Fluid boundaries: politicising purity in Ghana

Location: Milgate Room, AD Hope Building, ANU
Time: 2pm, Friday 27 July
Speaker: Kirsty Wissing, CHL

By exploring Akwamu values and ritual uses of water, blood and other fluids in Ghana, this presentation will revisit the politics of purity and pollution. Rather than seeing categories of cleanliness and dirt as solidly bounded, I argue that for the Akwamu people in Ghana, it is instead fluids that are key to transitioning people, places, and states from pollution to purity, as well as from the secular to sacred, and vice versa. As unstable entities with multiple meanings, fluids also offer people opportunities for political creativity and challenge.

Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic field research, I will unpack how ritual flows of certain fluids are imagined to uphold and/or collapse relationality between people and between people and their broader (physical and spiritual) environment. In this vein, I will consider what flows are thought to socially purify, and what flows threaten to pollute and endanger Akwamu socio-environmental relationality in correlation or competition with national interests. By considering shifts in the ritual value of water, blood and other fluids, I will ask just how bounded and/or collapsible are traditional categories of purity and pollution, or of good and bad, and question who stands to gain what from categorical manipulations.

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