- Life, Love and Death: conversations with six elders in Kwahu-Tafo, Ghana
In Twi an elder is called panyin. This honorary title refers to somebody who 'has grown' not only in years, but also through the accumulation of experience and wisdom. Ideally an panyin, someone no longer working and travelling, stays at home, looks after the welfare of his/her family, mediates in conflicts, and advises younger generations. In this beautiful booklet Patrick Atuobi, Anthony Obeng Boamah and Sjaak van der Geest present fragments of conversations they conducted with six elders in southern Ghana from 1994 to 2000. These elders, four men and two women, all born early in the twentieth century, had worked as (cocoa) farmers, traders, clerks, storekeepers and palace attendants. Although the editors acknowledge that the lives of elders in Kwawu-Tafo were not as 'rosy' as the idealized notion of panyin implies, the collection highlights 'the beauty of old age' by selecting the 'most touching pronouncements' (p. 2) on a series of issues. Themes include growing old, wisdom and experience, blessing and cursing, respect and reciprocity, money and poverty, love and friendship, building a house, death and funerals. The reader gains a better understanding of the experience of old age, including an unusually frank discussion of male and female sexuality. There are hints on the ambivalence of elderhood: 'I know many proverbs, but [young] people do not [End Page 315] come to learn them' (p. 24). The shortcoming of this elegant meditation on growing old is its slimness. Because the editors did not include their questions, it is not always clear what triggered the elders' elaborations. Aside from the two-page introduction, I would have welcomed more historical context and interpretation. I wanted to hear more about these elders' lives. How have the historical transformations they witnessed affected their understanding of elderhood? These interview excerpts remain compelling and evocative, especially for a reader familiar with southern Ghana.