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

Narrative Transformations: Reflections on Frey’s “Carry Forth the Stories”

My commentary on Rodney Frey's latest ethnography, Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer’s Journey into Native Oral Tradition, was reciently published. It was an honor to be able to review and comment on his book. Rodney was my first mentor and MA advisor. Much of what he taught, and what his mentors showed him, shaped who I… Continue reading Narrative Transformations: Reflections on Frey’s “Carry Forth the Stories”

On the “Reality” of Witchcraft

The following are some thoughts I shared with my Culture, Health, and Disease students on belief and reality.  “Why would anyone admit they are a sorcerer or a witch?” is a question that arises when I teach topics related to witchcraft, sorcery, and belief. This is a well-trod theme for anthropologists. However, it remains significant… Continue reading On the “Reality” of Witchcraft

White Maggi

“Cynthia,” I called across the courtyard. “Tell me about the White Maggi.” Cynthia was a cook and an expert at helping me figure out the obvious—although she never missed a chance to tease me for asking silly questions. She laughed and shook her head, “Oh, Mr. Aaron, you don’t want it. It’s bad! It will… Continue reading White Maggi

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. Outside his office one morning Joe was urgently awaiting my arrival. With a notebook and mobile phone in hand, he quickly jumped into my truck and directed me to pick up Ayisoba, a concoction man… Continue reading An Introduction to Spirit Children: The Case of N’ma

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… Continue reading Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

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,… Continue reading Spirit Children and Family Misfortune: The Case of Victor

The White Man is My Driver

In rural Northern Ghana if you own a vehicle you likely hold a powerful position or are successful. Using a personal driver is even more indicative of status. I was little prepared for what I would learn by having a truck and by “being a driver” during my first weeks in the field. While preparing… Continue reading The White Man is My Driver

An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Anthropology: Perspectives (2/2)

This is the second post (of two) on psychoanalytic anthropology. The previous post, which discussed background details, is located here. There is significant diversity in how anthropologists have engaged or adopted psychoanalytic methods and theory in their ethnographic research and writing.  To summarize these perspectives, I grouped these approaches into four categories.  While presented as… Continue reading An Introduction to Psychoanalytic Anthropology: Perspectives (2/2)