Sjaak van der Geest
(University of Amsterdam)
Paper Short Abstract:
Daily physical activity, a sacred rule for healthy ageing in the West, is not the life style of older people in the Ghanaian rural community where I carried out my fieldwork. Rules rather stipulate that older people should stop travelling and being busy with work. They should stay home and rest.
Paper long abstract:
This contribution describes and discusses a different way of ageing than is being envisaged in this panel. Daily physical activity, a sacred rule for healthy ageing in Western societies, is not the life style of older people in the Ghanaian rural community where I carried out my anthropological fieldwork. Common sayings rather stipulate that older people should stop travelling and being busy with work. They should just stay at home to prevent the cocoa beans drying in the sun from getting wet. It is a metaphorical way of saying: he/she should take care of peace in the house and advise family members with their wisdom. Being busy and running around (let alone jogging!) would be unfitting for an elderly person. Daily activities are not aiming to keep fit and young.
Being there, is what a respected elder is supposed to 'do'.
Of course, rules, like everywhere are broken or impossible to obey in various circumstances. Elderly men and women (women in particular) may be forced to continue working on the land to feed themselves and their children or grandchildren, for example when there are no younger relatives around. Their activity may even be a shame to themselves and the family. And the romantic picture of the older person sitting in the house and spreading peace through his extensive life experience is sometimes little more than wishful thinking. Hopefully this will throw another light on 'our' concern about active ageing and keeping young.
Practices and materialisations of active ageing