Sunday, 27 January 2013

Keep it in the Family

I have chosen this photo because it reminds me of the community structure in Ghana. This chief is proudly escorted to his place of honour at a festival by an entourage of less senior members of his community. They are wearing traditional clothes and smocks worn everyday by men across the Upper West. The hierarchy of men, almost exclusively, is very important and respect is demonstrated through behaviour. Local chiefs and family elders are responsible for their communities and extended families. Tribal traditions continue their long history as decided by ancestors long departed this world. Ancestors remain a vital part of their culture, however, even in death and libations are poured into the ground to them at gatherings to this day.

We are reminded of the strength and unity of extended families as part of everyday life. Although people do move away from their home village, it never seems far and the connection between people from the same village or town is a close bond. From where you originate is a key element of your introduction to strangers.

Elders and chiefs are elected to these posts and your position and reputation within that community are significant factors in your nomination. Younger members look up to these wise figures and can aspire to those lofty, regal heights of respect. Elders are called upon to mediate in disputes and to add their opinions when all else fails. They discipline members and intervene when evil powers are at work between enemies. Their word is final and the communities and families they support know that and respect their judgement.

I imagine that in a country where there is limited respect for the undermanned police force in which training is less than sophisticated, it is far better for local disagreement to be managed within small communities than risk outcomes from armed police involvement. Managing your families in this way is as it has always been and that must seem the most effective solution for all. You know the people in your locality and family and can deal with them. How could a strange law enforcer do a better job?
Of course domestic disputes at home are largely managed very differently, sometimes heavy handedly by the police and social services. As we know, families in our culture are spread, often, across thousands of miles and offer each other no support at all. There is no extended family, nor wise elder advice to resolve differences there and I surmise we are the poorer for that.

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