Carola Lentz, born in Braunschweig, Germany, in 1954. Ph.D. from the Universität Hannover. Professor of Social Anthropology and African Studies at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main.
Fellow (1 September 2000 – 30 June 2001)
My research project at NIAS was concerned with the social, ritual and political dynamics of the agricultural expansion of Dagara-speaking groups in the Black Volta region of Burkina Faso and Ghana. I began by writing (or revising) several articles, thematically closely related to the book, and by analysing my field material, which mainly consists of more than 150 interviews on clan migrations and the foundation of new villages. The analysis yielded insight into a variety of themes, such as indigenous strategies of the production of history (ies), the social organisation of mobility, the mental maps and boundary-setting practices involved in the establishment of earth shrines, etc. But, as is often the case with anthropological research, the very richness and complexity of the material confronted me with the problem of defining which ‘story’, apart from the many local stories of migration and settlement, I wanted to tell in my book. Discussions with NIAS Fellows and other colleagues, as well as fruitful reading ‘beyond’ the confines of the original project, enabled me to relate my research findings to a more general topic, contained in the new title for the book: “First-Comers and Late-Comers: mobility, land and belonging in the West African savannah”. I developed a detailed table of contents and wrote drafts of the introduction and the first chapter. The book is about the construction, contestation and transformation of first-comer claims in a West African savannah region in which people, and more specifically agriculturalists, have moved around a lot and continue to do so. It addresses the question how property rights over, or otherwise stable access to, landed resources have been secured, lost, contested and negotiated in such a socio-historical context of mobility. Property rights are relations not only to ‘things’, but also to people. Access to land is mediated through membership in specific communities, which can range from the nuclear or the extended family and the patriclan to the larger ethnic group or, in modern property regimes, the nation-state. The book is therefore also about the politics of belonging that have affected mobility and land rights, and about the ways in which land is embedded in struggles over power, history and social boundaries.