Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part Two: Polygamy)

“Why would a man have more than one wife?” I asked Ayanobasiya. “What? Do you want a war!” she replied. “I am not a man. You need to ask a man why.” “Your father even married six women,” I said. “What good is in it? I want your perspective.” Beyond the assumed sexual reasons, a… Continue reading Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part Two: Polygamy)

Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part One)

Ayanobasiya was always ready to talk about heavy subjects.  “Can you describe what the next world is like when we die?” I asked unexpectedly. “What is the afterlife like?” She laughed. “Who do you think I am? I am not a koko (a witch returned from the dead). I have not died before!” Ayanobasiya looked… Continue reading Conversations with Ayanobasiya (Part One)

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… Continue reading The Origins of Inequality

Against the Slavers: An Account of Resistance

In an earlier essay, I described how some Nankani families exchanged their children for food during times of need. This essay offers a perspective on how the Nankani experienced and resisted slave raids. “The Ashanti were coming here for us,” said Asingya, an elder that gave me Nankani history lessons. He was describing slavery and… Continue reading Against the Slavers: An Account of Resistance

Of House or Bush: The Cultural Psychodynamics of Infanticide in Northern Ghana

My latest article was accepted for publication in Current Anthropology. It has been a long ten years in the making. Infanticide, Oedipus, projection, family conflict, scapegoats, and narcissistic injury--all the makings of a good drama. I'll be posting a link to it after some final edits. For now, the abstract (summing up the 12,000 word behemoth) and… Continue reading Of House or Bush: The Cultural Psychodynamics of Infanticide in Northern Ghana

Talking About the Weather

A brief reflection on the value of researching the mundane. [1,000 words] The adage that advises, if there is nothing else to talk about, to talk about the weather applied in Northern Ghana, where discussions about the weather and the seasons (wet & humid and hot & dry) resulted in interesting conversations and good ethnographic… Continue reading Talking About the Weather

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… Continue reading The Koko: Truth, Reality, and a Chimera

A Brief Note: Bourdain and Anthropology

I rarely react to celebrity deaths. And I avoid the social media detritus strewn in their wake. I don’t identify with the famous. Perhaps what makes my sentiments around Bourdain’s passing different is that he was one of ours. We won’t admit it, but despite some quirks, many anthropologists envied him. His fieldwork. His voice.… Continue reading A Brief Note: Bourdain and Anthropology

On Personhood and its Subjunctivity

Elijah and I sat chatting with three elder men outside a compound. Earlier we were discussing spirits, but the postlunch conversation soon switched to more mundane topics. There was a brief lull in the conversation before Akolbire declared, to our astonishment, “I am a spirit child."[i] “What are you talking about? You shouldn’t be revealing… Continue reading On Personhood and its Subjunctivity

A Brief Reflection on Learning and Doing Ethnography

I'm not big on business clichés and recycled quotes. However, I found an interesting statement by someone describing Bruce Lee's method. It's pointless in isolation, but when I applied it to thinking about ethnography, it made me consider the value of learning and doing "classic" ethnography (immersion and long-term participant observation). Doing so is a luxury.… Continue reading A Brief Reflection on Learning and Doing Ethnography