Safeguarding Nzema history. Towards an archive of Chieftaincy in south-west Ghana (EAP722)

Aims and objectives

This project will continue the earlier pilot project EAP569. Its aim is to safeguard, list and digitise the archival heritage currently in possession of the seven Ghanaian Paramountcies composing the Nzema Maanle Council: Western Nzema, Eastern Nzema, Lower Axim, Upper Axim, Gwira, Ajomoro, and Nsein.

The series of interest to this project form a heterogeneous corpus of data, scattered across the seven archives, and include records regarding land rights and borders during pre-colonial times (hand-written documents, maps and diaries); records regarding traditional rule in the area (lists of chiefs, chiefdoms and transmission acts);acts from oral proceedings documenting disputes, chieftaincy matters and local land rights.

These documents are a corpus of great importance for the study of Nzema culture and history, as they track traditional rule forms and give an unprecedented insight on the history of local chiefdoms. They shed light on how traditional rule and land management have evolved in South-West Ghana over the last century, spanning from the colonial era to the process that led the Country to obtain independence in 1957. In this perspective, the importance of EAP722 lies in the fact that the documents that will be digitised and made available for research purposes have never been accessible to scholars before; they represent a new source of information for the history of the western coastal area of Ghana.

Apart from the Western and Eastern Nzema Archives, that were the focus of EAP569 and are now safe, all the archives involved in this project are threatened by a variety of factors including environmental (moisture, highly variable temperatures, floods, fires, chemical and biological infections, rodents, insects); lack of preservation practices (no list available, documents mixed up, inadequate use of archival files and boxes); lack of dedicated personnel; and dispersion of the records throughout the territory (multiple repositories).

The project will carry out surveys to assess the consistency, physical conditions and logical structure of the collections. Basic preservation measures (including cleaning and re-packing) will be undertaken for the records and a finding list will be produced in order to make the information available for consultation. The oldest and most fragile documents will be digitised to ensure the durability of the information through digital and easy-to-access media.

The Fort Apollonia Museum staff will be supported in managing project activities by the Italian Ethnological Mission to Ghana (Sapienza – University of Rome), in the person of the Director, Professor Pino Schirripa. Being an interdisciplinary research project dating back to 1954, IEMG played an important role in the establishment of the Museum in 2010. IEMG researchers are currently carrying out anthropological and historical researches in the area based on a participatory approach.

The team will be increased for intensive fieldwork in the seven archives. The researchers who took part in the pilot project will continue working for this major project, granting continuous support to the new researchers, and additional training will take place. The Western Region House of Chiefs will facilitate relations with the Traditional Councils; PRAAD will send one of its Archivists to take part in the project; and the Information Studies Department (University of Ghana) will provide advanced students and PhD candidates as junior researchers to be employed by the Museum.

At the end of the project, the physical records, accurately sorted and clean, will be packed in new archival containers and relocated in safe repositories. Digital copies will be stored on hard drives for safe keeping and consultation, and deposited with the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive, Fort Apollonia Museum, Sapienza University of Rome, and the British Library. The materials deposited with the Fort Apollonia Museum will be made accessible through a digital platform that is currently being developed by Sapienza, conceived as the means to make the documents available to local communities and researchers upon request.


All the goals set in the application have been achieved, except for the analysis, rearrangement and digitisation of relevant documents of the Gwira Traditional Council Archive. The materials in the other Nzema Traditional Councils Archives were dusted and sorted, arranged in chronological order and implementing, if possible, the arrangement criteria used by the creators of the archives. Then the documents were packed in new archival files and boxes and properly shelved in rooms not exposed to the high humidity level typical of the area. A master list has been produced for each of the archives involved, clearly reporting the new reference number, the title of the file, the covering dates and the physical condition of the records. After the re-arrangement of the archives was accomplished and the most endangered series were identified, the project completed the digitisation of relevant series started under EAP569 in the holdings of Eastern and Western Nzema Traditional Council Archives; and accomplished the digital reproduction of selected series from the remainder of the Archives.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: