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Title: The healer's tools : a study of material assemblages amongst practitioners in Ghana and their archaeological implications
Author: James, Bryn
ISNI:       0000 0004 7965 2326
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis examines the materiality and practice of West African indigenous/'traditional' medicine through an archaeological ethnographic study engaging with contemporary healing specialists in a migrant community of Accra, Ghana. It makes an original contribution to knowledge through documentation and analysis of the workspaces, objects, substances, and performances of these indigenous and Islamic medico-religious practitioners. Such material culture is often overlooked in the ethnographic record, because of historic biases within anthropology which undervalue the substance of healing, in favour of esoteric and social analysis. Consequently, this has restricted archaeology's access to healing in the past, as sources offering detailed, contextualised accounts of medicinal activity in sub-Saharan Africa are limited. The research here was conducted in response to this problem. Two fieldwork seasons (2010 and 2011) were spent completing structured and semi-structured interviews, conducting participant observation, collecting medicinal substances and objects, and in audio-visual recording of healing practices. The study situated itself within the theoretical frameworks of archaeological ethnography, an emerging field centred upon questions of materiality and temporality. This approach acknowledges participants as partners, rather than subjects, in research, and calls for a valorising of local voices, or 'alternate archaeologies'. Thanks in part to this open research strategy, the project expanded to include over 30 specialist informants, from various types of healers, to their young apprentices, medicine stall holders, gatherers of plants and animals, and secretive shrine keepers. A sample of 141 herbal remedies and over fifty spiritual therapies were fully documented, as were the compounds, tools, life stories, and healing beliefs of the medical culture's key actors. Each thesis chapter offers new understandings of these varied aspects of the indigenous West African healers' role: exploring the way therapeutic practices shape, and are shaped by, their lived spaces; the artefact assemblages structuring and supporting these practices; and the substances and medicines through which they communicate well-being to others. From an archaeological standpoint, such contemporary findings present broader interpretive perspectives which widen both potential insights and sources of evidence on healing in the past. Overall, the argument is developed that engagement with contemporary healers centred upon material culture is productive, and that outcomes from this have significant archaeological implications. The author's recommendation is that research into evidence of past medical cultures and medico-religious artefacts would benefit from actively including contemporary indigenous specialists in interpretive dialogues, with, of course, due regard for context.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Hausa ; Material Culture ; African Medicine ; African Medical Culture ; Materiality ; Healing Spaces ; Interdisciplinary Research ; Ritual ; Ritual Healing ; Ritual Pracitices ; Materiality of Medicine ; Materiality of Ritual and Religion ; Spiritual Healing ; Archaeology of Medicine ; Spiritual Medicines ; Herbalism ; Healing ; Traditional Healing ; Archaeology of Religion ; Archaeology ; Anthropology ; Ethnoarchaeology ; Archaeological Ethnography ; Ethnography ; Indigenous Healing ; Africa ; West Africa ; Ghana ; Medicine ; Religion ; Wellbeing ; Healers ; Sub-Saharan Africa ; Archaeology of Ritual