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of the North Mo Traditional Area, Ghana

by Marios Cleovoulou, May 1998


During the period February to April 1998 the author worked as an ecovolunteer with the Pro Primates Colobus Monkey Research Project in Bamboi, Northern Region, Ghana. This project is marketed by Wolftrail's Ecovolunteer Network. The purpose of the project was to monitor and survey the supposed local population of Colobine monkeys and to conduct a bio-inventory of the wildlife in the area.

As the presence of Colobines had not been satisfactorily confirmed by previous surveys and as, indeed, trying to find any wildlife other than birds during field expeditions was proving to be a fruitless task, the author undertook, as part of the project, to attempt to tap the Indigenous Knowledge of the local hunters and rural community to try and identify the species present and their habitat areas.

This report describes the results of that research.


The southern part of the North Mo Traditional Area, the parts around Bamboi, consists mostly of a degraded transitional zone (Guinea zone) between forest and savanna. The area is thinly wooded with scattered small (2-3m) trees with grasses and sparse shrubs in between. It is often possible to see several hundred metres. In the few areas where there are some taller trees, evidence of commercial charcoal production can be frequently found. I.e. heavy tyre tracks, tree stumps cut with chain saws, burning mounds, etc.

A lot of the area is occupied by an increasing population of very poor subsistence farming families, occupying typically less than a hectare each, who use shifting cultivation ("slash and burn") as their only agricultural method and who hunt and trap any and all wildlife as a supplement to their meager food sources, and in order to protect their crops. Typical crops are cassava, yams, and maize. Bush fires are frequent and these often extend beyond the intended crop growing areas, giving a lot of the area a "burnt out" look during the dry season.

The southern edge of the area is bounded by the Black Volta river, which is lined with a narrow riverine gallery forest, with the trees occasionally reaching a height of 20-30m, although 5-15m is more typical. This forest is narrow with usually only 50m of higher trees separating the river from the savanna areas, and frequently there are cultivated areas right down to the river banks, supporting more thirsty crops such as tomatoes and small aubergines.

During the author's three month stay in the area, the author and the five others at the project during the period (including the biologist researcher), spotted the following wildlife and indications of wildlife between them:

Indigenous Knowledge Survey Area and Methods

The survey of the Indigenous Knowledge of the wildlife present in the area covered the areas east and west of Bamboi reachable by bicycle or on foot.

To the west of Bamboi the area up to, but not including, the fishing village of Tainboi (about 10km from Bamboi) was covered. This area and the settlements there are only reachable along narrow bicycle/foot paths. The population in this area is mostly Ewe speaking, although many speak some Twi and/or Deg.

To the east of Bamboi the area on and either side of the road to Chibrinya (15km from Bamboi) was covered. The settlements away from the road are only reachable along narrow bicycle/foot paths. The population in this area is mostly Deg speaking.

Most of the settlements visited, known locally as "small villages", are in fact farmsteads consisting of a few (1 - 5) houses, occupied by a single extended family whose existence depends upon subsistence farming the ½ to 1 hectare of land surrounding the settlement, and upon hunting. Only the villages of Bampewa, Tamban and Chibrinya have more than a small number of houses and are occupied by more than one family.

The survey was conducted with the help of a local guide and translator; an ex-hunter named Kofi Amoah. Upon reaching a settlement the "chief hunter" of the community was identified. In the multi-family villages local custom dictated that the formally appointed chief of the village be consulted first, and that he would introduce the research team to the hunters of the village.

The informants were then interviewed using Semi Structured Interview techniques, the questions concentrating on the presence of monkeys, galagos, snakes, and small and large mammals.

For monkeys and galagos the translations of the guide were checked by repeating the local names for the animals, as listed by Gansdale (see Table 1), however, as noted later, it was apparent that these were sometimes used to refer to different species than the ones listed. Additionally, informants were encouraged to give descriptions and questioned at length about the time and locations of sightings, although this often resulted in confusion rather than clarity.

Many of the informants, while willing to help, had to be prompted considerably to gain information and would often not remember having seen a particular species until the name of that species was mentioned. Other informants talked more freely. In a few cases the informant guided the research team on a brief field trip around the locale.

Local Language Names for Primate Species

Table 1 lists the local language names for various primate species. With the exception of those names listed in italics the table was taken from the List of scientific and vernacular names of Ghanaian wildlife by Gansdale (1970).

Of those not from Gansdale:

The author did not find any of the non-Gansdale names to be in use, except for Kana which, as noted below, is ambiguous.

It will be noted from the table that certain local names are ambiguous. Kana in the Deg language can mean monkey, Green Vervet, or Mangabey. Kese in Ewe can mean monkey or Baboon, and Fie can mean Green Vervet or Mona monkey.

Scientific NameCommon NameDeg (Mo)TwiEwe
SimianMonkeyDalawe, Kana Asoroboa, NkyeneboaKese
Pan troglodytesCommon Chimpanzee?Akaatia Akplakpoe
Procolobus badiusRed ColobusKalankuli, Aku, KanafjemEben, Ebenee?
Procolobus versusOlive Colobus?Asibe Tofie
Colobus polykomus vellerosusWestern Black & White ColobusMopeeEfoAtakpa, Kla
Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus/tantalusGreen Vervet / Tantalus Kana AkakawaFie, Nkume
Cercopithecus diana rolowayDiana monkey?Boapea?
Cercopithecus petauristaSpot-Nosed monkeyAwenyanaAwenyana Fieswee, Fiesroe, Gbeleh
Cercopithecus mona loweiLowe's Mona monkeyKwakuoOkwakuoFie, Avezifieh
Erythrocebus patasRed PatasGbwee, BweAsabaraAbladzi
Cercocebus torquatus lunulatusMangabeyKana Eku, Karawa?
Papio anubisBaboon KwagiaKontranfi Kese, Kabli
Galago senegalensisSenegal BushbabySakaraAprekesima Anionione
Galago demidoviiDemidoff's Bushbaby?Aprekesima Nkuli, Kposo
Perodictus pottoPotto? Aposo, NkitadenAnionionse
Table 1: Local Language Names for various Primate Species

Indigenous Knowledge Survey Results

The results of the Indigenous Knowledge survey are listed below and summarized in Table 2. The approximate locations of the settlements and species are shown in the maps.

The species reported by informants as present in each area are listed by settlement and are shown in the listings, table, and maps as told by the informants. In the cases where the author has reason to suspect the validity of the information, this is noted.

Unless otherwise specified the species listed were reported as having been sighted during the then current dry season, i.e., between November 1997 and April 1998. Interpretations of "recently" were difficult to pin down, but were generally understood to mean within the last month.

Determining the number of animals sighted by these largely innumerate informants also proved difficult with "few", "many" or "plenty" being the most common responses.

Grass-cutters (Giant Cane Rat) were reported as common in all locations and, accordingly, are not listed.

It should be noted that neither the author, the guide, nor the other researchers actually sighted any of the claimed present wildlife during the survey or during follow up visits to the areas listed. This was the case even when the informant acted as an additional guide on field trips.

Species reported by locals as present near villages West of Bamboi







The informant at this village, and those at Kwantakura, Dogudemon and Budikura, all reported Kalankuli around their villages or raiding crops on their farms. However, as these areas are near-savanna and have a constant human presence, an extremely unlikely habitat for the Red Colobus, the author suspects that this set of villages use this Deg word for Red Colobus to mean Red Patas monkeys.




The covered food store at this village had many animal skulls and skins, kept as fetishes, hanging from the roof. The author was informed that some of the skulls were of red monkeys and Spot Nosed monkeys. There were also Python skins.

Species reported by locals as present near villages East of Bamboi


The informant at this village repeatedly told the author that there were no monkeys in the area. However, the informant at Kalifakura, just 100m away, reported Green monkeys in the area.


The informant told the author that there used to be "many" monkeys in the area, but that they had moved "to the river and to the mountains" due to the increased human presence.


This village is on the road and consist of two houses, a small bicycle repair shop and a small restaurant, and hence constantly has people coming and going. Additionally, neither the forests near Kwamiagi nor Bampewa seem large enough, thick enough or with sufficient canopy cover to provide a suitable habitat for Colobines. As such the author considers this an unlikely habitat area for either Black and White or, especially, Red Colobus. Also, while the informant used the Deg word Mopee (Black and White Colobus) the description given did not match any monkey the author is familiar with.


Bampewa has two small forests nearby. One is considered a sacred grove, the only such forest in the southern part of the North Mo Traditional Area. This forest has several small water holes, which seem to be used regularly by the villagers. This forest, because of the presence of water, has a different, more lush, vegetation than the rest of the area. The author was told that hunting is prohibited in this forest and traps are not allowed. However, the author did find a couple of shotgun cartridges in the forest. In two separate visits to this forest the only wildlife the author and other ecovolunteers found, other than birds, butterflies, and insects, was one turtle.

The second forest is not protected and the author saw a mongoose, a species not mentioned or described by the informant, in a trap when the forest was visited.

The informant described a monkey sounding like a Black and White Colobus as present in the sacred forest. It was described as having a long black tail with a white bushy end. However the description also included a white stomach and the informant repeatedly used the word Kalankuli, Deg for the Red Colobus, when referring to this monkey. The informant also said that these monkeys "hide" during the dry season and could not remember when one had last been seen. See comments for Kwamiagi.

Agric Nkwanta

The informant said there were no monkeys to be found in the vicinity of the village.


Kodukra, Dandenkuli, Kofiabelebe, Adengra

The informants at all four of these villages, close together and close to the river, reported the same wildlife in the area.


Chibrinya is a large village with extensive farmlands behind it. The chief hunter (who spoke English) told the author that there are "gorillas" in the area. He gave a plausible description of a maybe-gorilla, maybe-chimpanzee. Tail-less, big as a man, little or no hair on the chest, etc. However, upon revisiting this village a couple of weeks later the same hunter gave the author a totally different description of the "gorilla" -- thick tail the length of a man's arm, hairy all over and about waist height. When he got to the height part of his description other hunters broke in and started arguing, the range of opinions being from knee height to shoulder height.

The hunters also told the author that the forest areas near the village of Agbadagbo, some 15km further east from Chibrinya, has plenty of wildlife -- and plenty of traps. The forests are apparently only accessible during the dry season, as they are adjacent to the river and become flooded during the rainy season.

Animals given as present near Agbadagbo were: Red Patas, Green monkeys, Gorillas, Baboons, Buffalo, Bush pigs, Antelope, Deer, and the rare "big black monkey". Descriptions of the "big black monkey" were inconsistent and varied from chimpanzee-like to baboon-like.

Regrettably, due to the distance and transport difficulties, the author was unable to visit Agbadagbo. Lorries run between Chibrinya and Agbadagbo only on Fridays, Agbadagbo's market day. Lorries run between Bamboi and Chibrinya on Tuesdays, market day in Chibrinya, and Saturdays, market day in Bamboi. There are no lorries running directly between Bamboi and Agbadagbo at any time.

Summary Table
Table 2: Summary of species reported to be present near settlements

  1. The informants at Kwantakura, Dogudemon and Budikura reported sighting Green monkeys during visits to the river, approximately 1-2 km south of their settlements.
  2. The author considers the reported sightings of Red Colobus at these settlements to be extremely suspect. See comments under the listings for Chiapuaoolo and Kwamiagi.
  3. The author considers the reported sightings of Black and White Colobus at these settlements to be suspect. See comments under the listings for Kwamiagi and Bampewa.
  4. See comments under the listing for Chibrinya for information on the sighting of "Gorillas".

Maps showing approximate locations of settlements and reported species

West of Bamboi
Map 1: Settlements West of Bamboi

East of Bamboi
Map 2: Settlements East of Bamboi


These maps should be treated as indicatory only and should not be used for navigational purposes. Scales have been purposely omitted. There are many more footpaths than shown. Apart from those on the road east of Bamboi, most settlements are difficult to find without a local guide.

Problems in interpreting Indigenous Knowledge

The experience of the author and other workers at the project is that making sense of local information is fraught with problems. It should be remembered that the locals view wildlife in a different way to the researcher or volunteer. They do not "observe" wildlife with academic, scientific or aesthetic interest, but rather view it as destroyers of crops and as a source of free food. Their view of the local wildlife is largely over the barrel of a gun.

Language and Local Names

The need for translations between different languages can obviously cause problems. As Schoutsen says:

"...due to the necessity for translations from Deg into English or Ewe into English and v.v. some essential information can get 'lost'." [Schoutsen 97]

The language confusions are not caused solely by translator problems. As noted in the section Local Language Names for Primate Species above there are ambiguities in some of the names and some locals seem to have their own names for certain species.

Furthermore different locals seem to use different names for the same species and same names for different species. Note the case of the information obtained from Chiapuaoolo, Kwantakura, Dogudemon and Budikura, an isolated group of small farmsteads, each a few hundred metres from each other, where separate informants each insisted that they had seen Kalankuli (Red Colobus) raiding crops in their fields. As the Red Colobus is an arboreal creature and intolerant of human presence, this is extremely unlikely. On the other hand the Red Patas monkey is a savanna dweller and regularly raids yam and corn fields. The most plausible explanation therefore is that in this particular, small, area the common name for Red Colobus is used to refer to Red Patas.

Descriptions and Colour Indications

How a local describes an animal may be quite different from how a researcher would describe the same species and can lead to incorrect identifications. As Schoutsen says:

"(essential) colour indications are some times causing confusion." [Schoutsen 97].

Talking about the Green monkey, Schoutsen says in the same report:

"Some native people describe the species as 'white face monkey' while others call it 'black face monkey'."

and in her concluding remarks Schoutsen comments:

" should be taken into account that because of the colour indications given by the native people, confusion has been brought to the actual number of spotted black and white colobus monkeys. The colour indications of the green monkey given by some of the rowers is black and white as well....observations could have been filed wrongly..."

Comments from the project's Field Survey Forms '97 report that even Kofi Amoah, the project's guide, has identified monkeys agreed by the research scientists to be Green monkeys as Spot Nosed monkeys or as Black and White Colobus.

Time and Distance

Another problem with communication relates to the concepts of time and distance. "Near" can mean a day's travel away and "far" can mean a few hundred metres. Even the more educated people seem to have been confused by the change from miles to kilometres in the '80s, so 10 km often means 10 miles and vice versa. The more innumerate majority have considerably less idea of how far a mile or kilometre is.

Time is even more vague. We were often assured that monkeys were around and had been seen "recently", only to find, by reference to fixed events and seasons, that, for example, "a few weeks ago" could mean over a year ago. In one case an informant was talking about seeing "black and white" monkeys last year, but when questioned further replied "yes, last year just before the Bamboi bridge was built". The Bamboi bridge was built in 1980!

Another informant, met in Bamboi, who claimed to be a police inspector and a good hunter, was laughing at the research team's inability to find monkeys. He was obviously a good observer for he gave very accurate descriptions, in good English, of the appearance, habitat types, and diets of several species, including Black-and-White Colobus. He told of locales where these and other monkeys could "easily" be found and repeatedly assured the author that they were there "now". It was only when he started describing troops of chimpanzees driving off intruding lions with sticks that the author became really skeptical. It was found out afterwards from other locals that he had indeed been a police inspector and was once a very skilled hunter, but that he had been posted to other parts of Ghana for the last 40 years and had only just returned to retire in Bamboi, his home town!

Local Beliefs

Local beliefs can cloud the objectiveness of indigenous knowledge. This can be illustrated by some of the local information given about the mysterious "big black monkey".

Kofi Amoah, the project's full time guide, in a personal comment to the author, said that in groups of these monkeys the smallest is the leader as he is "protected by a god".

Schoutsen recounts that these monkeys have been reported by locals to "...have kidnapped villagers and have tightened them up, with a piece of rope between two trees." and to "...have had sex with women. If a woman walks alone in the bush she risks to be kidnapped by a big monkey who will rape her." [Schoutsen, 96].

While it may be believed that women may have had scary experiences that they interpreted as attempts at rape, the first story is clearly ridiculous to anybody with even basic knowledge of primate behaviour and capabilities.

Outright Contradictions

Sometimes, the variety of information and contradictions given by locals can be impossible to interpret. Note the example of Zimpenwe and Kalifakura, two farmsteads just 100 metres apart, where the author was assured at the first that there were no monkeys at all in the area and then told at the second that there were plenty of (Green) monkeys around the locale.

Or, more disturbing, the case of Chibrinya where the same hunter gave two quite different descriptions of "gorillas" during two visits a couple of weeks apart -- and prompted an argument amongst other local hunters present who gave yet different descriptions.

Indigenous Knowledge seems not only to depend upon who you ask but when you ask them!

Summary of Indigenous Knowledge Survey Results

Given the problems described above it is obvious that the information gathered in the survey cannot be taken totally at face value. It is necessary to combine indigenous knowledge with scientific experience to filter out the more obvious inaccuracies. Doing so, the following summary can be reasonably made:

One thing that became clear in interviews with elder informants is that there used to be a lot more wildlife in the area, but that it has gradually disappeared over the last two or three generations. This seems to be especially true of monkeys which, the author was repeatedly told, have "moved away" as the area has become more populated. In particular village elders often described Black and White Colobus and Chimpanzees as being frequently sighted during their youth. Lions, smaller cats, wild dogs, hippos, crocodiles and, occasionally, elephants were all mentioned as being present within living memory, but gone now and for many years.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Given the experience of the author and other scientists and volunteers at the project, it would be easy to conclude that the Indigenous Knowledge gathered from locals of wildlife in the North Mo Traditional Area is worthless. Indeed it would be fair to say that one can get any information one wants just by asking enough people; that much information is confusing and contradictory; that a lot of information is clearly incorrect or unbelievable; that the local people are not good observers of the wildlife in their area; that locals are unable to give accurate descriptions; that there are too many communication problems, both with language and concepts such as time and distance; and that local superstitions and myths confuse many reports.

However, clearly not all indigenous knowledge is wrong. There is obviously value in local knowledge, however sorting out the good from the bad is extremely problematical and knowing what to recommend is difficult.

The obvious approach is to try and find reliable and truly knowledgeable informants. However, this is easier said than done. Firstly, there often isn't a lot of choice in any given area, secondly it is difficult to test the informant, and thirdly there are socio-cultural problems in choosing anybody other than a settlement's leader or chief hunter without causing offense.

Possibly the project could hire several guides from an area on a part-time basis, maybe rotating between them hiring one for each day of the week, and then choose amongst them depending upon results.

Clearly becoming familiar with the local languages would be a great advantage, however it is totally unrealistic to expect ecovolunteers staying for only two or three months to attain sufficient fluency in two completely alien languages to prevent communication problems. It would help enormously if the project could hire a good local translator.

Problems with language, local names, descriptions, and colour indications could be greatly reduced if the project acquired some good field identification guides that included several photographs of members of each species, including photographs of the different sexes if the species exhibits significant sexual dimorphism, and at different ages if the infants and juveniles differ noticeably from the adults.

The problems with information about distances are more difficult to deal with. The author found that when discussing distances much more reliable results were obtained when talking in terms of time taken to walk or bicycle than when talking in international linear measures, like kilometres or miles. This is not to say that time measures were especially accurate, a one hour walk/ride might turn out to be 30 minutes or 90 minutes. However, linear measures often proved to be wildly inaccurate, frequently by an order of magnitude.

References to local landmarks can help in determining distances and directions, however this requires knowledge of the area, which largely looks all the same to short term visitors. A good guide with extensive local knowledge would, of course, be a great help for determining distances and directions.

The concepts of time are also difficult to deal with. The locals live largely a timeless life, living the same existence day in day out, year in year out. References to fixed events can help determine when a sighting occurred, however there haven't been many Bamboi bridges built! Very recent sightings can be referenced against local market days. Less recent sightings can be referenced against seasons. In some cases religious events can be used as a reference, however it should be ensured that the informant really knows when Christmas or Ramadan are, and is not of a different religion.

Finally, it is clear that even with the most rigorous information gathering methods, indigenous knowledge can not be relied on unconditionally. In the end there can be no substitute for testing the data by filtering local reports with scientific knowledge to screen out the least likely information, and then conducting extensive field surveys, being prepared for the inevitable disappointments.

Indigenous knowledge must be coupled with scientific experience and field research.


Schoutsen, Maureen A. Primates Survey, North Mo Traditional Area, Ghana, Northern Region, June, July, August '96. 13 pages

Schoutsen, Maureen A. Primates Survey, North Mo Traditional Area, Compiled Field Research Results, March till September '97. 5 pages

Field Survey Forms -- 1997
These forms are the "raw data" from which Schoutsen compiled her 1997 report. They were filled out by the researchers and ecovolunteers at the time of, or soon after, each primate sighting.

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