9. Well-Being, Strength, and Health in Anlo Worlds
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chapter 9 Well-Being, Strength, and Health in Anlo Worlds I suggested in chapter 7 that well-being in many Anlo-speaking contexts is dependent on something that Thompson (1966) refers to as “an aesthetic of the cool.” He argues that this principle of a cool, even-tempered stance is not only an important facet of Yoruba art, music, and dance, but it is “comparable to Cartesian philosophy in point of influence and importance” throughout West Africa (Thompson 1966:86). In the last chapter I took this focus on the “mediating principle in cool water” further with a reinterpretation of the local meaning of vodu. I showed how an ancient philosophy of vodu emphasizes the process of obtaining personal strength through “resting to draw the water,” or meditating on the critical and sensual role that water plays in everyday life and health. What I have described for a vodu metaphysics in Anlo contexts parallels Thompson’s point that the Yoruba “posit water, certain leaves, and other items as symbols of the coolness that transcends disorder and without which community is impossible ” (1966:86). Toward that end, in chapter 7 we explored the balancing of heated and cool dancing at a local ritual in SrOgboe, which was aimed at restoring the community’s health and equilibrium. An “aesthetic of the cool” can also be seen in certain child-rearing practices . Chapter 5 touched on the importance of aurality in a child’s enculturation and described how “listening well” involved minding one’s parents . Disobedience and obstinate behavior was sometimes dealt with (especially by older people) through “ear pulling” (tohehe), which symbolized the importance of the ear and the emphasis on listening well in the 201 process of becoming a moral person. In this vein, parents talked to me about teaching their children to hear certain things and let them pass right through the body, to remain cool and keep a collectedness of mind. To maintain stability and not become ill, it was important for children to learn a kind of maintenance or regulation of seselelame (hearing, feeling in the body) such that imbalances and overstimulation did not lead to impulsive and excessive behavior. This chapter examines how well-being is integrally bound up with sensory experience and sensory engagements. I develop the ideas introduced in the last chapter by directly addressing various kinds of illnesses and afflictions , including the loss of certain sense modalities, in an effort to examine links between a sensorium and theories of disease. Here I am suggesting that recognition of the social basis of health and healing compels us to take account of variations in sensoriums because certain illness states may involve grounding in a sensory order different from the orthodox sensory order of a cultural group.1 For instance, hearing things that those around you do not or cannot hear or seeing things that others deem invisible or nonexistent are symptomatic of insanity and losing one’s grounding in reality , or at least indicate adherence to an alternate reality. In Anlo-Ewe speaking contexts, the notion of se or sese (as in seselelame) not only is the closest idea we have to the English term for sensing but also refers in their world to the ideas of obedience and adherence, which I suggest illustrates the way in which sensing grounds a person in the “intentional world(s)” shared with others. Conditions of insanity were expressed by many Anlo speakers as equivalent to the loss of all one’s senses, and, conversely, sensing (as those around you sense and perceive things) forms a strong basis for the actual maintenance of sanity and adherence to what people think of as material reality. So I begin this chapter by laying out some general information about illness concepts but then move to an example of a specific affliction that involves the “sense of speech” (nufofo) and feelings in the mouth (sesetonume). This leads to further discussion of the somatic and sensory mode of attention that involves an “aesthetic of the cool,” or keeping balanced and calm in an effort to prevent sickness. on dOtsoaFe and gbOgbOmedO: “natural” and “supernatural” types of disease When an individual became ill, it was usually referred to in Anlo-Ewe as “catching” or “seizing” sickness (dOlele). Broadly speaking, there were two 202 Well-Being, Strength, and Health in Anlo Worlds different categories of disease, described as “dOtsoafe or sickness of natural causation and gbOgbOmedO or sickness of [a] supernatural” cause (Fiawoo...


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