8. Anlo Cosmology, the Senses, and Practices of Protection
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chapter 8 Anlo Cosmology, the Senses, and Practices of Protection Here I argue that the local sensorium affects the experience of health and illness and that when we approach their traditional religion as a system of the body, as a set of techniques for sensory manipulation, we better understand the ways in which they know things in and about the cosmos . I hope to demonstrate that definitions of personhood and engagement with other intentional persons are central to health and well-being and so directly tied to or based in a cultural group’s sensorium. In addition , certain illness states may involve grounding in a sensory order that is different than the orthodox sensory order of any given cultural group. To understand the implications of this in Anlo contexts, we must examine the way the nature of reality has been represented in Anlo cultural traditions. We turn now toward a more intense examination of how Anlo-speaking individuals situate themselves in relation to their family, community, society, the gods, and the cosmos. Among Anlo-Ewe people, well-being is not achieved within the confines of the individual, but is dependent upon the flow of energy, matter , substances, and information throughout many aspects of the individual ’s world. And it is precisely in these interchanges that “the senses” come into play, for such transactions are experienced and occur largely through sensory channels and sensory engagements. Like other peoples throughout the world, Anlo speakers hold very complex cultural models that guide their experiences of self and other (animal and human as well as divine) beings. These models present well169 being (in the form of coolness, stability, and balance) as transactions that occur between self and other. Selves, in fact, in West African contexts are very “porous”—to borrow an idea expressed by Achille Mbembe.1 He suggests that a West African porosity of the self can be understood in terms of an openness to influences; a person exists only in the sense that she is related to other (animal, human, and divine) beings. More specifically, in Ewe personhood, according to ethnographer Judy Rosenthal , we find a nonboundedness and a lack of the kind of unitary wholeness of being that is characteristic of certain Western psychologies of the self (Rosenthal 1998:174). She explains (1998:157–188) how this plural personhood or indeterminate selfhood exists in Ewe in part because numerous psychic components (such as life sign and ancestral soul) as well as social relationships are understood to be central to the arrangement of self. Her characterization of personhood also rings true for the Anlo contexts in which I worked, and here I go on to argue that to be a healthy person involves sharing common interpretations and understandings of what is real, perceivable, imagined, fantasized, and so forth. Not unlike the Gorovodu adepts in Rosenthal’s account of another set of Ewe people, the “intentional worlds” (Shweder 1991:73) of many Anlo mOfialawo with whom I worked included complex notions of that which was beyond the visible realm, about influences and forces sensed and “known” to those who had grown up in the area but that were beyond the reach of—and even “non-sensible” to—outsiders. This dimension of Anlo life constitutes a complex theological system that deserves far more attention than what I can accomplish here, as my focus is specifically on sensory experience and well-being.2 This discussion is limited , therefore, to three basic elements of their cosmology: an explanation of the structure or hierarchy of the cosmos, the role Nyigbla plays in the system, and a brief account of the phenomena of legba, vodu, and zoka. Beginning with Evans-Pritchard’s (1976[1937]) highly sympathetic account of Azande witchcraft and magic, traditional religion has been approached in a number of African settings as an intellectual system that makes sense on its own terms (e.g., Griaule 1965). In addition, cognitive approaches have drawn analogies between African theories of knowledge and Western scientific thinking (Horton 1967) as well as demonstrating the culturally relative semantic fields of notions such as knowledge and belief (Kopytoff 1981). Victor Turner’s work (e.g., 1967, 1968, 1974) emphasizing the social drama at play in Ndembu ritual took account of the psychological state of patients and healers in addition to highlighting the 170 Anlo Cosmology, the Senses, and Practices of Protection tension (antistructure) and resolution (communitas) in African religious practices. Recent studies have also emphasized...


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