'A Light-Hearted Bunch of Ladies': Gendered Power and Irreverent Piety in the Ghanaian Methodist Diaspora

By Fumanti, Mattia | Africa, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

'A Light-Hearted Bunch of Ladies': Gendered Power and Irreverent Piety in the Ghanaian Methodist Diaspora


Fumanti, Mattia, Africa


ABSTRACT

This article explores the making of gendered and religious identities among a group of Ghanaian Methodist women in London by bringing to the fore the complex and irreverent ways in which the women of Susanna Wesley Mission Auxiliary (SUWMA) negotiate their recognition within the predominantly patriarchal settings of the Methodist Church. If, on the one hand, the association and its members conform to Christian values and widely accepted Ghanaian constructions of womanhood, on the other hand, flouting expectations of pious femininity, they claim a unique, elevated position within the church. Their transgressive hedonism can thus be read as a performative assertion of their claims to respect, recognition and leadership beyond the narrow parameters of gendered modesty. Many of the women are senior church leaders and respected members of the diaspora. Ali are successful professional career women and economically independent. Their association is simultaneously about promoting the Christian faith while being recognized as successful, cosmopolitan, glamorous middle-class women. It is this duality which the present article highlights by showing how members of the association negotiate and construct their subjectivities both within the Methodist Church and the Ghanaian diaspora, while they also negotiate their relationship with the Methodist Church in Ghana.

RESUME

Cet article explore la construction de l'identite sexuee et religieuse au sein d'un groupe de femmes methodistes ghaneennes a Londres en mettant en avant la facon complexe et irreverencieuse dont les retomes de l'association Susanna Wesley Mission Auxiliary (SUWMA) negocient leur reconnaissance dans le cadre essentiellement patriarcal de l'Eglise methodiste. Si, d'un cote, l'association et ses membres se conforment aux valeurs chretiennes et aux constructions de la feminite largement acceptees au Ghana, d'un autre cote, faisant fi des attentes de fcminite pieuse, elles revendiquent une position elevee unique au sein de l'Eglise. On peut donc voir dans leur hedonisme transgressif une affirmation performative de leurs revendications au respect, a la reconnaissance et au leadership au-dela des parametres etroits de la modestie sexuelle. Beaucoup de ces retomes occupent de hautes fonctions dirigeantes au sein de l'Eglise et sont des membres respectes de la diaspora. Toutes ont reussi dans leur carriere professionnelle et sont economiquement independantes. L'enjeu de leur association est de promouvoir la foi chretienne tout en etant reconnues comme des femmes de classe moyenne seduisantes et cosmopolitaines qui ont reussi. C'est cette dualite que l'article met en lumiere en montrant comment les membres de l'association negocient et construisent leurs subjectivites tant au sein de l'Eglise methodiste que de la diaspora ghaneenne, tout en negociant leur relation avec l'Eglise methodiste au Ghana.

AUNTIE ABENA'S FUNERAL

At the final funerary rites (1) (ayie kesee) (2) for Auntie Abena held in North London, members of the Ghanaian diaspora in London came together to celebrate the life of this distinguished Ghanaian woman. One of the 'pioneers' in London's Ghanaian diaspora, Auntie Abena was a founder and active member of several ethnic, civic and religious associations. She was a woman held in high esteem by fellow Ghanaians for her contribution to Ghanaian associational life, her knowledge of Akan traditions and cultural values, and her standing within the Ghanaian Methodist Fellowship in London. Gathered in the large hall of a local school were members of Ghanaian associations and Methodist Christian fellowships, alongside members of Auntie Abena's abusua, her Ashanti matriclan. Mourners and groups were identified by their dresses and uniforms, as well as their associational banners, clearly displayed on their tables. I attended the funerary rites in the company of members of SUWMA, the Susanna Wesley Mission Auxiliary, who were there to pay tribute to their patron. …

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