Traditional authority revisited : ancestors, development and an alternative tempo-morality in Ho, Ghana
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This thesis endeavours to re-theorise traditional authority through a consideration of chieftaincy within Ghana’s Asogli Traditional Area. Chiefs’ increasing activity in the implementation of development projects, has piqued anthropological interest in traditional authority once more. Recent anthropological analyses have focused on chiefs’ proficiency in mediating between tradition and modernity, and in particular, their ability to use their traditional past as a means towards the establishment of a modern and developed present and future. The ancestors, while a central feature of colonial studies of traditional authority, remain notably absent within these recent post-colonial studies. However, my own research suggests that traditional authorities were recognised by people as credible development leaders precisely because their authority was ancestral. I argue that tradition – by way of the ancestors – provided an alternative temporal mode through which people could realistically envisage development and future well-being. Because of their very ontological ground as once living, historical kins-people, I contend that the ancestors were able to fashion a tradition which was not temporally opposed to the present or the future, and a tradition whose authenticity was not dependent upon the eclipsing of the colonial and European relations which equally constituted it. Secondly, this thesis argues that development and future well-being was also conceived of as a moral project and one which the traditional authorities – as caretakers of ancestral morality – were best placed to oversee. Traditional morality was based upon the ideal relationship of care and respect between ancestors and their descendants. As such, chiefs and elders were increasingly valued as leaders capable of articulating and resolving tensions between freedom and obligation, accumulation and distribution. It was in the funerary context, where ancestors and morality were made, that the traditional authorities, as the ‘police of death’, revealed both the honour and burden of traditional authority. I focus primarily on the views and practices of the traditional authorities themselves and those for whom the ‘traditional complex’ resonated most strongly. Theoretically, I refuse to take Asogli tradition less seriously because it was discredited by some anthropologists as a modern invention. I also resist the temptation to question appearances by attributing to Asogli Traditional Authority the status of an alternative modernity. By thinking through the ancestors, this thesis seeks to engage with tradition rather than ‘tradition’, but without fully subscribing to the recent ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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