1st Edition

Architecture, Islam, and Identity in West Africa
Lessons from Larabanga

ISBN 9781138192461
Published May 16, 2016 by Routledge
230 Pages 61 B/W Illustrations

USD $62.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Architecture, Islam, and Identity in West Africa shows you the relationship between architecture and Islamic identity in West Africa. The book looks broadly across Muslim West Africa and takes an in-depth study of the village of Larabanga, a small Muslim community in Northern Ghana, to help you see how the built environment encodes cultural history through form, material, and space, creating an architectural narrative that outlines the contours of this distinctive Muslim identity. Apotsos explores how modern technology, heritage, and tourism have increasingly affected the contemporary architectural character of this community, revealing the village’s current state of social, cultural, and spiritual flux. More than 60 black and white images illustrate how architectural components within this setting express the distinctive narratives, value systems, and realities that make up the unique composition of this Afro-Islamic community.

Table of Contents

Dedication.  Acknowledgments.  Preface.  Foreword Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz  Introduction: Learning from Larabanga  1. Locating Larabanga: Architecture and Contemporary Islamic Identity in West Africa  2. The Road to Larabanga: A Short History of Afro-Islamic Architecture  3. Mallams, Mosques, and Mystic Stones: The Story of Larabanga  4. Building Across Borders: Larabanga in Transition  5. Conclusion: Lessons from Larabanga: The Future of Islam and the Built Environment in West Africa  List of Figures.  Image Credits.  Bibliography.  Index

View More



Michelle Apotsos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at Williams College, Massachusetts, USA, where she specializes in African architecture and the arts of the Afro-Islamic world. Her research focuses on the intersections between Afro-Islamic identity, architecture, and modernization as they are occurring in contemporary Africa. She received her PhD from Stanford University, USA, in 2013.


"This book is the most recent monograph written in the anthropologically inspired tradition established in some of the first postindependence histories of African architecture by Western scholars including Labelle Prussin and Suzanne Preston Blier ... Apotsos posits her nuanced and detailed analysis as a methodological and historiographic model for studying the Islamic architectures of West Africa ... She has produced a compelling and innovative account that has much to offer both specialist and nonspecialist readers and significantly enhances the field of Africanist architectural history." - Itohan Osayimwese, Brown University, USA, College Art Association Reviews

"Apotsos gives us a rich and nuanced story of one northern Ghanaian community’s Islamic architecture and the dynamic relationships between its built environment and local Islamic practices and cultural identities. While these relationships are located within the long history of Islam in West Africa they are equally responsive to new building technologies, to post-colonial national heritage practices, and to a growing international tourism." - Mary Jo Arnoldi, Curator of African ethnology and arts, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA

"A detailed and nuanced study of the built environment of a small rural community in northern Ghana, set within a broad discussion of the history of architecture in Muslim societies in West Africa and beyond. Apotsos successfully demonstrates how the ever-changing meanings people ascribe to historic structures contribute to shaping the identities of individuals, communities, and nations. A must-read for anyone interested in the visual cultures of Islam in Africa." - Raymond A. Silverman, History of Art and Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, USA

"The book is grounded on the premise that 'In the context of Larabanga and other regional communities, built form acts as a narrative vehicle capable of displaying history not as a singular monolithic account, but as a series of stories made manifest within the architectural folds of structure, creating a candid portrayal of history as it is continuously deconstructed, altered, reassembled, and developed in meaningful, deliberate ways' " - Nnamdi Elleh, Associate Professor of Architecture History and Theory, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA