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From Wombs to Farmland: The Transformation of Suman Shrines in Southern Ghana

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In this article I attempt to analyze the transformation of savanna-originated spirit or suman shrines in a cocoa-producing migrant society in the Eastern Region of the Republic of Ghana. At the beginning of the twentieth century, various suman shrines were established as places where people were accused of witchcraft or exorcized in Akan societies. Earlier studies have called these 'anti-witchcraft shrines' and interpreted this phenomenon as being a result of the social change caused by the booming cocoa industry. In the meantime, the main function of suman shrines has been transformed from one associated with witchcraft, which is connected with kinship order in Akan societies, into one offering treatment against magic relating to ethnic conflicts over land. I point out that this shift in the function of suman shrines reflects a shift in local political disputes, namely from maintaining the birthrate within matrilineal kin groups in order to keep up numbers in the work force to the inter-ethnic relations found in the usufruct and contracts concerning farmland between landowners and tenants.


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