Winds and Wakayarum

From bellowing gusts to thin wafts of air, people across cultures implicate the wind for causing illness and misfortune. Avoid drafts American grandmothers advise. In Ethiopia, the wind induces joint and bone pain. Vigilant Nankani mothers in Ghana cover infants (particularly their faces) and sequester newborns inside. They need protection from dubious winds. Some cultures …

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A Stolen Stone and the Origins of Inequality

“Can you speak about the creation of the world?” I asked Asingiya, a Nankani elder from Sirigu, Ghana. I expected a story about spirits, the first people, or how a child emerged from the earth. Yet Asingiya offered a more astute account. “Aaron, is it true that as the day is breaking here, in America …

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The Koko: Truth, Reality, and a Chimera

“In my tradition,” Ayisoba said, “we pour a libation before things begin.” It was the start of the dry season and early in my fieldwork with several Nankani communities in Northern Ghana. This was my first formal interview with Ayisoba,* although we had chatted several times before. The savanna air was comfortable. Families’ granaries were …

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An Introduction to Spirit Children: The Case of N’ma

The following is an excerpt from the introduction of my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. The following ethnographic vignette introduces the spirit child phenomenon through the case of N’ma. [2,600 words] Outside his office one morning Joe was urgently awaiting my arrival. With a notebook and mobile phone in hand, he quickly …

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Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

I must have seemed unhinged. I was in the midst of an extended period of fieldwork and appearing irrational, anxious, and paranoid to outsiders. Julien, a visiting Swiss vaccine researcher, joked that I might "go bush" if I was not careful. I was not losing my mind. Nor was I "going native," a term describing …

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Spirit Children and Family Misfortune: The Case of Victor

The following is a second excerpt from my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. Within rural Northern Ghana, the Nankani people describe how disabled or ill children and those whose births coincide with tragic events are spirit children sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. Upon identification, …

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Risk, Hope, and Help-Seeking: The Case of Leah

The following is an excerpt from my recent book, Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. I present Leah and the challenges that her family had while caring for her. Experience-near, ethnographic accounts provide a much needed "human" and "lived" dimension to the oft-sterile health statistics and stereotypes that are used to inform …

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