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In My Time of DyingA History of Death and the Dead in West Africa$
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John Parker

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780691193151

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691193151.001.0001

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Body, Soul and Person

Body, Soul and Person

Chapter:
(p.26) 2 Body, Soul and Person
Source:
(p.iii) In My Time of Dying
Author(s):

John Parker

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691193151.003.0003

This chapter examines how the African peoples of the Gold Coast and its hinterland conceived the body, the soul and the person. It investigates what was seen to constitute a human being and what happened to those elements after death. To think historically about death, we need too to think about being alive. Just as the living know that one day their bodily existence will come to an end and they will join the ranks of the dead, so the dead — whether they are aware of the fact or not — were once living people. The chapter argues that the ideas about what constitutes a person, about the relationship between the person and the physical body, and about what remains of that personhood once the body itself is dead and buried are fundamental to how any society approaches matters of mortality. These issues have been of considerable interest to scholars of many parts of Africa and elsewhere in the non-Western world: first to colonial-era ethnographers and sociologists wishing to establish typologies of so-called primitive thought, and more recently to those concerned to interrogate and destabilize these typologies. The chapter aims to sketch a set of normative logics, drawing on some key seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sources, together with later ethnographic works and secondary scholarship. The task will then be to insert these logics into history.

Keywords:   Gold Coast, human being, death, mortality, Africa

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