Accepted Paper:

Ontologies of violence: fighting with harmful traditions in Gurunsi widowhood rites  


Marko Veisson (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Widowhood rituals that are a part of traditional funerals in North-Eastern Ghana are accused of violence against widows. I will discuss how much this critique may be a result of differences between modern (Christian) and traditional understanding of body, personhood and ontology of violence.

Paper long abstract:

In the last decades modernising Gurunsi society in North-Eastern Ghana has been faced with changes like Christianization and increasing power of NGOs and the state government. These changes have brought new critical questions about traditional religious practices and traditional social structure. Practitioners of traditional religion are in a situation, where they have to give answers in completely new discourses influenced by the rhetoric of human rights and Christian moral.

Both critics and traditionalists are influenced by an understanding of the value of culture and tradition as such. Ghana is also proud of being religiously tolerant. So what is under critique is not traditionalism as a whole, but rather some violent (or mentally violent) and immoral practices of traditionalists.

My fieldwork has concentrated on discussions about widowhood rites and widow's social position, which are important topics in this discourse, together with other harmful practices, such as witchcraft accusations. However, how well grounded are the accusations against traditionalists? It can be asked, whether widowhood rights are actually violence from the viewpoint of the traditionalists? Defining moral violence in another ontological system is problematic. In order to understand the local traditional viewpoint we have to take into account among other things the ways in which Western/Christian moral differs from traditional. For example, how does a different ontology of body and personhood influence the understanding of what happens during a ritual and whether what happens is interpreted as violence by the participants.

Panel P033
Conflicts and social violence in an interconnected and uncertain world