Critical Questions

The African Heritage Initiative Workshop revved up today with a full day of in-depth presentations and discussions. We were greeted by Samuel Kwame Offei, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs at the University of Ghana. Prof. Offei summarized the mood of the workshop concisely when he ended his welcome address on an optimistic note that the framework and policy guidelines we develop will enhance management of Ghana’s archaeological heritage. We were pleased to be recognized, but even more so that the workshop drew the attention of many other UG faculty and students. Throughout the day, we were joined by colleagues in the departments of Philosophy, History, and the Forestry Commission. Their presence and comments enriched our discussion of heritage sites in Ghana.

The morning was devoted to bringing together the participants of the workshop and orienting ourselves to a set of framing questions. Among these questions, our discussions centered on the critical examination of heritage and how different theoretical perspectives (e.g., southern, northern, Ghanaian, Diasporic) could be incorporated into heritage practice. More than the examination of heritage sites, it is our goal to produce some kind of actionable recommendations to direct Ghana’s growing marketing, consumption, and conservation of heritage resources.

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William Gblerkpor leads the workshop discussion at the International House, University of Ghana.

It is premature to say we’ve arrived at a conclusion. After all, we have three full days of site visits scheduled. We did, however, succeed in establishing a common ground. In the afternoon, our discussions shifted from the theoretical abstract to the contextual backgrounds of the sites to be visited. Our first presentation, by Joseph Adjaye, touched on the social organization of Elmina society—and how different groups factored into the exhibition of European castles. Elmina is one of Ghana’s most visited heritage sites, but also one where its meaning has been contested by multiple groups. Next, Nii Wellington returned to discuss his theory of Osu architecture based on the Ga term Gboshinii. This term defines architectural heritage sites as “owned by the dead,” and therefore locations to be venerated by a broad public. Cletus Nateg described the development of Ghana’s Protected Areas from informal “traditional” protections to the current system of state controlled forests and game reserves. Kakum National Park has grown over the past 20 years from receiving 600 visitors annually to 170,000—70% of which are Ghanaians. James Anquandah joined the workshop to share his reflections on the development of Ghanaian archaeology and heritage sites over the past 40 years. He remarked that he was pleased to see Ghanaian-led research diversify from basic site recording in the early 1980s to different types of theoretical, experimental, and developmental archaeologies in the successive decades. He also described his research in the Shai Hills, remarking that heritage is at once foreign and local. There are no clear demarcations of cultural influences. This sentiment was echoed by Kodzo Gavua in the discussion, who emphasized that the most crucial component of heritage was the meaning invested in objects and places. Naana Ocran next described the creation of heritage sites and festivals at Assin Manso that relate to the coastal slave trade narrative. The sole focus on slavery, however, has come at the expense of developing the area’s ecological, cultural, and more recent historical significance. Wazi Apoh provided an excellent comparison of Ghanaian and Australian cultural resource management practices. His presentation ended with the strong assertion that any guidelines the workshop produced should include provisions for requiring heritage impact assessments ahead of large-scale development projects that were separate from more general environmental studies. The day’s session ended with a talk by William Gblerkpor who discussed the inter-disciplinary research at Krobo. Archaeological, historical, ethnographic, and documentary methods are used to investigate how heritage is actively produced and consumed by Krobo peoples themselves and marketed to domestic and foreign visitors.

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James Anquandah, the first Ghanaian chair of archaeology at the University of Ghana.

Though the focus was on Ghana, conversations turned to the similarities and differences with heritage practices elsewhere. University of Michigan graduate student Andrew Gurstelle contrasted how slavery is invoked in Benin, where its legacy is more visible. Cynthia Kros and Ciraj Rassool noted that in South Africa there was a much stronger emphasis on a national heritage project, and also described how research permitting policies could be used to focus more attention on heritage issues. UM professor of anthropology Carla Sinopoli described heritage in India, another country with a strong top-down national heritage project. Nana Baffour Asare Twi Brempong II (Emmanuel Kwasi Asare), in his role as the Adontenhene of Techiman, brought the discussion back to Ghana, contrasting heritage at coastal sites with the Techiman landscape where heritage is oriented to local peoples through shrines and ecological features.

Tomorrow, we begin out tour of heritage sites. We are encouraged by the day’s robust discussion, and look forward to many more in the field!

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