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May 9 / Douglas Mack

Pre-trip thoughts

Soon we will be leaving for our trip and I can only anticipate what I might see when I arrive in the mother land.  In reading parts of the books Possession, Ecstasy, and Law In Ewe Voodoo by Judy Rosenthal and Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni, as well as a little additional research of my own, I feel I have prepared myself somewhat for what I will experience in Ghana.  I feel that the main point of the book Choosing Civility, of what I have read so far, is that we are in control of our own and, to some degree, others happiness, and being civil is a big way to grasp happiness.  The other book by Rosenthal describes her journey to and through the African culture with concentration on Gorovodu, an order that creates laws and organizes meaning, ritual, and relationships between humans, as well as between humans and deities (pg.1 Rosenthal).  To understand the religion and the culture one must have a very basic understanding of trance, an aspect of the Vodu religion under Gorovodu.  Trance in this context is when a slave spirit comes and enters the body of someone.  This person possessed then becomes two, and is considered by those around the person to be both him/her self and the spirit, possibly taking on two genders and personalities.  This is seen as a good, or even an exciting thing to the Ghanaian people.   Some of the more intricate details I still need to work out and discover as I continue to read and learn.  However, there is no doubt that the slave spirits are an aspect to the Gorovodu life that is cared very much for; Rosenthal writes, “Amouzou always called the vodus (slave spirits), praying for their permission to talk and write about them, before we began our work.”

For the happiness of the Grovodu people as well as the honors group and my own happiness it is my responsibility to act civil.  The Grovodu revere the slave spirits, and I should respect their rituals, words, and ways of life even if I do not wholly agree with it.  This is what I think Forni would be telling me to do when I encounter these people and their practices.  I have been told by a religious leader of my faith that during any religious ritual I see when in Ghana I am more than welcome to observe and watch the festivities as long as I do not partake in them.  This means I will need to be cautious to show my respect and kindnesses to those included in the ritual while also keeping in mind my own values and beliefs.  For instance, I could participate in and converse with the people in pre or post ceremony festivities, but once the event begins I will need to politely excuse myself and keep my composure while sitting in the background of their event.  While in the background I should not be shaking my head or rolling my eyes if someone goes into trance or something else happens that I don’t agree with, but instead show attentiveness and respect for their ritual.  I will take notes, and express my thoughts on paper.  By maintaining civility it is likely that everything will run more smoothly, and a greater deal of information can be obtained from our experiences.

It seems that Rosenthal’s perspective on the African people is sound and holistic, and Forni too has a lot of important points that I can apply to this different culture.  The African people are very diverse in their language, religions, and cultures, and it is important to keep this in mind when communicating with people as a whole.  I need to think about the person I am speaking to and take a moment to identify what I say, and how I talk to them.  In all that I have heard from our meetings so far, and from a family friend who has been to Ghana in the past, I know that the Ghanian people are a very kind and generous people unlike what I have ever seen.  I know that even if I say something or do something that may mildly offend them they might not say anything because they are so mellow and easy going.  This means I will need to work hard to observe the interactions that both the Ghanians have with each other, and the experienced foreigners have with the people from Ghana so I can be best prepared to act civilly by their standards.