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Urban Migration and Rural Identity
An Ethnography of an Akan Community, Obo, Ghana

Dissertation * Abstract

by Phil Bartle, PhD

The dissertation was produced as an ethnographic approach of the study of cyclical migration. The study began with the examination of the effect on social organization of rural urban migration, beginning with a town in a rural location (Obo, in the Eastern Region of Ghana) known to send many migrants to the capital city (Accra, on the coast). When it was found that migrants maintained ties with the home town, returning for festivals and funerals, and to be buried, the research became a study of a single community, widely dispersed by cyclical migration.

A household composition survey administered in Obo, wherein questions were also asked about absent members, followed by the tracing of some migrants not only to the city but also to satellite villages, rural areas in other regions, small commercial towns, and to locations outside Ghana.

Social organization in host locations, whether urban or rural, was found to be similar, based upon discontinuous conjugal unions, and was found to complement that of the home town, based upon immortal corporate matrilineal descent groups. Development of the western style, nuclear family within a bilateral network in urban areas was more apparent than real, a manifestation of continuity with pre urban migrant institutions. Social institutions designed for agrarian exploitation of the rain forest did not decay or disintegrate; they survived by adaptation to the requirements of urban commercial society; migrants "farmed" ("gardened") the city, maintaining their identity with their home town in the rural area.

The thesis is introduced by an anecdote, synthesised from numerous conversations around palm wine pots, in which the notion of a "cyclical universe," in Akan worldview, is described... They are then amplified in a discussion on the relevance of those beliefs to migratory behaviour... The introduction is entitled, "Ethnomigration."

Chapter one sets out the objectives of the study, preliminary observations, and methods, including various surveys, participation, interviews, life histories and archival searches.

Chapter two to six constitute the ethnographic description of the dispersed Obo community.

Chapter two begins with the geography, demography and history of Obo, its position in the Kwawu state, and the locations of the migrants...

Chapter three lays the technical and economic foundations of the community: skills, occupational stages, architecture, communication, careers, trade history, and the economics of cyclical migration.

Chapter four begins examining social consequences of careers and the life course: socialisation, education, host community voluntary organizations, re-socialisation, ethnicity and identity.

Chapter five examines resultant social and political structures: family residence, matrilineal descent groups, the development of political institutions and the role of gerontocracy in life cycles and migration.

Chapter six describes the cosmological and ideological structures and rituals that sanction and regulate migratory behaviour and social organization: traditional animistic beliefs, ancestor homage (not worship), modern intrusions such as Christianity, notions of health, luck and well being, witch beliefs, regular ceremonies and festivals which bring back migrants, and finally, the most important rite of passage, the funeral, which brings home the largest number of any one corporate descent group at any single time.

That completes the ethnography...The conclusion describes a the overall pattern then reviews hypotheses generated at the beginning of the study to see if they were tested successfully.

Finally, a few observations are made on the utility of the ethnographic approach to the study of migration, and its role in planning and development.

1. Dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the Department of Sociology, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana. 1978. Special thanks to my supervisor, Prof. Dzigbodi K. Fiawoo. I am also grateful for the assistance and guidance of Meyer Fortes, John Middleton, Michelle Gilbert, Peter Gutkind, Beverly Houghton, and Patrick Twumasi.

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