In the wake of my bout of sickness earlier in the year, the prospect of returning to Ghana was, at the very least, a daunting one. A stint in hospital and the effects of an ongoing, low-level infection had left me depleted physically and emotionally; the last thing I felt like doing was returning. Healthier and bored with having my project on hold, by May I was looking forward to getting back to Kpetoe, back to the workshop and on with research. I had effected a return both physically and mentally to a more productive space. Having been back in Ghana for a fortnight, I have begun reflecting upon the contours of my journeys over the past five or so months, journeys, intellectual, emotional and physical, that have taken me from that point to this. This post will pick out some of the ways that journeying, travel and movement have structured this experience and can be linked back to my informant’s conceptions of travelling and moving and the analysis of movement in (Anlo) Ewe contexts put forward by Kathryn Linn Geurts in her ethnography Culture and the Senses- Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community.
In her study of the sensory order at play among the Anlo-Ewe, whose homelands centre upon the Volta Region’s coastal towns of Anloga and Keta, Geurts argues the importance of bodily movement, mobility and migration in the formation of an Anlo sense of self and being-in-the-world. Through an analysis of the Anlo foundational story- a tale of persecution and migration from the ancestral and spiritual heart of Notsie to what are now the eastern reaches of Ghana’s coastal region- Geurts makes a play at relating his iconic myth of migration to the lived experience of being Anlo-Ewe. With an Anlo diaspora spreading along the West African coast as far as Nigeria in search of rich fishing grounds (see A. Klein, 1998, Fishing Without Formality: an economic anthropology of the Ewe on the Lagos-Badagry Seabeach, Nigeria) and Ewe-speaking people being found throughout Ghana (with markedly high numbers of Ewe-speakers being found in civil-service posts (Geurts; p. 123)), Geurts’ point that migration, whether as an escape from persecution or in search of work, is a key aspect of Anlo being is well founded. My neighbours and colleagues in Kpetoe bear this out as a broader trend pertaining across Ewe-speaking groups beyond solely the Anlo. Weavers, my neighbours and their families all engage, to varying degrees, in complex trajectories of movement and migration for education and work. Training at the Polytechnic in Ho, the teacher-training college in Hohoe, attending university at Cape Coast, moving to Accra and the Central Region for work, applying for graduate studies in the United States, travelling to Europe for business and asking a constant stream of curious questions about what I know of life elsewhere, all of these journeys can be seen as engaging in processes of becoming something, developing skills and moving beyond home. Keeping this in mind whilst maintaining that a distinction exists between the Anlo-Ewe and Ewe-speaking people from further north (including Kpetoe), I would suggest that notions and experiences of mobility are equally important across Ewe-speaking peoples to a sense of being and becoming a person. Indeed, a modified form of the Anlo migration story, telling of an exodus from Notsie before coming to rest in the area around what is now Ho, pertains as much among inland Ewe-speakers as it does on the coast (Geurts; p.116)
Beyond noting the facts of Ewe migration and its possible relation in Ewe conceptions of identity to the founding myth, Geurts also relates her argument to what she distinguishes as characteristically Anlo forms of bodily comportment and sensory attention. Highlighting that the name Anlo originates from nlo, the word which describes the movement made by the migrants from Notsie who, exhausted from their long journey, fell upon the ground at Anloga and curled their bodies inwards into the foetal position. Thus, Anlo references the curling up of the body as an expression of exhaustion after a long journey (Geurts; p 116), placing the bodily experience of travel, exhaustion and recuperation at the heart of what it means to be (Anlo) Ewe. This notion of rest and recovery is evident in my colleagues’ attitudes to work; they hold the work of weaving to be an arduous and exhausting one requiring a strong body and evenings and Sundays, wherever possible, are reserved for less demanding pursuits, giving their bodies the time and space to recover and rest. During the day, especially when it is particularly hot or humid, my colleagues will move their stool form the loom and lie upon it with their legs balanced on the cross-bar, or take one of the long benches that sit along the walls of the workshop and close their eyes for a short nap. Upon hearing that I was ill, had travelled to Accra for treatment and would go home to find out what was wrong and recuperate, my closest colleagues saw the journey and the period of rest as absolutely necessary and cautioned me to take the time to recover before returning to work. My health and the integrity of my body- my being in some fundamental sense- rested upon a series of journeys and a period where I could (literally and metaphorically) lie down and recover.
In her analysis, Geurts highlights that as a corollary to the curling up of nlo- the period of recovery, of turning inwards, after a long journey (or a period of exhausting work) comes a paradoxical symbolic joy at arriving (Geurts; p. 119). From my experience of journeying and turning inwards, curling up and recovering, I would add to this that with a movement inwards must come a counter movement outward, a journey from the interior space of recovery back to the demands of work and the world. Telling my colleagues that I was going home to recover it was always expected that I would return. Even in the moments when I was least sure and most fearful about going back to Kpetoe I would get regular texts messages asking about my health, wishing me a speedy recovery and asking when I would be back in the workshop. These two movements- one away from the world and into an interior space, the other towards the world and all its demands- ideally exist in balance with each other, with time spent at rest facilitating work and vice-versa. Over the course of a day there is a flow between work at the loom and periods spent eating, chatting and carrying out other errands, with none of my colleagues, however skilled or sought after, spending all day, every day working.
This feeling for and attention to balance is treated by Geurts in its somatic expression through bodily comportment. Emphasising the high value her informants placed upon being able to move in a balanced fashion, and detailing the processes of childhood socialisation which enculturate balance “…as one of the ultimate symbols for being human.” (Geurts; p. 105) Geurts’ analysis brought to mind two journeys that have been unfolding in the workshop since my arrival last September. The process of my apprenticeship, focussed as it is upon the skilful and balanced connection between body and tools, has been paralleled by the development of Francis’s baby boy, Etonam. Over nine months my attention to (if not skill at controlling) my balance and posture at the loom has been a marker of my coming-into-being in the workshop and the craft. In the same period, Etonam has been growing from a baby unable to hold himself into a small boy with the proprioceptive skills to walk, his development of balance actively encouraged by his father walking him around the workshop being held under the arms and emblematic of the broader processes of socialisation which will make him a person in the Ewe way.
In all of this, a kind of messy meditation on the multiple and overlapping meanings of movement and journeying, Geurts’ work and my own reflections on field experience have thrown up some interesting thoughts on how movement and travel relate to the formation and becoming of selves, be they Ewe, vocational, bodily or whatever else, that I will try and unpick further over the last half of fieldwork. Indeed, the notion of journeying and moving, tied up as it is with the connection between motion and the body, seems to be an apt image to describe something of what apprenticeship and learning-to-be-in-the-field is; a moving towards skill and understanding in which I still have a long way to go.