Peripatetic Psychoanalyst (Almost) Dances in Ghana by Chuck Fisher

     While Chuck Fisher is in the wilds of the Amazon or thereabouts, he found a way to get this letter and video to us about their stay in Ghana. Dreaming and Dancing on the Shores of Lake Volta.

  N. Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor
Dear Colleagues:        
         Leah and I have had some spectacular experiences in Ghana.

         It began on our first or second full day in Ghana.  I sent e-mail to Akosua Adomako, Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana–Legon; Angela Ofori-Atta in Psychology; and Kodzo Gavua in Archaeology.  The next day, I made bold:  took a taxi to the university and knocked on doors, or politely made my request to the receptionist.  

       First,  Dr. Adomako.  Her receptionist asked me to write a short handwritten note about the purpose of my visit.  Though quite busy, she made a moment to speak with me.  I told her about my interest in indigenous methods of interpreting dreams, and  explained a bit about my work with the Achuar of southeastern Ecuador. She did not know of people I could contact in Ghana who study dreams, but she invited me to give a seminar at her Institute.  That took place three weeks later.
      Walking out of Dr. Adomaklo’s office, I crossed the street to the Department of Archaeology.  I found Professor Gavua’s office at the end of a long hallway littered with packing crates for items brought home from expeditions.  A colleague of his greeted me and said that Kodzo was teaching at the moment, but would be back later.  When I returned two hours later, he had carefully read my e-mail.  He casually suggested that we journey to the Volta Region, where he has ongoing fieldwork.  Leah and I took that journey two weeks later.  We travelled with a junior faculty of Kodzo’s and with a driver whom we had met in Accra.  We spent four days and three nights in and around the town of Kpando, near the eastern side of Lake Volta.  We met with Kodzo several times at various points in our stay.  We interviewed indigenous pastors and priests who use (or studiously avoid) dream examination of in their work.  Their insights were stunning.
    Dreams are variously thought of as the work of Satan, messages which may come from God or  Satan, expressions of unconscious guilt about events beyond one’s control, relliable sources of information about witchcraft afoot, or problematic communications from deities and spirits that must be decoded.  Much of it overlaps with the beliefs of the Achuar, whom we studied in Ecuador; much differs.
      In addition, to these interviews,  Leah spoke with a number of women in the small fishing town of Kpebe on the shore of Lake Volta.  In one family, there were four generations of women in a single family (the youngest just 3 days old).  Leah asked about gender roles, communication between men and women, reproductive health, and desired family size.  The great-grandmother in the four generation family said that in her generation, women were able to live well in polygamous marriages.  Indeed, we met her husband’s other wife.  But, the great-grandmother continued, the following generations don’t know how to handle it.  Her daughter and her granddaughter (intially) concurred.  Although the granddaughter, interestingly added that, if her husband wanted a second wife, as long as the woman was someone she liked, it would be OK with her.  (I speculate that for the granddaughter this possibility is purely theoretical and remote.) 


We then spent two delightful afternoons in Kodzo Gavua’s home village of Wusuta.  If I tried to tell you what Kodzo has done in his career, this long e-mail would be far longer.  Let me just say that in addition to his scholarly work, he runs a number of projects that directly improve the lives of people in his region. He has a view of archaeology, which is grounded in solid research but keenly aware that scholarly work always has a point of view.  His work on religion and identity fills in narratives that were disrupted — or better, permanently shaped — by colonialism.  The main colonizers in the Volta Region were German.  
      On our last afternoon in the region, we participated in a ceremony that included hours of spectacular African dancing.  People going into trance, leaping, drumming, singing, and much else.  We were encouraged by the indigenous priest, who is something of a showman, to film whatever we wanted.  You will see the fellow who falls into a trance and is ported out.


The seminar at the Institute of African Studies was an opportunity to talk with members of that institute about my work with Beth Kalish-Weiss on Achuar dream interpretation, and to hear their perspectives on the use of dreams in indigenous cultures in Ghana. About thirty faculty members and graduate students showed up. I gave a talk which presented some of the work that we did in Ecuador.  I added some material from Ecuador about the effects of contact between an indigenous society and the outside world.  This is highly relevant in Africa, still struggling to recover from its history of colonization. I showed slides from Ecuador and also photos of the Ghanaian pastors and priests whom we met in the Volta Region.  The faculty who attended seemed highly interested in the use of dreams and dream interpretation. They were highly familiar with it in Ghanaian culture but had never studied it in a formal way. The topic of contact between cultures was also important to them.  They were highly amused by a true story from Ecuador which is funny only in retrospect.  During the building of an eco-lodge in the rainforest, a rumor started that the white people were cannibals.  Because the Achuar workers were well fed, it was thought that they were being fattened up to be killed and put into cans for food. An intervention from the Achuar elders and the white architect of the lodge finally persuaded people that the workers were well fed so they could work hard.
            In between these academic ventures, Leah and I had warm encounters with quite a few Ghanaians.  One of the more stunning ones was spending three days with a Ghanaian and African-American couple who now live in Ghana. We went with them to the slave fortresses at Cape Coast and Elmina, each with its Door of No Return. It is impossible for me to describe in a short note how painfully vivid this history becomes when you open your heart to engage with it. And yet the Ghanaians remarkably do not seem bitter. They are at least as concerned with coming to terms with African complicity in the slave trade as they are with what was done by Europeans and North and South Americans. The message is that this must never happen again.

We had lots more memorable experiences, but this note is already too long. 
                           Best wishes to all,

Explore posts in the same categories: Audio/Video, Papers

Comments are closed.

Recent Posts