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Geographic Taboos

Area Specific Proscriptions

by Phil Bartle, PhD

When I was in Aboam with Nana Adwoa, the כkomfo (possessed = priestess) of Nansing, a powerful tutelary deity which is a river inside a cave, I saw that she could not eat corn (maize).

Adwoa with her baby, cleaned and dressed in preparatation for possession

Nana Adwoa

The problem with making assumptions is that they are usually based on our culture of origin, and perhaps the generalization is not appropriate to the host culture.

I took Nana Adwoa for a visit to my place at the University of Cape Coast, where I was lecturing. Aboam is in the Kwawu District of the Eastern Region while Cape Coast is in the Central (Coastal) Region of Ghana.

At the University of Cape Coast

I purchased a cob of boiled corn near my residence, and commiserated with her that she could not eat maize. “Oh, no,” she replied. “I like aburu. It is only that which is grown in the valley drained by the Nansing River where I cannot eat the Maize.” The god, which represents not only the river in the ground, but also the rain in all the area which drains into that river, and even the clouds which supply the rain, provides the water for growing the maize in that valley. She does not taboo all food grown in the valley, but certainly maize. We each enjoyed eating a cob of corn at Cape Coast.

aburu (Zea mays ssp. mays)

The Akan have mainly two types of food proscriptions. Those they inherit from their mothers as members of a matrilineage, are related to the animal which is the totem of the matrilineage. I was adopted into the Asona matriclan, so the white crested raven was my sister, and to eat it would be as terrible as cannibalism. Those they inherit from their father (derived from the ancient local gods) are related to cleanliness, the food is considered “treif” (unclean). These are two different principles for avoiding specified items.

The local word in Akan is "kyire" derived from “behind” (get it behind me) and meaning “to hate.”

My assumption, based on my Canadian culture of origin, is that if someone is forbidden a food (eg pork) then it does not matter where it originates, or where one is. This information complements other data that I learned. There are some foods which Adwoa can eat, and some activities (eg sex) which she can do at most times, but during the 24 hour period before a dabone (sacred day), she must observe the proscriptions so as to make her body more receptive to the god, who is expected to possess it during the afahye. Both time and location (of both the person and the source of food) are therefore variables which affect some proscriptions.

For an כkomfo, the food proscriptions are those of the tutelary spirit, who may avoid various foods for both reasons (matri and patri), but the ]komfo must observe them so his/her body is prepared and in good condition to be possessed by the god.

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