the land of culture; africa

Culture is not very easily defined. Anthropologists give us a few attempts at definition and the real meaning must lie somewhere in there. In 1871, Tylor called culture, “That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society.” Keesing and Stathern stress the idea of culture in their definition, “systems of shared ideas, systems of concepts and rules and meanings that underlie and are expressed in the ways that human beings live.” We can at least gather that culture is a set of guidelines, whether written or unwritten, which are meant to direct a society. We think less about our cultures as being guidelines and can see culture as more of a means or way of seeing things from a perspective. In Culture, Health, and Illness, we can learn that there are different levels of culture: culture as a ‘facade to the world at large,’ culture as the assumptions known to a group, and culture where the rules are taken for granted and implicit, impossible for the average person to be aware.

Africa is often called the ‘land of culture.’ This I believe is an accurate title. From my studies and travels I have come to see that there is most definitely these three levels of culture and so it is easy to see why this title was given. There is the outside view, often ignorant view, of Africa as a vibrant land, etc. There is the level of culture within the people, depending on where you travel, which you can easily be a part. There is the level of culture where it is easy to see that there is no way that you as a traveler can ever hope to understand or take part. Culture exists at these three defined levels and so much more. Africa truly is a land of culture. But what more is there to culture that we miss when we travel or study a country, a group of people, or a society? Do we often miss the deep nature of culture?

Here is a glimpse of the culture of Ghana by way of drum and dance. I had the joy of seeing this display of culture in my travels of Ghana and in each region we visited.

An aspect of culture that I found very intersting to my work and studies is the idea of investing in death. On our travels of Ghana we visited a special business of coffin making. These were no ordinary coffins. They were in the shape of fish, cars, trucks, castles, coke bottles, artillery, and deer. The coffin is made to represent the life of the deceased person. However there is a greater issue in the coffin business. Often there is no money spent on healthcare or medicines, but when the person finally dies from that lack of healthcare they are given a funeral where expenses are relatively lavish and much is spent to celebrate the person’s life. No matter how easily they could have been saved from an investment in their life, instead of their funeral and death. For this reason funeral ceremonies and deaths constitute a large part of Ghanaian life. Yes, death is part of life, but in this case death is becoming life. The Medical Health Insurance Scheme being promoted and launched in Ghana, so there is hope that there will be a greater investment in health and life.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.