Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mangan Diversity

Another interesting experience I had during my village stay in Manga was getting to meet Dicko Issa. Dicko is a Fulani man, one of only four Fulani families staying in Manga. The Fulani are a distinct ethnic group in West Africa – they’re pretty easily identifiable by their colourful robes, ornate jewellery and unique hairstyles. To most volunteers, the Fulani are a somewhat mysterious people – they’re one of the few “different” groups of people in Northern Ghana (the majority being indigenous Ghanaians), speaking their own language, with their own customs and culture. We don’t get to interact with them very much, as they don’t spend much time in the city, preferring to live and move through the countryside.

Traditionally the Fulani were a nomadic people, moving cattle and other animals across their territory. Today, they’ve mostly settled in communities but still seem to maintain their pastoral practices. For instance, the Fulani in Manga are responsible for caring for the community’s cattle.

Dicko is from Burkina Faso, near the Niger border. He worked in Burkina Faso for the government, helping calculate and collect taxes – he’s pretty skilled at long multiplication, as he demonstrated to me on a scrap of paper. He settled in Manga with his family roughly two years ago.

It was interesting for me to note was that the four Fulani households in Manga were the only ones without latrines – latrines have to be partially paid for, and are often a status symbol. This lack of latrines could have been a sign that the Fulani houses were less prestigious than the Mamprusi houses (the Mamprusis are the predominant tribe in this area). Dicko’s home was certainly the poorest one I saw, with a few crumbling huts containing corn, not wall around his compound, and all-thatch roofs (the wealthier households had tin roofs).

Nicholas, the farmer who I was staying with, told me that the Fulani families were accepted as part of the Manga community. However, they all lived on the outskirts of the town. Furthermore, one day there was an altercation between a Fulani woman and two Mamprusi youths – apparently the woman refused to stop her cattle from cross a footpath so that the boys could continue along the path. The conflict ended in a physical altercation, although I’m unsure how serious it was. This case was brought before the village chief, who ordered the boys to pay a small amount of money to the woman.

But this indicated to me that relations may not be completely problem-
free between these two groups. Indeed, tensions between different ethnic groups can be a major barrier to development. Traditional enemies and allies and alliances have to be carefully analysed – the issues can be incredibly subtle, almost invisible to an outsider. Just one more complication in the field of development.

I appreciated getting to talk with Dicko. We had a long conversation in French – his English wasn’t strong, and French is the official language of Burkina Faso – and he taught me a few sentences in Fula. Definitely an interesting window into a world I hadn’t had much contact with before.

(Pictures -- Above: Dicko Issa's daughter and grandson. Below: Dicko and his family)  Posted by Picasa


Anonymous said...

This could be a naive question but if there is so much tension between the two cultures, why don't they move and live with their people? Wouldn't that avoid altercation? Why all this stress to live with a different community?

Luke Brown said...

Maybe I misrepresented the tension. I don't think it is a huge problem (or necessarily a frequent one). Overall I got the impression that the relationship was fairly good -- certainly not ideal, but that they had a good working relationship (where the Fulani were granted land in exchange for caring for the village's animals).

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