Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Finished reading The Gbandes

A bit more from The Gbandes by Benjamin Dennis:

There’s an aspect or two of polygamy I hadn’t thought of.
”Where there are young ladies, there will the young men go.” For this reason, a chief who has many wives will also have many young men in his service. Such young men are supposed to keep their love affairs with the chief’s wives a secret as a sign of respect for him, although he is very much aware of their activities.

There are one or two wives who are absolutely reserved for the chief.

If they get caught they have to publicly humble themselves and pay a fine to the husband.

Another aspect, among the Gbandes, has to do with marriage order. If a man marries an older sister, he can go down the list marrying younger and younger sisters without a problem. But if he is careless enough to marry the youngest first, the older sisters are automatically his mothers and ineligible to be spouses.

About dance: “It is usually an acrobatic celebration in which the accompanying musicians must follow the dancer rather than the dancer’s following a set musical pattern or rhythm.”

Witches essentially become infected with witch-ness, and are typically unaware of it themselves. Dr. Dennis notes that eating from a joint pot, or drinking from a joint bowl with a common ladle, are therefore hygienic practices intended to prevent a person from accidently ingesting “witch-ness” and becoming a witch—and thus becoming a danger to others and himself (witch-ness can kill the witch, too). Sorcery is a trait acquired deliberately, as opposed to witchcraft. Cremation (done for those found after death to have been witches) precludes reincarnation.

The mother and often the father take the name of the firstborn child: e.g. “njee-mother.”

Ancestral spirits sometimes transform into the shape of strangers to test the character of their descendants in how they show hospitality.

These elders firmly believe that Western types of laws are unenforceable by their courts because those laws are based on individual rights. The Gbandes consider this a calamity for any society; for them, there can be no individual rights per se, only individual rights based on tradition and approved by the group. Only the group has rights; but since these rights become rights supported by every member of the group, they become individual rights because of their reciprocal nature. …. Western peoples are looked upon as makers of many laws as well as breakers of many laws.

Theft (which does not include eating other people’s food without permission when you are very hungry), is potentially a capital offense; “He who steals is one who is also capable of killing and lying.” These days (and despite the author’s protestations, I suspect earlier as well), theft from non-Gbandes isn’t so bad. Selfishness and lying are also grave offenses. Rape could incur burning (no reincarnation) or banishment (cut off, destroys your identity). Laziness also ranked as seriously evil.

A culture that focuses on reciprocal duties doesn’t blend well with one that focuses on contractual duties, with one person always in partial authority over another. Once his objectives are met (earn money to buy X), a Gbande would not always consider it his duty to keep showing up to a job—after all, he has other things that need doing.

I was a bit disappointed that although Dr Dennis deprecated non-African descriptions of African history, and though he said that the Poro taught Gbande history (and he went through the Poro), he didn’t include any history in the book, with the exception of the story of Prince Haale who offered himself as a sacrifice to spare the people from a strange disease, and whose sons have been chiefs ever since.

It was beyond the scope of his book, but I wonder how the cultures (Gbande and quasi-Western) interacted, as each side influenced the other. People at the borderland pick up a little from across the way. I have a gut feeling that the bad characteristics, or those that present badly in the opposite culture, will tend to be picked up first—human cussedness at work. Maybe one place to look is at the Indian/French interactions in North America: If you can find a non-PC analysis.

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