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Reviewed by:
  • Making Men in Ghana
  • Sjaak van der Geest
Stephan F. Miescher, Making Men in Ghana. Bloomington and Indianapolis IN: Indiana University Press (pb $24.95 – 978 0 25321 786 8). 2005, 324 pp.

The research for Making Men in Ghana was carried out in Kwahu society (or Kwawu, as Miescher prefers). After breaking away from the Asante state in the 1870s, Kwawu chiefs welcomed some of the first Presbyterian missionaries from Basel, Switzerland. Situated on a high ridge, Kwawu offered the missionaries a cool climate and a relatively comfortable and healthy environment. The presence of the missionaries, which brought early European education and a Western/Christian style of living to the area, plays a prominent role in Miescher’s book.

Apparently, the author, originally from Basel himself and with a grandfather in the missionary organization, also had personal reasons to choose Kwawu as the location of his research on the construction of masculinity. Most of the older men he selected for his study had, from their early childhood, been well acquainted with the ideas and norms of Christian manhood. They were a pastor, two teachers, a wealthy trader, a cocoa farmer, two elders in the chief’s palace and a policeman/lorry driver.

After a quarter-century of gender ethnography focusing on women, this study on manhood is long overdue. Miescher befriended and spoke with eight older men from the towns of Abetifi, Pepease and Obo. Instead of posing questions about the abstract concept of ‘masculinity’ he asked them to relate their memories about childhood, gender games, sexuality, marriage, child rearing, work, migration, the involvement in hometown affairs and their more recent experiences as elders. He discussed with them their role models, their hopes for their children and other relatives, and the advice they would give to the younger generation (p. xvi). These conversations constitute most of the book but the author also succeeded in including an impressive amount of written material, both from archives and from the eight elders themselves.

The chapters follow the five main life stages of the men: childhood, education, employment, marriage, and old age. As a fellow scholar of Kwawu culture, with a special interest in the experiences of growing old, I am [End Page 626] delighted with this study. It adds personalized details and historical depth to the understanding of present-day life in Kwawu society and, in particular, to the meaning of being a ‘man’.

The memories conjure up a vivid picture of life in Kwawu, reaching back as far as eighty years ago. They deal with children’s games and child labour; the experiences of missionary rules about morality; hygiene and discipline; dress codes; courtship; and family life torn between local and Christian demands. In a particularly touching passage, one of Miescher’s subjects tells of his experiences as a young teacher: ‘I went to my station with my trunk and one blanket and one pillow . . . my room was empty. . . . As a young man, you were interested in women, and women would be visiting young teachers. And so, when I heard a knock, I ran out to meet that person so she should not come to see that my room is as poor as if I was not a teacher.’ A proper teacher, according to the older man, had ‘a table, a writing desk, cupboard, and chairs’ (p. 111).

When Miescher met them, these eight men were in the final stage of their lives, celebrating their successes and enjoying people’s respect. Four of them lived in houses they had built themselves. They participated in funerals and were actively taking measures to ensure that they would be remembered after their deaths. The Swiss anthropologist’s arrival was indeed well timed. These men were ready to tell their life stories.

Obviously, the author hastens to emphasize that the accounts of the eight men should not be taken as factual historical data but are performances and subjective reconstructions of their lives to please and impress a European visitor who became a good friend. These narratives are conscious self-presentations. This said, the narratives remain fascinating because they offer the reader glimpses of the past, however ‘coloured’ those may be. Moreover, the caveat...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-0184
Print ISSN
0001-9720
Pages
pp. 626-628
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-18
Open Access
No
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