Accepted paper:

In good spirit: alcohol as social access between physical and spiritual worlds

Author:

Kirsty Wissing (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores alcoholic spirits and spiritual connections in southern Ghana. In Akwamu ritual libations, not all alcohol and neither are all people equal. By considering the economic, social and spiritual value of alcohol, I ask what value is placed on people in and beyond the physical world.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores alcoholic spirits and spiritual connections in the Akwamu context in southern Ghana. In focusing on ritual libations, I consider how gin and schnapps are used to open up ceremonial spaces and connect humans with spiritual kin as well as deities. In this process, not all alcohol and neither are all people equal. As relatives shift from physical life to death, their valued is affirmed or denied by family by adding or omitting their name in libations. By unpacking the ordered circulation of alcohol and inclusion or exclusion of people in ritual, I ask who is a valued and central member in society, and who is peripheral. We also learn who, through the use of alcohol, has the ear of the ancestors and deities to ask for favour and to transition lives for the better.

Alcohol is a slippery substance in its material form and mind-adjusting potential. This makes it a curious choice to ceremonially solidify social connections. In its absorption into the human body and evaporation as offering on the ground, this paper explores how alcohol creates enduring spiritual ties even as its shifts in its tangible state. By considering the economic, social and spiritual value of alcohol in ritual, I ask what value the Akwamu attribute to people in and beyond the physical world.

panel P28
Stuff of substance: valuing the tangible in transient states