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Tallensi, also spelled Talensi, are a people of northern Ghana who speak a language of the Gur branch of the Niger-Congo language family. They grow millet and sorghum as staples and raise cattle, sheep, and goats on a small scale. Their normal domestic unit is the polygamous joint family of a man and his sons (and sometimes grandsons) with their wives and unmarried daughters. Married daughters live with their husbands in other communities, commonly nearby.

Ghana Republic in West Africa

Ghana, officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in the subregion of West Africa. Spanning a land mass of 238,535 km2 (92,099 sq mi), Ghana is bordered by the Ivory Coast in the west, Burkina Faso in the north, Togo in the east and the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean in the south. Ghana means "Warrior King" in the Soninke language.

Gur languages language family

The Gur languages, also known as Central Gur, belong to the Niger–Congo languages. There are about 70 languages belonging to this group. They are spoken in the Sahelian and savanna regions of West Africa, namely: in Burkina Faso, southern Mali, northeastern Ivory Coast, the northern halves of Ghana and Togo, northwestern Benin, and southwestern Niger; with the easternmost Gur language Baatonun, spoken in the extreme northwest of Nigeria.

Niger–Congo languages Primary language family

The Niger–Congo languages is the world's largest language family and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area, number of speakers, and number of distinct languages. It is generally considered to be the world's largest language family in terms of distinct languages, ahead of Austronesian, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language; the number of named Niger–Congo languages listed by Ethnologue is 1,540.


Rituals and traditions

Surrounding the first-born son

The Tallensi are polygamous and follow a patrilineal system of kinship and descent. Great emphasis is placed on inheritance and the tensions surrounding parents' relationships with their children. It is considered essential for a man to have a son if he is to achieve fulfillment and be venerated as an ancestor after his death. However, the birth of a first-born son, and to a lesser extent a first-born daughter, is held to mark the culmination of a man's 'rise' in the world, and the start of his decline. Meanwhile, the son grows to replace and supplant the father. The resulting ambivalence between father and son plays an important role in Tallensi rituals and taboos.

Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

Patrilineality, also known as the male line, the spear side or agnatic kinship, is a common kinship system in which an individual's family membership derives from and is recorded through his or her father's lineage. It generally involves the inheritance of property, rights, names or titles by persons related through male kin.

Ritual set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value

A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized but not defined by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance.

Taboos begin when the first-born son reaches the age of five or six. From this time on the son may not eat from the same dish as his father, wear his father's cap or tunic, carry his father's quiver, use his father's bow, or look into his father's granary. When the son reaches adolescence, he may not meet his father in the entrance to the house compound. Similar taboos exist to regulate the relationship between mother and first-born daughter. The daughter, for example, may not look into her mother's storage pot.

Quiver container for arrows, bolts, or darts

A quiver is a container for holding arrows, bolts, darts, or javelins. It can be carried on an archer's body, the bow, or the ground, depending on the type of shooting and the archer's personal preference. Quivers were traditionally made of leather, wood, furs, and other natural materials, but are now often made of metal or plastic.

Granary storage building for grain

A granary is a storehouse or room in a barn for threshed grain or animal feed. Ancient or primitive granaries are most often made out of pottery. Granaries are often built above the ground to keep the stored food away from mice and other animals.

Adolescence transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood

Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood. Adolescence is usually associated with the teenage years, but its physical, psychological or cultural expressions may begin earlier and end later. For example, puberty now typically begins during preadolescence, particularly in females. Physical growth and cognitive development can extend into the early twenties. Thus, age provides only a rough marker of adolescence, and scholars have found it difficult to agree upon a precise definition of adolescence.

Upon the death of a father, his first-born son and daughter lead the rituals involved in his funeral. The son, at this point, puts on his father's cap and tunic. A tribal elder, carrying the dead man's bow, ritually guides the son to his father's granary and shows him the inside. After his father's death the son is considered a mature man for the purposes of ritual, and it is his responsibility to make sacrifices to the ancestors, chief among them being his own father, who being recently dead is held to act as an intermediary between those still living and the more remote ancestors.

Funeral ceremony for a person who has died

A funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from interment, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation.

It is believed that these taboos and rituals serve to channel ambivalence and resentment between generations into culturally defined and culturally acceptable means of expression.

Sacred Crocodile

Among the Tallensi tribe there is a belief in the sacred crocodile. As Meyer Fortes highlighted in his ethnographic work "The concept of the person", special crocodiles in special pools are considered persons among the Tallensi. No local man, indeed no Tallensi would dare kill or injure a sacred crocodile. Every Tallensi knows that these crocodiles are the incarnation of important clan ancestors. To kill one of these is like killing a person. It is murder of the most heinous kind and it would bring disaster on the whole clan.

However, not all crocodiles are considered persons (ni-saal) for instance, in the rivers that are fished in the dry season - is not a person, not sacred. It can be killed and eaten.

See also

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Further reading

Gbeogo Place in Upper East Region, Ghana

Gbeogo is a village in northern Ghana. It is situated to the south-east of Bolgatanga, in the Tallensi Traditional Area. Gbeogo is populated by the Tallensi people, and consists mainly of mud-built dwellings. The village is home to a deaf school and has been host to American Peace Corps Volunteers for decades. They run the tree nursery, teach in the deaf school and work in the dispensary.