The Social Lives of Tree Spirits: A Propinquity

“We’ve learned a little about a few of them, in isolation. But nothing is less isolated or more social than a tree.”― Richard Powers, The Overstory “Space, outside ourselves, invades and ravishes things:If you want to achieve the existence of a tree,Invest it with inner space, this spaceThat has its being in you.”―Rainer Maria Rilke… Continue reading The Social Lives of Tree Spirits: A Propinquity

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

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

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

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

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