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Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter

A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana

Sandra E. Greene

Publication Year: 2002

"Greene gives the reader a vivid sense of the Anlo encounter with western thought and Christian beliefs... and the resulting erasures, transferences, adaptations, and alterations in their perceptions of place, space, and the body."
-- Emmanuel Akyeampong

Sandra E. Greene reconstructs a vivid and convincing portrait of the human and physical environment of the 19th-century Anlo-Ewe people of Ghana and brings history and memory into contemporary context. Drawing on her extensive fieldwork, early European accounts, and missionary archives and publications, Greene shows how ideas from outside forced sacred and spiritual meanings associated with particular bodies of water, burial sites, sacred towns, and the human body itself to change in favor of more scientific and regulatory views. Anlo responses to these colonial ideas involved considerable resistance, and, over time, the Anlo began to attribute selective, varied, and often contradictory meanings to the body and the spaces they inhabited. Despite these multiple meanings, Greene shows that the Anlo were successful in forging a consensus on how to manage their identity, environment, and community.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Research for this study was conducted in 1996, but its foundation was laid some twenty-two years earlier, in 1974. In that year I attended the funeral of a University of Ghana student who was from Anlo and a fellow resident of Mensah-Sarbah Hall. Like many of the other students who boarded buses for the 2-hour bus trip to the deceased student’s home town, I had never been to the Anlo area. So I went as much...

A Note on Ewe Orthography

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pp. xiii

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A History Outlined

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pp. xv-xix

As a study that focuses on the individual histories of particular sacred sites, this text does not attempt to document chapter after chapter an unfolding story of linear change. Yet such a chronological approach can reveal much about the factors that have shaped Anlo understandings of their landscape. To facilitate this understanding, to provide a sense of the ongoing dialogues that have occurred within Anlo and between Anlo citizens and the missionaries and British colonial officers...

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Introduction: Managing the Modern

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pp. 1-13

The period between the 1850s and the 1950s marked a profoundly important period for the polity of Anlo (located in what is now the southeastern corner of Ghana in West Africa). During those roughly 100 years, the Ewe-speaking peoples of Anlo encountered the evangelical zeal of German Pietist missionaries determined to spread their religion. They also had to cope with the political, economic, and cultural consequences of their incorporation into the British Empire. Both encounters, separately...

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1 Notsie Narratives

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pp. 14-34

The town of Notsie (located in south-central Togo) evokes quite specific memories among the Anlo and other Ewe-speaking peoples of southern Ghana and Togo. To most, the town is remembered as the common home of their Ewe ancestors, a place where a king ruled with tyrannical power, a location where this tyranny led to the great dispersal of Ewe-speakers throughout what is now southeastern...

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2 Of Water and Spirits

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pp. 35-60

To enter the central district of Anlo is to journey into a land of water, where lagoon and sea, pond and creek are ever present, where even the location of farms and fields exist as reminders of where waters once stood. All that separates the littoral residents from the Atlantic Ocean and the inland Keta Lagoon is a narrow sandbar (not more than a mile...

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3 Placing and Spacing the Dead

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pp. 61-82

Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, Anlo perceptions of their built environment1 were based on the notion that their homes, the physical layout of their villages and towns, and the placing and spacing of the dead served many purposes and had multiple meanings. Houses provided shelter and comfort and symbolized one’s social status. But they also constituted one...

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4 Belief and the Body

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pp. 83-108

In previous chapters, the sacred sites examined have all been geographical locations, those places and spaces that the Anlo once—and in some cases still do—imbue with spiritual significance. But what of the human body? Did the Anlo think of this site as sacred as well? It would seem so, given the fact that in the last chapter we saw that nineteenth-century Anlos conceptualized...

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5 Contested Terrain

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pp. 109-131

Over the last 100 years, the Anlo have invented and displaced, retained and forgotten, abridged and amended the many meanings and memories they once associated with a number of sacred sites. All this began in the precolonial period but accelerated tremendously with the advent of colonial rule and missionary influence. By the early nineteenth century...

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Conclusion: Explaining Cultural Adaptation and Epistemological Abandonment

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pp. 132-137

In 1985, David William Cohen challenged historians of Africa to do more than chart the history of Africa in terms of its responses to large world processes. They should also concentrate at least equally on exploring those intimate areas of social life within African communities that shifted and changed in response to local forces, changes which then intersected with the large structural forces to create social histories particular...


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pp. 139-173


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pp. 175-190


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pp. 191-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108890
E-ISBN-10: 0253108896
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340733

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 6 maps, 1 index
Publication Year: 2002