeological, oral historical and documentary sources it is demonstrated how the patterning of trade and warfare in nineteenth century Sisalaland was related not only to external relations but also how it served to both reinforce and/or transform the internal structure and practice of social and political relationships and community life.


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