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Begho (also Bighu or Bitu) was an ancient trading town located just south of the Black Volta at the transitional zone between the forest and savanna (present-day Ghana, north-western Brong-Ahafo region). The town was of considerable importance as an entrepot frequented by northern caravans from around 1100 AD until its abandonment in the 18th century. Goods traded included ivory, salt, leather, gold, kola nuts, cloth, and copper alloys. Today, there is a village called Hani located in the vicinity of the Begho site.

Excavations have laid bare walled structures dated between 1350 and 1750 AD, as well as pottery of all kinds, smoking pipes, and evidence of iron smelting. With a probable population of over 10 000, Begho was one of the largest towns in the southern part of West Africa at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in 1471. As the Gonja kingdom rose to the north in the late seventeenth century, they traded their slaves and kola through Begho for the gold of the Akan to the south.

Begho, like many trade towns of this period, was divided into various quarters based largely on religious and ethnic identities. The earliest quarter was Nyarko, where occupation pre-dated the arrival of the Mandé traders by 200-300 years, traders who 'probably came into contact with people already resident in the area who were exploiting locally available gold resources'[.] The Mandé themselves occupied the Kramo quarter, a term, according to Posnansky (1987:17), which means 'people of the book', and is thus an obvious indicator of a former Muslims presence. … The third quarter, Dwinfour, was the artisanal area, while the largest quarter, Brong, was interpreted as the centre of the town's ritual life.

A variety of evidence was recovered from the excavations supporting the existence of functional differentiation between the four quarters at Begho and, more importantly, seemingly attesting to a Muslim presence in the Kramo quarter: burials following a consistent orientation pattern; evidence of flat-roof and multi-storied architectural forms resembling the architecture of the more northern areas, such as the Mandé homelands where less rain fell and flat roofs were more useful; spindle whorls nearly identical to those from Djenné; the technology of brass casting as well as various brass vessels which were imported from the Islamic world, such as bowls of 'Syrio-Egyptian' (Mamluk) origin dating from the mid-fourteenth-mid-fifteenth centuries; and a further practical benefit introduced to the peoples of the West African forest and its fringe through contacts with the Muslim Mandé included accurate systems of weights and measures. At Begho 'chipped, shaped potsherds'were found which conform closely to the Islamic mithqal and wakia standards.

References

  • Anquandah, James (2002) 'Ghana: early towns & the development of urban culture : an archaeological view', in Adande, Alexis B.A. & Arinze, Emmanuel (eds.) Museums & urban culture in West Africa. Oxford: James Currey, 9–16.
  • Crossland, L.B. (1989) Pottery from the Begho-B2 site, Ghana (African occasional papers, 4). Calgary: University of Calgary Press. ISBN 0-919813-84-4
  • Effah-Gyamfi, Kwaku (1987) 'Archaeology and the study of early African towns: the West African case, especially Ghana', West African Journal of Archaeology, 17, 229–241.
  • Jack Goody, "The Mande and the Akan Hinterland", in: The Historian in Tropical Africa, J.Vansina, R.Mauny and L.V.Thomas eds., 1964, London, Oxford University, 192-218.
  • Timothy Insoll, 'The Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa'. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65702-4

Coordinates: 7°51′N 2°29′W / 7.85°N 2.483°W / 7.85; -2.483

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