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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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Wills and Dying Wishes

Wills and Dying Wishes

(p.259) 16 Wills and Dying Wishes
In My Time of Dying

John Parker

Princeton University Press

This chapter seeks to extend the discussion of writing and reading about death in the Gold Coast's late-nineteenth-century print media. It presents a crucial difference in these two uses of literacy: whereas newspapers were the principal medium of an emergent public sphere, wills — like Christianity — can be seen to represent a shift towards a greater individualization of death, removing matters of inheritance from custom and community to the private, 'bourgeois' realm. Although written wills may have been an innovation that spread from the European outposts on the Gold Coast, the chapter argues that African societies already possessed a testamentary tradition in the form of a nuncupative (i.e., oral) will which could legally override custom: the deathbed deposition known as samansie, usually translated as 'that left aside by a ghost'. Orality, that is to say, remained entangled with the written word, as did older concerns with the sanctity of the deathbed and with the lingering power of ancestral asamanfo, 'ghosts.'

Keywords:   nuncupative will, deathbed deposition, death, print media, wills, samansie, ghost, orality, asamanfo

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