Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Bragoro: A Disappearing Puberty Rite of the Akan of Ghana

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

Bragoro: A Disappearing Puberty Rite of the Akan of Ghana

Article excerpt


In June 2013, a traditional ruler in an Akan community advocated the reintroduction of the 'bragoro' puberty rite to help reduce HIV infections among the youth.1 In his view, the focus of Ghana's strategic plan of reducing new HIV infections by 50% at the end of 2015 will be a mirage if pragmatic measures are not put in place to help the youth to abstain from pre-marital sex and multiple sex partners.

This is not the first time a chief2 has made such a call. In 2003 when I did fieldwork on HIV/AIDS in Ghana similar calls had come from other chiefs to help curb the epidemic, which was causing many AIDS-related deaths. Such calls also reflect the view that there is a general breakdown of traditional structures about sexuality in Akan society, which is dangerous in regards to vulnerability to HIV (Anarfi, 1993). Certain cultural values that used to restrict people's (sexual) behaviour have been abandoned and lost or are losing their effectiveness. Bragoro is one such rite that is seen as completely faded away in Akan society.

Anthropologists, sociologists and other scholars on indigenous cultures have projected that the evolving super-culture of the post-modern world would displace small and weak cultures along with their languages, as shown in a recent volume edited by Devy, Davis, and Chakravarty (2013). Super-culture is the culture, beliefs and way of life in the post-modern world, especially in the highly developed and advanced countries, and as it develops and spreads it tends to displace or replace small and weak cultures. The voyages of discovery, slavery, trade, colonisation, education, language and commerce have been drivers of super-culture in the past and continue to do so today (Therson-Cofie, 2014).

Most African cultures have customarily exercised strict control over its members, especially women and girls, in a wide range of cultural practices aimed as a mechanism to keep order in the society. The call for the reintroduction of bragoro is at once cultural and political. Chiefs and their female counterparts (queen-mothers) as well as others in Akan society play a key role in ensuring sanity in society, which also concerns Akan social structure and cosmologies. The social structure, encompassing the totality of social institutions and statuses, rights, duties, and norms expresses how a society organises its way of life and has been an important analytical tool in anthropological (ethnographic) studies. In a review of Victor Turner's works from the 1950s to the late 1960s, Douglas (1970, p. 303) emphasized that any understanding of an action such as a rite in a society requires a detailed analysis of the social structure. For her, Turner convincingly demonstrated how cultural categories sustain a given social structure. Turner has indeed been a major contributor in the use of structural analysis to show the nature of a group through the rites they perform (in his case, the matrilineal Ndembu of Zambia) (Turner, 1996, 1969, 1967). He points out that social structure models have been extremely helpful in clarifying many dark areas of culture and society (Turner, 1969, p. 131).

Through their social structure, the Akan people construct a certain portrait of themselves and their society, of how things were in the past and the helplessness today due to HIV risks because of what is seen as moral decadence among the youth. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected region in the global HIV epidemic. A United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) report in 2011estimated that 23.5 million people who were living with HIV were resident in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 69% of the global HIV burden. The rate of HIV in women is reported to be higher than in men of the same age group (UNAIDS, 2012). Ghana's prevalence rate is about 1.4%, with 260,000 people living with HIV, 140,000 of whom being women. And new infections continue to occur. This situation is generally seen as the result of laxity in sexual lifestyles; such cultural notions as the unquestioned norms (amamer? …

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