Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hunting Elephants: From the Earliest Times . . .

The Elephant in Pre-Colonial Ghana: Cultural and Economic Use Values
Kwame Osei Kwarteng Journal of Philosophy and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2
June 2006

"From the Earliest Times"

". . . according to Nketia, before the advent of the cash crop economy, not only was hunting the most important profession in Ghana, it also required bravery and a thorough knowledge of the forest. Nketia categorises hunters into assistant hunters and master hunters. The distinction between the two was based on the type of animal hunted. Assistant hunters killed only small animals, while master hunters killed dangerous animals like elephants and buffaloes. Master hunters were also ranked according to their exploits, chiefly the number of elephants that they killed during their career. Accordingly, there were three distinct ranks of master hunter: the lowest on the rung were hunters who had killed only one elephant; occupying an intermediate rank were those who had killed two elephants; while those who killed three or more elephants in their career as hunters were ranked highest. [1]"

"What were the likely origins of hunting in Ghana? Evidence gleaned from archaeology, and corroborated by oral tradition, provides some answers. According to Anquandah, recent archaeological studies carried out in the woodland savannah and forest belts of Ghana have revealed that from about 10,000 B.C. onward, Late Stone Age hunter–gatherers who fashioned microlithic and flake industries occupied the savannah and forest, and set up intensive food gathering, fishing and hunting economies [2] . . ."

"The archaeological evidence suggests further that Early and Later Stone Age populations were culturally adapted to their specific ecological zones. For example, a microlithic population represented at Gao lagoon in the Accra plains combined hunting with exploitation of shellfish and other fish resources in the local lagoon and river environment. On the other hand, the populations of the savannah zone of Ghana had a strong microlithic tradition which exploited the animal resources of that ecological belt. However, in the forest zone, opportunities for hunting were minimal, with people specialising in grubbing up wild tubers and roots using stone picks and hoes[3] . . ."

"What were the hunting methods employed by the ancient hunters? This may be inferred by examining the various hunting methods known to have been employed in various African cultures which were contemporaneous with the period we are considering. Van Couvering identifies some hunting tactics employed by modern African hunters which were also used by ancient hunters as mob attacks with spears; pitfalls; burning of game–rich bush; and hamstringing.[4]"

"It is reasonable to suppose that of these techniques, the ancient elephant hunters in Ghana during the Late Stone Age used either bush burning or hamstringing, although Van Couvering admits that the latter ‘entailed a high risk on the part of a hunter equipped only with a stone axe or knife’[5]"

"During the Iron Age both the Akan in the forest belt adn savannah groups like the Gonja and Mole-Dagbani used bows and arrows, spears and javelins as traditional weapons for war as well as for hunting purposes. However, from the 1650s, European trading companies introduced firearms into the Gold Coast with the result that arms proliferated in the coastal and forest regions and were used for military and hunting purposes. The adoption of muzzle–loading guns to hunt elephant and other game led to the emergence of two distinct elephant hunting methods in the country. Coastal groups, along with the Akan who lived in the forest belt (Asante, Assin, Denkyira, Kwahu, Akwamu, Akyem, etc), where European goods circulated freely, bought these guns and used them, both for defensive and offensive purposes, and for hunting elephants and other animals. At the same time, savannah inhabitants continued to use their traditional bows, arrows and spears for elephant hunting. Arhin indicates that arms and ammunition became available in the northern markets after 1874, when Asante authority over her hinterland was undermined by the British invasion of Kumasi. It appears that long after Asante had stopped restricting movement of arms and ammunition to the north, savannah elephant hunters continued to use bows, arrows and spears. This is borne out by Cardinall, a former District Commissioner of Northern Territories and Western Ashanti who notes in In Ashanti and Beyond that the north had practically no guns in the early twentieth century, and thatelephants were killed with bows, arrows and spears.[6]"

"There is reason to believe, too, that both the Ntereso and Kintampo areas have a long tradition of hunting and history of large elephant populations. Indeed elephant hunting here, which started in pre–historic times, appears to have persisted into the twentieth century. In the case of Kintampo, hunting traditions recorded by Sekyi–Baidoo indicate that local towns and villages, and adjacent districts in the northern part of Brong Ahafo Region, particularly towns like Kunso, Dromankese, Krabonso, Tanoboase, Tuobodom, Nchiraa and Droboso, were noted for elephant hunting until the disappearance of elephants from these areas.[7] Traditions related by Nana Kwabena Bofuo, a renowned elephant hunter and the Chief Hunter of Kunso and Nana Kwame Ntem, a hunter and Atufuohene of Abease traditional area, confirm the abundance of elephants in the the Nkoranza, Kintampo and adjoining districts up to the Afram plains . . ."

"With respect to Ntereso in northern Ghana, there is evidence which suggests that the area’s long tradition and history of elephant hunting was due to the area’s rich elephant resources which might date to antiquity. Daaku writes, for instance, that Gonja and Dagomba in northern Ghana were major sources of Asante ivory supplies in pre–colonial times, notably when the two areas were under the hegemony of Asante. Also, during the colonial era, elephant hunting was prevalent in the north, particularly in Gonja district. For instance, in 1924 the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Territory in a report referred to the invasion of then Bole District by Asante hunters, providing confirmation that elephant hunting was still taking place in the first half of the twentieth century in Ntereso."


[1] James Anquandah, Rediscovering Ghana's Past, Longman, Essex, p. 53.

[2] Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution,op cit, p. 218, the exact time Rattray is referring to is not known, but probably he is referring to the period before the introduction of guns into the country in the 17th Century.

[3] Ibid, p. 54.

[4] John A. Van Couvering, ‘Proboscineans, Hominids, and Prehistory’ in Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture, Ed. Doran H. Ross, Pear River, Hong Kong, 1992, p75.

[5] A.W. Cardinall, In Ashanti and Beyond, Johnson Print Corporation, London, 1971, p167.

[6] Sekyi–Baidoo, A Study of The Cosmological and Aesthetic Features of the Akan Hunters’ Song Among the People of Kunso, M.Phil Thesis Submitted to Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, 1994, p. 30.

[7] Interview with Nana Kwabena Bofuo, Chief Elephant Hunter, 80 years old Kunso, 24/01/06.

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