Between the Sea and the Lagoon: An Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana / Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community / Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana

By Lawrance, Benjamin | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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Between the Sea and the Lagoon: An Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana / Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community / Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana


Lawrance, Benjamin, Anthropological Quarterly


Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong. Between the Sea and the Lagoon: An Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana, c.1850 to Recent Times. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001. 256 pp.

Kathryn Linn Geurts. Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 293 pp.

Sandra Greene. Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana. Indiana University Press, 2002. 280 pp.

"We must have water, we are made of water, our bodies would perish without water."

This rich testimony from one of Kathryn Linn Geurts' informants demonstrates the life-giving force of water, the theme that binds three new works on the Anlo-Ewes of southeastern Ghana, in West Africa. From Sandra Greene comes an exploration of the role of sacred sites within the Anlo littoral, many of which are ponds, pools and impermanent lakes. From Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong's research based in the abandoned port city of Keta emerges a new environmental history of the lacustrine region immediately south of the world's largest man-made dam. And from Geurts, an extrapolation of culture and sensory perception grows from the observation of young girls practicing balancing and carrying water on their heads in a small village on the banks of the Volta River. Water was the very reason for the settlements in the first place - water shortages are a common theme in the displacement, resettlement, and difficulties encountered by Ewe communities throughout Eweland. Water-fetching is cultural performance and well-digging and restoration is emblematic of the march of modernity.

Greene's book on the Anlo region, her second, is about the management of sacred sites of power, and the shift in the structuration of traditional and non-traditional power in Anlo spanning the colonial period and the recent historical present. It builds on her earlier work on gender and ethnicity in the pre-colonial Anlo polity (1996), but broadens the analysis to incorporate cultural shifts that she loosely describes as indicative of modernity. Sacred sites are numerous and diverse in Anlo. They include lagoons and ponds, forests, groves, and cemeteries. This shift, rudely from interactions between people to inter-actions between bodies and space, is explained partly as a response to scholarly failure to account "for the range of cultural responses that emerged as a result of these encounters, a range that included minimalist appropriations of surface characteristics and more profound responses that involved the abandonment of whole ways of thinking about self and the world." (5)

Greene's chapters are thematic and a richly woven tapestry of oral narratives and colonial archival material sensitive to change over time which engage criticisms of her earlier work. Individually, they explore the myth, history, water, the body, and health. Collectively, they emphasize the notion that changing meanings associated with landscape features, especially in the context of the colonial cultural encounter, reflects both micro and macro episternological development in the way people come to understand themselves and their environment. On a more profound level, Greene's approach should appeal to the generalist as a critique of a very politicized Africanist project, the interrogation of resistance, ingenuity, agency, and creativity, focusing instead on the particular historical circumstances that foster the development of tolerance for the diverse cultural forms and beliefs operating within the same society, and the intra-communal tensions that often arise from this diversity. For the specialist it reads well as an historical compliment to Blier's (1995) work on contemporary Ewe-Fon art and spirituality and Rosenthal's (1998) exploration of performance and ritual among gorovodou adepts.

The ancient Ewe homeland of Notsie, Notse, or Nuatja (modern day Togo) and its relationship to colonial and post-colonial chiefly authority is the subject of Chapter One.

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Between the Sea and the Lagoon: An Eco-Social History of the Anlo of Southeastern Ghana / Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community / Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana
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