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

Drinking the Water: Nankani Witchcraft and Ordeals

“Witches catch the soul of the person,” said Abanga. “They hide the soul somewhere and wait to see what the family members say, their reaction. If the victim is very hard, difficult, or strong, the witch will talk to other witches to get a better view of the family—to see what the family members are… Continue reading Drinking the Water: Nankani Witchcraft and Ordeals

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

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 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

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. 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

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