Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Homo Spiritualis

Traditional people, and I think, the people of the paleolithic, had very probably two concepts which changed our vision of the world.  They are the concept of fluidity and the concept of permeability.  Fluidity means that the contiguities that we have:  man, woman, horse, tree, etc., can shift: a tree may speak, a man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around, given certain circumstances.  The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of the spirits . . . Humans have been described in many ways, right? and for a while, it was homo sapiens, and it's still homo sapiens:  the man who knows.  I don't think it's good definition at all . . . I would think homo spiritualis.   [From the film Cave of Forgotten Dreams.]

The Elephant in Pre-Colonial Ghana: Cultural and Economic Use Values
Kwame Osei Kwarteng
Journal of Philosophy and Culture, Vol. 3, No. 2 June 2006
(link)

Rites Associated with Elephant Hunting Among the Akan

". . . McCaskie notes that ‘the elephant was both unpredictably dangerous–spiritually as well as physically–and the largest single source of animal food in Asante forest.’[36] This made elephant hunting a perilous venture. The Akan of Ghana have the intrinsic belief that just like mankind, some animals, including the elephant, have spirits which survived the death of the animal. Rattray,[37] Nketia,[38] and Sekyi–Baidoo[39] state that hunters classified wild animals into two: those with spirit (sasammoa) and those without (mmoa). The former were deemed to have malevolent spirits which lived on after the animal had been killed by a hunter, and which could haunt its killer and cause calamity to befall him during subsequent hunting expeditions. Sasamoa include bongo, elephant, roan, waterbuck, duyker, black duyker, yellow–black duyker and antelope. Sekyi–Baidoo points out that, uniquely among these animals, the killing of the elephant reportedly brought honour to the hunter; for this reason, and in spite of the inherent risks, some hunters targeted the elephant, while others avoided it.[40] Clearly, the elephant enjoyed special status among animals with spirit (sasammoa), because it was considered as the king of the jungle. This is illustrated by Akan proverbs such as ‘Ǥsono akyiri nni aboa’ ( there is no wild animal besides elephant), ‘wodi Ǥsono akyiri a hasuo nka wo’ (if you follow the trail of elephant you would not be drenched by dew’etc.)

"Nketia has documented the necessary ritual preparations which fortified elephant hunters spiritually before they embarked on hunting expeditions. This process of fortification involved undergoing a ritual bath.[41]

"In the case of hunters celebrating their first elephant kill, a second ritual called abǤfuo,[42] ‘elephant funeral’, was performed to appease the spirit of the animal.[43] For experienced hunters, abǤfuo was not performed after every kill, since it was assumed that they possessed sufficient spiritual endowment to render them immune to any threat or danger posed by elephant spirits.[44]"

". . . Nketia states that a hunter who killed an elephant plucked a leaf and put it in his mouth and then went home to report the killing, after which he would undergo the necessary ritual bath, which made him acquire physical and spiritual power over animals.[47]

"He suggests that the rationale behind the elaborate ritual was that a hunter was assumed to have died and been resurrected after killing a dangerous animal like an elephant. The occasion was thus both joyous and sobering. The king of all animals, which was thought to have a spirit like a human being, had been killed and this was equated to homicide. Thus while celebrating the elephant kill, cleansing rites needed to be performed to prevent the spirit of the elephant from haunting the hunters.[48] In Kunso, these ‘elephant funeral’ rites commenced at 8.00 pm, and entailed the pouring of libation by the chief hunter to invoke the spirit of dead hunters for their permission and protection against any unforeseen events, which was followed by the singing of hunting songs, drumming and dancing.[49] Failure to appease the spirit of the dead elephant could result in one or another of the following disasters striking the hunter: ‘he would never again be able to kill an elephant; he would grow immensely fat and die; he would always want to sleep; he would eat all day and never be satisfied.’ Rattray explains that these disasters would be caused by the sasa, the spirit of the elephant.[50]"

"While elephant hunting was undoubtedly a hazardous venture, the importance of the elephant and its products in the performance of important social, cultural and economic functions in society meant that hunters risked their lives to hunt the pachyderm."


References:

36. R.S. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, Oxford University press, Oxford, 1927, p183–184.
37. Nketia, Abofodwom, Ghana Publishing Corp, Accra, 1973, pp7–9.
38. Sekyi–Baidoo, A Study of the Cosmological and Aesthetic Freatures of the Akan Hunters' Song Amoung the People of Kunso, M.Phil Thesis Submitted to the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, 1994, p41.
39. Ibid.
40. Nketia, Abofodwom, op cit, p8.
41. Ibid.
42. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, , op cit, p184–185, See also Ross, Doran H, ‘More than Meets the Eye: Elephant Memories Among the Akan’ in Elephant : The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture , Edited Doran H. Ross Hong Kong, Pear River Printing Company, 1992, p 140.
43. Nketia, Abofodwom, op. cit, p8. 44. Sekyi–Baidoo, op cit, p42.
47. Nketia, Abofodwom, op cit, pp8-9.
48. Sekyi–Baidoo, op cit, pp79–100. For full details on the elephant funeral rites read the above pages.
49. Rattray, Religion and Art in Ashanti, op. cit, p184.
50. Nketia, Abofodwom, op. cit, pp8–9.

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting, thanks.

    I'm a bit puzzled by all those goat-like antelopes being sasammoa anyhow. What did they hunt then? Crocodiles?!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It says:

    "Sasamoa include bongo, elephant, roan, waterbuck, duyker, black duyker, yellow–black duyker and antelope"

    Bongo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bongo_(antelope)
    Roan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roan_antelope
    Waterbuck: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterbuck
    Duiker: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duiker

    All these animals, including the elephant, eat grass.

    I'm not sure if I've answered your question. If not, let me know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was not really a question awaiting an answer. And the answer you provided was not really correct (many of them are preferentially browsers, leaf-eaters, AFAIK, rather than grass-eaters) but, even if it would have been, it would not be good enough to satisfy my perplexity.

      What I mean is that normally human hunters everywhere chase primarily herbivores such as antelopes, deer, bovids, etc. (as well as some common omnivores like baboon or boar). I can understand well how the intelligent, social, large and extremely dangerous elephant may be considered sasammoa but the various antelopes really can only puzzle me.

      But, well, whichever the reasons they had originally to attribute them "soul", I'm sure that they were good enough for them. Just that I can't understand why.

      And also, if they excluded most antelopes, I can't imagine what they may have hunted then. Buffaloes? Rhinoceros? Gnus? Do these animals even exist in West Africa at all?

      Delete
    2. "And also, if they excluded most antelopes, I can't imagine what they may have hunted then. Buffaloes? Rhinoceros? Gnus? Do these animals even exist in West Africa at all?"

      The article isn't saying that antelopes were excluded. It just says that elephants were considered to bring the greatest honor by the Asante, Wassa, Sehwi, Twifo, Denkyira, Abura,
      Aowin, Eguafo, Adanse and some others.

      It mentions that "The Ajumako have the elephant and Bushbuck as the emblem of their paramount stool because both animals were common in the area." It goes on to say that the Ajumako regarded the bushbuck, and not the elephant, as the king of the forest.

      [For the meaning and explanation of the use of the word "stool" in the Akan context, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Stool].

      The article doesn't mention what kind of rites had to be performed for a non-elephant animal with "sasa".

      However, the Akan word for antelope is adowa. There is a ritualized dance in Ghana called the Adowa dance:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxv6lNn8GHA&feature=fvsr

      This dance probably has something to do with rites after killing an antelope.

      The article also mentions the hunting of buffaloes, and hippopotomi, but it doesn't mention rites for these animals.

      Delete
    3. Your quote says: "... hunters classified wild animals into two: those with spirit (sasammoa) and those without (mmoa). The former were deemed to have malevolent spirits which lived on after the animal had been killed by a hunter, and which could haunt its killer and cause calamity to befall him during subsequent hunting expeditions".

      So killing sasammoa used to be some sort of taboo, requiring some sort of rituals to exorcise the soul of the victim animal. I'm sure that normal hunters generally avoided killing these animals unless they also reported prestige, as it was the case of the elephant.

      It also says: "Sasamoa include bongo, elephant, roan, waterbuck, duyker, black duyker, yellow–black duyker and antelope".

      Actually all the rest except the elephant are types of antelopes (which is a very wide category) but I'm assuming it's some kind of common antelope like the springbok or whatever.

      But maybe they just killed them and then performed the rites and that was it. Or maybe the specific antelope to be respected was different between ethnicities or clans... like would be the case of a totem animal.

      IDK. It's confusing.

      Delete
    4. "But maybe they just killed them and then performed the rites and that was it. Or maybe the specific antelope to be respected was different between ethnicities or clans... like would be the case of a totem animal."

      The article does mention that "the Abaluhya people of Kenya believed that the souls of their brave warriors reposed in elephants. Therefore, Abaluhya people would neither hunt the elephant nor eat its meat."

      On the other hand, people outside West Africa did hunt elephants. A Ugandan proverb is: "The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds."

      I haven't had a chance to look into specific rites for different types of antelopes. I'm sure that you are right that different clans had subtle and not-so-subtle differences in their totem animals.

      In addition to the "stools", the kente clothe was a traditional way of communicating totem information.

      In addition to hunting, I think it should be mentioned that there was also fishing and foraging. The article mentions this.

      I would guess that animals not considerered to have sasammoa were birds and other animals like the Thryonomys swinderianus.

      The chimpanzee, by the way, was and still is not a preferred game animal. I can still remember as a child in Sekondi, Ghana, when someone killed a chimpanzee, it was considered to be an almost unspoken crisis.

      The Ghanaians have a word for meat that comes from animals like the chimpanzee and Thryonomys swinderianus. It's called "bush meat."

      The word "bush" in Ghana is used in the same way that we might say that something is too "village" or is backward.

      With the exception of birds, "bush meat" has always been frowned upon. Today, it is even more strongly discouraged because of concerns that it is a vector for diseases such as ebola.

      Additionally, all endangered game animals in Ghana today are protected. There are several national parks:

      www.touringghana.com/ecotourism/kakum.asp

      www.touringghana.com/ecotourism/mole.asp

      Delete

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