In my previous blog post, I made known my plans of representing aspects of Nzulezo people’s history in digital format, precisely in an interactive web map, using resourcing like Mapbox and Leaflet. The people of Nzulezo are a community of Ghanaians who live in the middle of the Amanzule River in southwestern Ghana. My ongoing dissertation research investigates this community’s social and environmental history, addressing why the Nzulezo people elected to live on water and how their history helps broaden our understanding of human relationships with the physical environment (water). Please see the Nzulezo community below: the image was obtained (with permission) from the Nzulezo Facebook Group page, 2018.

This week, I have been thinking critically about specific aspects of the Nzulezo people’s past that I would like to digitize. I am more drawn to the people’s origin and migration history. Nzulezo’s oral tradition relates that the community’s ancestors emigrated from an undetermined town in the Mande world (Middle Niger) in West Africa, probably during the declining years of the Old Mali Kingdom—c. 1660s–1670s. It is explained that the people’s journey was primarily provoked by continuous warfare and political instability in the Old Mali Kingdom. Indeed, by the mid-seventeenth century, Old Mali had been destabilized by civil insurrections and attacks from external enemies, particularly King Suni Ali’s Songhai army. In search of security and a better livelihood, the Nzulezo ancestors fled the declining Mali Kingdom, trekking southward to the Akan hinterlands where local groups such as the Bono, Dumpo, and Asante resided. It must be noted that during this period (mid-seventeenth century onward), the Akan people of the Gold Coast interior (i.e., Ghana) and Malinka groups, especially the Dyula, had been actively engaged in gold and kola trade. Major pre-colonial towns lay at the ecotone of the Akan forest region and the Mande world, where significant trading occurred, included Begho, Hani, Techiman, and Wenchi. The people of Nzulezo explain that their forebears sojourned in Wenchi and Techiman for a long time before moving further south to their present location in Appolonia (currently called Western Nzema).

Nzulezo ancestors’ presence in Wenchi and Techiman and, later, in Appolonia positions Nzulezo in the historiography of the pre-colonial Akan-Mande interactions. Significantly, it helps to connect the Nzulezo people’s origin and migratory stops from the Middle Niger to Wenchi, Techiman, and Appolonia. The map below, excerpted from Ivor Wilks’ “The Northern Factor in Ashanti History” (1961), demonstrates roughly the Nzulezo people’s odyssey from the Middle Niger to their present location. The people journeyed from a yet-to-be-determined town in the Middle Niger, heading south to the Akan forest region and later to Appolonia.

Map by Ivor Wilks (1961)

The reasons and conditions for the Nzulezo people’s continuous movements are a debate for another time. However, I would like to represent this history on an interactive web map, showing the various regions where the people traversed and sojourned. I also plan to enclose short histories of the territories and peoples that the Nzulezo ancestors encountered on their journey. I believe this project will give Nzulezo’s past a digital presence and contribute significantly to the critical study of pre-colonial human movements in West Africa. It will also help contextual the pre-nineteenth-century flows of culture, religion (Islam), technology, and trade between the Akan peoples of present-day Ghana and the Mandinka of West Africa’s savannah belt.

I look forward to how this project will unfold, and I will be sure to discuss the methods and resources I will use in subsequent blog posts.