Since material remains are the residues of past social processes, it must be taken into account that given an ethnographic setting in which many large and small scale polities are structured by corporate political strategies and egalitarian behaviors, the material and spatial patterns derived from their evolution reflect the long-term negotiations leading to similar structures. Archaeology in West Africa, then, is faced with the difficulty of discerning the utility and relevance of ethnographic observations of societies frequently characterized by non-centralized political systems, highly egalitarian social relations, and/or more subtle materializations of political processes. Consequently, in order to interpret the region's archaeological record, and ultimately to contribute African cases to worldwide theory, it is important to build up interpretive frameworks from the regional ethnographic record along with more general models from the exterior, rather than simply imposing the latter. In this chapter I present the general and regionally informed framework for the study of Kirikongo by introducing the modern Voltaic region and current archaeological understandings of its past.
The Voltaic Region: Complexity and Diversity in Village Societies
A variety of societies that exemplify the need for consideration of alternative political strategies and their complex archaeological signatures are found in the Voltaic region, located within the Niger Bend of central West Africa (Figure 2.1). The Voltaic region comprises the drainages of the three Volta rivers to their confluence in north-central Ghana, encompassing most of Burkina Faso and northern Ghana, but also smaller areas of Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin (Delafosse 1912). The modern peoples are primarily speakers of Gur languages, although there is a significant minority of Mande speakers, and cultural similarities between the two groups blur linguistic boundaries.