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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Northern Gothic: Witches, Ghosts and Werewolves in the Savanna Hinterlands of the Gold Coast, 1900s-1950s
Author:Parker, John
Periodical:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Geographic term:Ghana
ethnic relations
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Religion and Witchcraft
History and Exploration
Abstract:This article examines witchcraft, shape-shifting and other supernatural beliefs among the Talensi and neighbouring Gur-speaking peoples on the frontier of the Northern Territories Protectorate of the Gold Coast (Ghana) in the first half of the twentieth century. Its starting point is the succession of religious movements dedicated to the eradication of witchcraft that swept through the southern forest region of the Gold Coast in the interwar period. Most of these movements were animated by exotic deities originating in the savanna zone, a cross-cultural passage in part propelled by the ambivalence with which the Akan peoples of the forests viewed the so-called Gurunsi of the remote north. While the 'Gurunsi' were generally regarded as primitive barbarians, they were also seen to have an intimate relationship with the spiritual realm and therefore to be free from the ravages of malevolent witchcraft. This intimacy with dangerous spiritual forces was most clearly manifested in the widely reported ability of 'the grassland people' to transmogrify into animals. Evidence suggests, however, that far from being free from witchcraft, stateless savanna societies had their own problems with malevolent occult powers. Moreover, their reputation for shape-shifting was not simply a lurid, fantastic stereotype of northern brutishness on the part of the Akan. Animal metamorphosis - and especially the ubiquity of were-hyenas - was widely reported in the northern savanna, where it was imbricated with 'witchcraft' and with notions of personhood and collective identities. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]