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

Winds and Wakayarum

From bellowing gusts to thin wafts of air, people across cultures implicate the wind for causing illness and misfortune. Avoid drafts American grandmothers advise. In Ethiopia, the wind induces joint and bone pain. Vigilant Nankani mothers in Ghana cover infants (particularly their faces) and sequester newborns inside. They need protection from dubious winds. Some cultures… Continue reading Winds and Wakayarum

Parenting, Love, Loss

First thing Monday morning Joe intercepted me. He exclaimed I had to visit an infant he saw over the weekend. “What’s happening?” I asked. “A child,” he replied. “It’s not good, I can’t explain it. You just have to see it.” I didn’t press him. We hurried to a small village next to Sirigu. Word… Continue reading Parenting, Love, Loss

The Gender of Place

“Give me back my notebooks,” I yelled. Akayuti snatched them from my hand as I exited her room into the courtyard of the family compound. The women of the house materialized and encircled us as if watching a street-fight. The men gathered but kept their distance, backing against the meter-high wall marking the inner section… Continue reading The Gender of Place

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)

A Stolen Stone and 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 A Stolen Stone and the Origins of Inequality

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

On Personhood and its Subjunctivity

This post reflects on tentative and malleable forms of personhood--a construct we often consider to be given and fixed throughout life. This is an enhanced version of material originally appearing in Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana. [1,300 words] Elijah and I sat chatting with three elder men outside a compound. Earlier we… Continue reading On Personhood and its Subjunctivity