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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 8 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2007 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 169 CHARISMATISM, WOMEN, AND TESTIMONIES Religion and Popular Culture in Ghana BRIGID M. SACKEY Introduction The African proverb, which says that, “life (or culture) is lived forwards but understood backwards” is vividly expressed in the phenomenon of African Independent Churches (AICs) locally called sunsumsore1 that in Ghana is generally used to describe the indigenous Spiritual churches, Pentecostal and its younger derivation, the charismatic churches. African Independent Churches portray the impact of culture change by amalgamating elements ofAfricanandChristianreligionsandtherebycreatinganewreligio-­cultural identity. This merger can be seen in the AICs’ deployment of African and Christian cultures in their major functions, namely healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues, making loud, joyful noise2 to the Lord, and other rituals of deliverance, anointing with olive oil, blessing food items, water, handkerchiefs , etc. for worshippers as healing aids and protective devices.3 It is 1. Sunumsore is derived from the Akan words sunsum (spirit) and sor (worship). AICs include Spiritual churches, Pentecostal churches and Charismatic churches. For classification of these movements see Sackey (2001 a): 41–59. 2. This “joyful noise” has been a matter of contention between the churches and non-adherents. While the former think it is their right to make noise during worship, other citizens especially adherents of African Tradition Religion in Accra regard the noise-making as an infringement upon their right to silence during their annual traditional festival (see also Sackey 2001 a). 3. Although some of the churches do not want to be associated with African religious practices because they consider them as “fetish” and “pagan,” close observations of their rituals have established that they unconsciously appropriate the very culture they claim to abhor. For example, Rev. Christie Doh-Tetteh blesses bread for sale to church members, while Auntie Grace Mensah sanctifies “toffees” or candies as healing aids. The belief is that whatever has been touched or blessed by these women of God and other pastors in general have the power to heal. These practices are parallel to an African belief that has been described as “contagious magic.” See William Lessa and Evon Vogt (1979). 170 Ghana Studies • volume 8 • 2005 in this context that I concur with Mbiti when he argues that Africans often mix their traditional religion with the one to which they are converted so that they may gain from both religious systems (Mbiti 1975: 13). Indeed, elsewhere the mixture may not include only African Traditional Religion (ATR) and Christianity but aspects of dominant religions existing in a particular area such that the erstwhile Church of Nyamesom Pa (Ekwam) in the Central Region of Ghana exhibited aspects of Islamic culture because of their close proximity with the Fante Ahmadiyya Muslims (Sackey 1987). In his study on Pentecostalism in different parts of the world, Cox (1996:16) observed that “their worship constitutes a kind of compendium of patterns and practices from virtually every Christian tradition” he had ever known. “Pentecostalism [from which Charismatic churches originated] is not a narrow cult but is actually a kind of ecumenical movement, an original— and highly successful—synthesis of elements from a number of all other sources, and not all of them Christian.” Charismatism which is derived from charisma, is crucial in the activities of AICs generally; the Holy Spirit of God is believed to be the churches’ source of charisma (divine favor or gift), inspiration and power that enable them perform their functions.4 The word charisma has a wider point of reference in local religious parlance other than grace or favor. First, it means “the strong personal charm, or power to attract that makes a person able to have great influence over people to win their admiration.”5 Second, it refers to personal traits in terms of leadership i.e. a leader who is endowed with divine grace or extraordinary powers, as Weber (1965) uses it, or an appeal with which a person may influence people positively or negatively. All of the above meanings fit the description of the prophetess known popularly as Auntie Grace, whose overwhelming charisma, whether she is physically present or absent, is believed to effect...


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