Academic journal article Africa

Grandparents and Grandchildren in Kwahu, Ghana: The Performance of Respect

Academic journal article Africa

Grandparents and Grandchildren in Kwahu, Ghana: The Performance of Respect

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This description of relations between grandparents and grandchildren in a rural Ghanaian community argues that the quality of these relations varies according to age and gender. Literature on African kinship has almost entirely focused on very young grandchildren. This article draws attention to changes that occur when those children grow into adolescents and adults. Grandchildren--both young and old--speak respectfully about their grandparents, but older people regret that their grandchildren do not come to them for advice once they have grown up. Older men seem more 'neglected' by their grandchildren than older women. The second argument is about performance: respect, affection and relatedness between grandparents and grandchildren are demonstrated in public even when their 'contents' have dwindled. The article is based on anthropological fieldwork over a period of almost ten years.

RESUME

Cette description des relations entre grands-parents et petits-enfants dans une communante rurale ghaneenne montre que la qualite de ces relations varie selon l'age et le sexe. La litterature consacree a la parente africaine s'est presque exclusivement interessee aux petits-enfants en bas fige. Cet article attire l'attention sur les changements qui surviennent lorsque ces enfants deviennent adolescents et adultes. Les petits-enfants, jeunes et vieux, parlent respectueusement de leurs grands-parents, mais les personnes agees regrettent que leurs petits-enfants, une fois adultes, ne viennent plus leur demander conseil. Les hommes ages semblent plus <> par leurs petits-enfants que les femmes agees. Le second argument concerne la conduite : respect, affection et parente entre grands-parents et petits-enfants se manifestent en public meme lorsque leur <> s'est reduit. L'article repose sur des etudes anthropologiques de terrain qui se sont deroulees sur une periode de pros de dix ans.

'Unlucky the house that does not have an old person living in it.'

INTRODUCTION

This description of relations between grandparents and grandchildren in a Ghanaian community argues that the quality of these relations varies according to age and gender. Literature on African kinship has almost entirely focused on very young grandchildren. This article draws attention to changes that occur when those children grow into adolescents and adults. The second argument is about performance: kinship and relatedness need to be demonstrated in public even when their 'content' has dwindled.

Several young people quoted the proverb used as an epigraph for this article, when I asked them about their views on older people. Their answer confirmed an established truth that an old person is wise and can guide the relatives in the house. I raised the question during research on social and cultural aspects of growing old in Kwahu-Tafo, a rural town in southern Ghana.

Fieldwork

The fieldwork mainly consisted of conversations with about thirty-five older people and their relatives or household members. Some of these conversations were lengthy, others short and casual. I met frequently with some older people, with others only a few times. All conversations, except the very casual ones, were taped, transcribed and translated into English. Only a few were conducted in English. Additional insights were acquired through participant observation, short visits and discussions with young people about the old. Finally, I conducted some research in various schools in Kwahu-Tafo and its surrounding towns involving questionnaires, incomplete sentence tests and drawings of an older person.

The town of Kwahu-Tafo

Kwahu-Tafo is situated in the Eastern Region and has over 5,000 inhabitants. It is a town like many others in the area, though slightly more impoverished and dilapidated. Its inhabitants as in all Kwahu towns are mobile. They love trading, that is, buying things in one place and retailing them in another, and can be found over the whole country. …

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