Media evolution and cultural change

Authored by: Joshua Meyrowitz

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159

10.4324/9780203891377.ch5

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Abstract

British colonial personnel first recorded the history of the state of Gonja in northern Ghana at the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, the Gonja explained the origin of the seven divisional chiefdoms of their territory by recounting how their founding father, Ndewura Jakpa, had traveled down from the Niger Bend in search of gold, becoming chief of the state after conquering its indigenous peoples, and placing his seven sons as rulers of seven territorial divisions. Yet, when the history of Gonja was recorded again sixty years later, following some territorial shifts, the story of origin had changed. Jakpa’s family, as told at that time by the Gonja, had shrunk to only five sons, conveniently matching the then current five territorial divisions. As anthropologist Jack Goody and literary historian Ian Watt (1963) claim, such “automatic adjustments” of history to existing social relations were accomplished relatively easily by the Gonja because they functioned within an oral rather than a written tradition. Once the talk and memories of seven Jakpa sons faded, there were no written artifacts to contradict the new narrative of five sons. The spread of writing in a culture, argue Goody and Watt, has “consequences” that cannot be reduced to the content of what is written.

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