Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Tallensi are a small group of culturally and linguistically distinct people located in the Volota River basin of northern Ghana. Their dialect, called Talni, belongs to the Farefare branch of the Niger-Congo family. Their traditional subsistence centers on cultivating millet and sorghum as staples, together with animal husbandry, gathering, hunting and fishing. The head of each domestic group is connected to a wide network of patrilineal kin groups through an elaborate clan system.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Western Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

Documents in the Tallensi Collection (FE11), all of them in English, cover cultural, economic and environmental information circa 1930 to 1994. Most of these documents are by Meyer Fortes, a leading British social anthropologist who conducted extensive fieldwork among the Tallensi in 1934-1937 and 1971. Fortes's works provide detailed first hand description and analysis of Tallensi society with particular emphasis on clans and lineages (Fortes 1945, no. 2), kinship and social relations (Fortes 1949, no. 3), and religious practices including divination, ancestor worship and moral life (Fortes 1987, no. 11).  

Other documents in the collection compliment Fortes’s seminal works by examining other themes relating to Tallensi culture and society including food culture (Fortes  1936, no. 4), communal fishing (Fortes 1937, no. 6), naming custom (Fortes 1955, no. 10), the judicial process (Fortes 1987, no. 12), ritual festivals (Fortes 1936, no 8), education and socialization (Fortes 1938, no. 5), land tenure (Riehl 1990, no. 13) and settlement patterns (Gabrilopoulos, Mather and Apentiik 2002, no.  14).  Most of the information in these documents was collected from a locality called Tongo which Fortes described as the biggest settlement in Tallensi land (also home to the heads of one of the dominant lineages).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Ahab –mother's brother or maternal uncle – use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)" with "KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY (601)"

Baghar- mystical agencies – use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)" with "ANIMISM (774)"

Kihar - taboo rules 784 - use "AVOIDANCE AND TABOO (784)"

Kok -ghosts - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)" with "ANIMISM (774)"

Kpiinam - dead ancestors- - use "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)"

Malung - ritual - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Na'am – lineage/clan chief - use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Nit (pl, niriba) – personhood or human body - use "ETHNOANATOMY (826)", and/or "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)"

Segher – guardian ancestor spirits – - use "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)", possibly  with "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Sii – Soul - use "ANIMISM (774)" with "ESCHATOLOGY (775)"

Tendana – earth priest - use "PRIESTHOOD (793)"

Tonbana – sacred place - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Vopa – living ancestors - use "KIN RELATIONSHIPS (602)" and/or


Yin- destiny - use "LUCK AND CHANCE (777)" and/or "GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION (771)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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