Book Review: Dancing with the gods by Marion Kilson

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Analysis of Title

The book’s central theme is about important discussions on Ga rituals based on case studies she conducted on the Ga people of Ghana. The title “Dancing with the Gods” suggests two things. Firstly, that dance rituals (as dance movements) are very key in the execution of Ga rituals. In my view, this is plausible since many Ga dance rituals capture important aspects of the ritual life and process. Kilson argues that “Dance also was often an integral part of religious rituals. Dance was usually a communal rather than an individual act. The high point of most religious festivals usually involved some form of dance.”

Secondly, the title suggests that Ga rituals mainly achieve union between mortal men and the gods. Kilson points out “The maintenance and restoration of order in the relations between God and man depend upon the performance of ritual by which mortal Ga attempt to establish contact with divinity and to achieve certain goals through this interconnection.” Ga rituals are no exception. In fact, mediums (wͻŋtsɛmɛi) usually achieve spirit possession of the gods through dance rituals.

Without this they cannot perform their most vital role of becoming communication lines by which the gods speak to the people. Ammah in the context of funeral customs reveals the way in which Ga mediums disclose the cause of death through the agency of dance rituals. I have personally observed Ga rituals that emphasize on extended dancing procedures in order to let the gods descend (yishi) upon mediums. These dance rituals are a significant in maintaining unity between members of the community as well. They all sing, cheer and dance in unison.

A close look at the book reveals that Kilson’s concentration is rather on general theoretical discussions on Ga rituals than on dance rituals in praxis. Hence, the second point seems to be the more appropriate choice behind the choosing of the title. That is, dance representing the purpose of Ga rituals to achieve harmony between the spiritual and physical world, since they are not done in isolation; they are done in connection to the spirit world.

In my reflection, Kilson’s theoretical discussions on Ga rituals such as the Taxonomy and Structure of Ga rituals, puts her on par with scholars in ritual studies such as Victor Turner and Catherine Bell. Her writings have become very foundational texts, since these writings were done at a time that many people knew little about the nature of Ga rituals. What is very captivating is the comprehensive detailing of Ga ritual dates, periods, and events.

 

By: Gyau Kumi Adu

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