Pure water: purity and power in ritual meanings and uses of water in Ghana

Pure water: purity and power in ritual meanings and uses of water in Ghana

Water, being essential to life and fluid in form, is a useful metaphor to explore human social relations and human-environment relations.  With its cleansing property, water is often conceptually associated with physical and moral purity, and is treated as integral to the creation of a moral person and an orderly, moral environment.  In this presentation, I hypothesise that water is a critical natural resource to which Ghanaians ritually attribute transcendental properties to cleanse moral as well as physical impurity. 

This presentation will draw on thirteen months of ethnographic field research relating to the Volta River/Lake in the Akwamu Traditional Area in proximity to the Akosombo Dam in Ghana. I will explore the intersection between ritual meanings and uses of water with its cleansing and purifying properties, and the religious and secular ‘order’ of purity as compared to the ‘disorder’ of pollution.  By researching traditional Akwamu ritual practices relating to water, I will consider how purity discourses contest moral authority and bounded control (and classification) of water as a natural and symbolic resource.  I will also consider issues of responsibility for water and ask who has the power to determine the quality and quantity of water, and how this power in turn impacts management of water.

Kirsty Wissing is an anthropology PhD candidate at the Australian National University.  She is also affiliated with the Department of Sociology at the University of Ghana, Legon.  Her research focuses on Indigenous religious affiliations to water sources and how introduced influences have affected such affiliations.  Influences considered include colonialism, Christianity and the hydro-power industry. In 2016 and 2017, Kirsty conducted ethnographic field research primarily in Akwamufie and Akosombo in the Eastern Region of Ghana which informs her thesis.  

Kirsty has former research experience with Australian Indigenous communities under the Native Title and Aboriginal Land Rights legislation in the Central Australia and the Pilbara regions of Australia. In addition, she has conducted research into and managed programs about the petroleum, mining and hydro-power industries in Ghana for the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP).  She has also researched the impact of mining on customary law and cultural heritage in both Ghana and Western Australia from heritage and legal perspectives. 

Date & time

Tue 19 Feb 2019, 11:30am to 12:30pm


Jean Martin Room, Beryl Rawson Bldg 13, Ellery Crescent, ANU


Kirsty Wissing


Susan Cowan
6125 4273


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