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Ghana Studies v.7 (2004) pp. 115-135. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD: TRANSGENERATIONAL MEMORIES AND CULTURAL TRANSMISSION AMONG THE AKAN OF GHANA Osei-Mensah Aborampah University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Introduction his paper attempts to clarify the concept of transgenerational memory and explain its role in intergenerational cultural transmission among the Akan people of Ghana. More specifically, it focuses on a selected number of key transgenerational memories and sites of memory found in the Techiman [Takyiman] traditional area of the Brong Ahafo Region to explicate the meanings of the selected sociocultural constructions, and to assess the impact of contemporary social changes on their transmission from one generation to the next. All groups of the Akan people have developed distinctive ways of believing and of doing things largely in response to the physical environments in which they live. Although the environments have influenced the cultures of the various Akan peoples, many of the cultural traits are similar, given the historical migratory patterns. The vast structure of language, customs, knowledge, ideas and values that provides them with a general design for living and patterns for interpreting reality tends to be very similar. In effect, a wide range of similarities can be observed in the areas of kinship, marriage, religious expression, political organization, art, music, and dance. In this regard, additional cultural materials may be drawn from the other Akan groups to further amplify the discussion of transgenerational memory. The significance of a sound knowledge and understanding of transgenerational memories lies in the fact that people’s daily lives are strongly affected by messages from the past. It may be argued that retained memories from the past help individuals to become more competent and adaptive to the complexities of social life. Retained memories constitute ancestral wisdom. What we may refer to as an “encyclopedia of the dead” may be tapped to solve a variety of social problems and hence, foster individual and collective well-being. Additionally, the significance of T OSEI-MENSAH ABORAMPAH 116 transgenerational memories can be underscored by the fact that they constitute major sources for African historiography. “Scraps” of memories passed on to individuals can be used by historians and other scholars to recount powerful stories about the African spirit of perseverance, endurance and forebearance. By scrutinizing transgenerational memories prevalent in the Techiman traditional area, we are able to deepen the knowledge base pertaining to the basic culture, history and identity of Akan societies. The Concept of Transgenerational Memory Transgenerational memories constitute part of the culture and social structure of a particular group or society, memories that are transmitted from one generation to the next generation. Without social-cultural transmission, each generation would have to solve the most elementary problems of human existence over and over again. Fortunately, preceding generations have devised social institutions, invented languages, created numerous technologies, discovered things, sought to provide answers to ultimate questions—including one’s pertaining to life and death—and posited norms concerning good and bad conduct. Succeeding generations use what I call the encyclopedia of the dead, as well as their own learned knowledge to develop their capacities and potentialities, as well as modify their environment. The encyclopedia provides a frame of reference to comprehend situations that we encounter and for social interaction to take place. Transgenerational memories, viewed as the encyclopedia of the dead, would include the oral narratives that are transmitted generation to generation. These narratives consist of personal reminiscences, songs, chants, epics, libations, among many others. According to Miller (1980: 2), they describe or provide information about eras before the time of the persons who narrate them. In this regard, oral narratives become oral traditions, which may be considered as extended remembrances of events or situations passed down from one generation to the next (Miller 1980: 10). Alternatively, Vansina (1985: 27) views traditions as “verbal messages which are reported statements, [by word of mouth], from the past beyond the present generation.” According to Vansina, the messages are social products in the sense that their communication from generation to ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE DEAD 117 generation must possess some sociological significance. This is evident in the case of performances which occur at “particular moments during institutionalized action.” Vansina (1985: 147) adds that...


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pp. 115-135
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