"He who sets the boundary”. Chieftaincy as a “necessary” institution in modern Ghana
The title of this paper was inspired by an etymology formulated in 1929 by a famous Gold Coast maìtre-a-penser, J. de Graft Johnson. He explained the most common akan1 term for a chief ohene as a derivation from hye, boundary, with the meaning of “he who would decide the ohi (boundary) between the various groups farming on lands commonly reputed to be under his control” (de Graft Johnson, 1929). The ohene is therefore ‘the settler of the boundary’. Etymology is a tricky territory and I am not sure whether this interpretation is reliable. However it suits perfectly what I intend to say in my paper: 1) Controversial as Chieftaincy may be in Ghana, it is perhaps the clearest embodiment of shared concepts of what it means to belong to a place. 2) The link between Chieftaincy and place is not a static one. To a great extent chiefs have the power to redefine the very nature, size and scope of the place/locality they embody. 3) They are potentially in a better position to re-shape, manipulate, enlarge or shrink boundaries than most other player on the national stage. 4) From the early 1990s many of them were able to exercise that power to an extent they had not experienced since colonial days and in ways new to Ghanaian society and to themselves. I will try to substantiate my points through reference to a recent case of chieftaincy litigation in the Western Region of Ghana.
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