Safeguarding Nzema history: documents on Nzema land in Ghanaian national and local archives (EAP569)

Aims and objectives

The aim of this project is to identify and collect information on relevant documents about Nzema culture and history. These documents regard the land management system and local power structure that has been in place in Ghana since pre-colonial times and that still plays a fundamental role in Nzema society today.

The archives selected to be surveyed and the most vulnerable sections digitised are:

  • the Public Records and Archive Administration Department (PRAAD) in Secondi-Takoradi (Western Ghana Region);
  • the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Beyin (Jomoro District, Western Region);
  • the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Atuabo (Ellembele District, Eastern Region).


The collections of interest to this project form a heterogeneous corpus of data, scattered across the three archives, and include records regarding land rights and borders during pre-colonial times (hand-written documents, maps and diaries); records regarding forms of traditional power (lists of chiefs, chiefdoms and transmission acts); and acts from oral proceedings that document disputes on local land rights. These documents are a corpus of great importance for the study of Nzema culture and history, as they track traditional power forms and testify the history of traditional chiefdoms. They embody both tangible and intangible aspects of cultural heritage, and are of high significance for the study of traditional forms of power among the Nzema.

The collections require a preliminary survey aimed at identify and gathering better information upon the conditions and the extent of the records withheld. The aim is also to digitise part of the material that is currently most at risk (approximately 1,000 documents) in order to ensure its safety.

In particular, the most ancient and vulnerable collections stored at the two Traditional Councils, in Beyin and Atuabo need to be safeguarded. They are kept in rooms with high levels of humidity and highly variable temperature levels, they have not been catalogued, and the medium is deteriorating very badly. The collections need to be described, the documents need to be cleaned and stored separately, and subsequently digitised to grant their preservation.

The outcomes of this pilot project will be a full survey report on the collections of interest at the PRAAD of Sekondi-Takoradi and at the Traditional Council’s archives of Beyin and Atuabo (Western and Eastern Nzema Traditional Areas). Training will be provided on preservation, digitization and digital records management. One day of training will be held at the PRAAD Regional Archive in Sekondi-Takoradi and two days of training at the Fort Apollonia Museum (also open to PRAAD staff). Sets of the collections that are most at risk at the Traditional Councils’ Archives will be digitised. Digitisation will be done in situ, while the collections held at the PRAAD Regional Archive in Sekondi-Takoradi will be the object of a preliminary survey first. The groundwork will also be laid for a future major project.

ICAR (The Central Institute for Archives of the Italian Ministry of Culture) will act as advisor to the project and DIGILAB, the “Multimedia Archive for Humanities of the University of Rome, Sapienza” is providing training on digitisation and on the use of an open source software, compliant with the use of archival description standards

The project aims at being both an occasion to safeguard and make available documents that are important to the Nzema community, and to allow the staff of the Fort Apollonia Museum to learn how to handle preservation through digitisation and digital record management. This pilot project will result in a significant contribution to the newly created museum, supporting the Museum’s mission of raising awareness over the issue of heritage preservation within the Nzema community.


All the goals set in the application have been achieved. The team selected and listed some relevant items concerning the Nzema area at PRAAD, including in the list a detailed assessment on the physical conditions of the records. For the materials kept in the Nzema Traditional Councils Archives, the Team initially dusted and sorted them out, implementing if possible the system of arrangement 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 typical of the area. A master list was 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 completed and the most endangered series were identified, the project digitized 46 files (15 in the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive, 31 in the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive) and generated 5,039 digital photographs. The listing templates for the digital collections were completed with the relevant information about the digitised records.

The original documents of the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archives are currently housed in a dedicated room in the Palace of the Paramount Chief of Atuabo, which also serves as headquarters of the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council. The records have been packed in new archival files and boxes to meet preservation standards, but they are still waiting to be properly shelved.

The archival material of the Western Nzema Traditional Council is currently shelved in the boardroom of the private residence of the Paramount Chief of Beyin, being the President of the Western Nzema Traditional Council. In Beyin the private residence of the Paramount Chief does not coincide with the Palace (the headquarters of the Western Nzema Traditional Council), which is expected to be renovated. In both cases the collections are accessible upon request and prior consent of the Paramount Chiefs.

A detailed survey was produced as part of the project:

The digital copies of the records have been deposited with the following individuals and/or institutions:

  • Awulae Amihere Kpanyinli III, Paramount Chief of Eastern Nzema Traditional Area and President of Eastern Nzema Traditional Council – Atuabo, Ellembele District, W/R, Ghana (only digital copies of ENTC Archive’s records);
  • Awulae Annor Adjaye III, Paramount Chief of Western Nzema Traditional Area and President of Western Nzema Traditional Council – Beyin, Jomoro District, W/R, Ghana (only digital copies of WNTC Archive’s records
  • Fort Apollonia Museum of Nzema Culture and History – Beyin, Jomoro District, W/R, Ghana;

    British Library, London, UK;
  • Department of History, Cultures and Religions of Sapienza University of Rome

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: