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BETWEEN THE UMBRELLA AND THE ELEPHANT: ELECTIONS, ETHNIC NEGOTIATIONS AND THE POLITICS OF SPIRIT POSSESSION IN TESHI, ACCRA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2011

Abstract

This article focuses on a number of Ga spirit mediums located in Teshi, a neighbourhood of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. These individuals host foreign spirits from areas north of Ga territory, such as the modern Ashanti, Gonja and Dagomba regions. Such encounters of cross-cultural spirit possession have often been analysed in the scholarly literature as an embedded history of contact between peoples. These histories of ethnic or cultural contact – which inform cross-cultural spirit possession – are constantly re-imagined by spirit mediums and the broader community they service. How this re-imagination occurs, in conjunction with developments in the contemporary political and public spheres, is a theme that remains understudied. The perceived shifts in the contours of ethnic alliances and rivalries on a national scale, against the backdrop of modern Ghanaian party politics and the ever-changing relationships between the Ga and their northern neighbours, led to a thematic reconfiguration of possession practices in 2004. This ethnographic vignette details how spirit mediums were able to apply the ethnic and conceptual cultural divisions intrinsic to this corpus of ritual practice to a critique of national political events, producing a commentary, through possession, on the changing discourses on ethnicity and ethnic relations in the Ghanaian state.

Résumé

Cet article s'intéresse à des médiums ga de Teshi, une banlieue de la capitale ghanéenne, Accra. Ces personnes reçoivent des esprits étrangers du nord du territoire ga, notamment des régions modernes Ashanti, Gonja et Dagomba. Ces cas de possession d'esprit interculturelle ont souvent été analysés dans la littérature savante comme une histoire enracinée de contact entre des peuples. Ces histoires de contact ethnique ou culturel (qui éclairent la possession d'esprit interculturelle) sont constamment réimaginées par les médiums et par la communauté qu'ils desservent. La façon dont cette réimagination survient, en conjonction avec l’évolution intervenue dans les sphères politique et publique contemporaines, est un thème qui reste négligé dans les études. Les changements perçus de contours d'alliances et de rivalités ethniques à l’échelle nationale, dans le contexte de la politique moderne des partis ghanéens et des relations en constante évolution entre les Ga et leurs voisins du Nord, ont conduit à une reconfiguration thématique des pratiques de possession en 2004. Ce croquis ethnographique décrit la manière dont les médiums ont su appliquer les divisions culturelles ethniques et conceptuelles intrinsèques à ce corpus de pratique rituelle à une critique d’événements politiques nationaux, en produisant un commentaire, à travers la possession, sur les discours changeants sur l'ethnicité et les relations ethniques au Ghana.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2011

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BETWEEN THE UMBRELLA AND THE ELEPHANT: ELECTIONS, ETHNIC NEGOTIATIONS AND THE POLITICS OF SPIRIT POSSESSION IN TESHI, ACCRA
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