Associate 2002-03

Jean Marie Allman

African Studies


Professor Allman’s recent work focuses on the social history of gender, ritual, and belief in West Africa. During her Center appointment she will complete a book manuscript, with Professor John Parker of the University of London, based on extensive research conducted in the forest and savanna regions of Ghana. Using a broad range of written, oral, and iconographic sources, the book challenges the distinction between tradition and modernity in the study of African religious belief.

The book’s focus is Tonna’ab, a famous Tallensi ancestor shrine located at the summit of the Tong Hills in what were the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast (modern Ghana). In the early colonial period, as part of a broader ritual movement of sacred sites throughout the savannas of the middle Volta basin, Tonna’ab traveled south to the Akan forests and the trading towns of the coast. There it became something quite new, a witch-finding cult called Nana Tongo. The book explains the spread of Tonna’ab’s influence and uncovers the processes through which indigenous religious beliefs were diffused and transfigured, borrowed and transacted during two centuries of dramatic social and economic change, stretching from the era of the slave trade to the era of the tourist trade. By reconstructing the movement and mutation of one indigenous religious complex, the book foregrounds ritual commerce between the savanna and forest in the forging of vernacular modernities in West Africa.