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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Vodu is a human being to me : society, songs, and drums in the Torgbui Apetorku shrine of Dagbamete, Ghana Andrews, Curtis Terry David


For adherents of West African vodu, music and spiritual practice are inextricably intertwined. Through music and ritual, mythology and cosmology are reified, ancestral ties reaffirmed, and memories of historical episodes are brought to life. The life of the community worshipping at the vodu shrine of Tɔgbui Aƒetɔku in the southern Eʋe community of Dagbamete, Ghana illustrates this dynamic process. Since the early period of colonial contact, and continuing into today’s post-colonial Ghana, traditional religion has been reduced to an anachronism that is assumed to be antithetical to progress, modernity, and “civilization”. Yet this shrine and the community it serves has reacted and adapted to these threats and thrives into the 21st century. This study examines the social and historical factors that led to the establishment and growth of the Tɔgbui Aƒetɔku; it catalogues and analyzes aspects of its musical repertoire; and explores its current status as a traditional socio-religious institution and its relevance in modern-day Ghana as it relates to community development and resilience against external agents of cultural change. The shrine of Tɔgbui Aƒetɔku has played an integral role in the preservation, continuation, and progression of indigenous belief systems and musical practice in Ghana. This has occurred despite efforts of denigration, conversion, and repression from the forces of the colonial encounter and its aftermath: missionary activity and the resultant mushrooming of evangelical Christianity in the country, globalization, and Western-influenced cultural imperialism. Despite social pressures against indigenous religious practices such as vodu, dozens of individuals of various ethnic groups across West Africa “eat the vodu” every week and become new members in the shrine of Tɔgbui Aƒetɔku. Aside from the perceived spiritual efficacy that the deity bestows upon shrine members, I suggest that the shrine (as well as its membership and community in which it exits) have thrived due to two main factors, 1) accessible music and dance forms, whose associated meaning strengthens an indigenous spiritual identity; and 2) a unified extended family who serve as leaders of the shrine and guide its development as a significant institution that serves the social, spiritual, and cultural needs of its membership.

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