Contesting Identities: Historical Trauma, Loss, and Cultural Authenticity

“Where do the Coeur d’Alene people come from?” asked Richard. Richard, the Coeur d’Alene Nation's cultural resource manager, was interviewing me about my research proposal. It was 2001, and I was beginning an ethnographic project with a Coeur d’Alene family on intergenerational relations and identity. I was new to anthropology. Intimidated. I wondered why he …

Continue reading Contesting Identities: Historical Trauma, Loss, and Cultural Authenticity

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)

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 [1600 words]. “The Ashanti were coming here for us,” said Asingya, an elder that gave me Nankani history lessons. He was describing …

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

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 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

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 …

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

Rituals for Suspicion, Rituals for Fate

This piece moves further into how culture shapes our our interpersonal concerns. [2,900 words] 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. …

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

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 …

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