The contemporary construction of the past is crucial for the successful vindication of political rights in Africa. Often, however, more than a single past proves potentially valid as a claim to land and office. When arguments of the past, furthermore, intertwine with competing projections of legitimate forms of land control, complex combinations of claims emerge. The ubiquity of ‘the past’ in African politics and the increasing competition over space suggest that the naturalness with which some refer to the past and others conceive of space should be under constant scrutiny. Based on work in northern Ghana, the article argues that the contemporary construction of the past, as either tradition or history, and the competing projections of land control, as either property or political territory, interdigitate in complex ways. This affords certain rhetorical or discursive combinations that competing social elite groups instrumentalize. Each group sees its interests best served by a particular reading of the past and a particular conception of space.