Environment as Justice: Interpreting the State(s) of Drowning and Undercurrents of Power in Ghana

Kirsty Wissing

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    This article explores Akwamu understandings of the Volta and other rivers in Ghana - valued for their life-giving qualities - when they become the opposite: the cause of death by drowning. By engaging with customary ideas of the environment as an active player, influenced by deities, I seek to map local Akwamu perspectives of the environment as justice onto international models that posit the environment in need of justice and guardianship through human management. Akwamu traditional authorities have described river environments as a fair and unbiased avenue through which to resolve disputes. By dwelling on drowning, I explore Akwamu and broader Akan notions of 'good' or 'natural' compared to 'bad' or 'unnatural' deaths, the latter thought to reflect human-environment and inter-human social breakdown as well as the moral worth of the drowned victim. Through customary ritual practices, traditional representatives separate the Akwamu state, or society, from an individual's bad, watery death and restore human-environment and inter-human order in social life on land. Stir the waters, however, and Akwamu understandings of rivers highlight a hierarchy in human-environment relations as well as undercurrents of power between humans. By analysing beliefs, interpretations, and ritual behaviours in response to drowning, I reconceptualise Akwamu dynamics of power in reflections on environments as justice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)12-30
    JournalAustralasian Review of African Studies
    Volume40
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2019

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