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.


Surrounded by the dead and decaying behemoths of industrialization and the monsters of the modernized, civilized, material world, as cars and trucks alike race down the expressway next door, we, the youth, stop to build a cardboard tent city in a once barren parking lot in the middle of the massive, jutting, Chicago jungle. In that empty and barren parking lot of Soldier Field, we filled the void with our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to raise awareness and bring an end to a war. With the warring interests of commercializm, business, capitalizm, and the fast paced, go-go american society, we will break for a brief twenty-four hour period to be displaced. Displace me!

Next week I will be entering my third decade of being, staying alive. Now you may wonder how can that be such a feat in today’s world, but there are so many places where this luxury is not present. On the other side of the world, a place many people relegate to disease, conflict, and poverty, there is a war that has paralleled my time alive on this earth. In that time so many have lost their lives, most of them children, but yet here I am, here I stand – alive and well and trying to understand what they have experienced in all those years when I had no idea.

The civil war in Northern Uganda is entering its twenty-first year. The longest running war in Africa is seeking an end, and soon! Roughly ten years ago the people of Northern Uganda were given 24 hours to pack up and leave their homes to enter Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps. The government thought this would be a solution to the conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However, all it did was exacerbate the situation and increase the amount of death and suffering caused by the war. Last night, in 15 major cities across the US, people gathered to remind US and world leaders that there are over 1.5 million displaced Ugandans suffering from a nearly invisible war. No one should be invisible, no one’s troubles should go unknown for so long, no war should continue for such a long time. I can only imagine those my age in Uganda who know nothing but war, who know no home except for an IDP camp, who only know a life of suffering. If this war could end from a handful of the american populace displacing themselves, then we will truly know the power of people who care.