A Discussion with John Lewis, on Faith and Agriculture
March 31, 2011
Background: This conversation between John Lewis and Katherine Marshall, Thomas Bohnett, and Hahna Fridirici took place on March 15, 2010 as part of a World Faiths Development Dialogue investigation of faith and agriculture and was updated in March 2011 by email. Lewis’ core argument is that agricultural strategies for Africa can and should press for carbon-intense food security agriculture as opposed to outdated Green Revolution approaches that involve clearing land, chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. After reviewing highlights of a long career focused on Africa, environment, and agriculture, he turns to some basic anthropological realities in West Africa (matrilineal and patrilineal social patterns), and how they relate to carbon use. Current debates about mitigation versus adaptation ignore these social realities. Patrilineal societies tend in West Africa to focus roles on activities such as cereals and livestock, matrilineal on perennial crops and trees. He urges a focus on forestry and forests as critical issues for carbon impact and potentially rich sources of livelihood and environmental protection. On Ghana, he notes the lingering impact of both a yam culture and the slave trade on matrilineal structures. Land tenure security is essential and gender roles are critical in sustainable environmental management. Women’s lack of tenure under both colonial and post-colonial systems is a major bottleneck. He illustrates with the case of shea butter, where women own the trees and products and are doing well in luxury markets. He reflects on how differently religion is understood in different settings and cultures, but also its central role in influencing beliefs and behaviors.
What are the highlights of your long career?
I really began in Mali, in 1974-5, when I was doing with USAID funding my Ph.D. dissertation research for Yale in economic anthropology. My topic was livestock production and farming systems, and it led to work for the International Livestock Centre for Africa (CGIAR/ILCA, now ILRI) and later as a rural marketing advisor to USAID’s Office of Rural and Administrative Development. I retired from government in 2000.
Can you remind me about your mission when we met in the 1980s, when you were with the Club du Sahel, based in Paris at the OECD?
The Club de Sahel was the donor group set up in response to the Sahel droughts, and it was based at the OECD in Paris. It worked in tandem with the CILSS Executive Secretariat in Ouagadougou. My personal focus was on reform of land and forest codes in nine Sahel West African countries; negotiation of a multi-donor Food Aid Charter with those same West African States and their food aid donors; negotiations leading to the 1994 devaluation of the West African franc; and the conception and drafting of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), ratified, with some of my help, by the U.S. Senate in 2000.
Turning to the topic at hand, when we raise our central concern—the links between faith and agriculturea—typical response is, “That’s interesting, I’ve never thought about that.” But you have obviously been thinking about it for 35 odd years, in one way or another. What do you think we should be looking at? What are the interesting questions? Who are the people we need to contact?
Carbon use is a good place to start, and matrilineal, matri-local societies are more carbon intense than patrilineal societies.
Theseus [the legendary founder-king of Athens] was all about livestock—which is the same as to be “capitalist"—and about societies conquering the agricultural goddess, Mother Earth. In order to renew the fertility of the soil, some great warrior from another ethnic group would come and sleep with her. She would bear a new child, and then the warrior would be killed. But Theseus somehow escaped and conquered that society, and made it patrilineal. This pattern is not limited to Greek society and Ghana is a good example.
My guess is that so far, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which is supported by the Gates Foundation, has not yet thought about that important, vital dimension, even though there are plenty of women who work there, and gender equity is one of their featured goals. It is unfortunate that they haven’t yet really looked at carbon-intense food security agriculture as opposed to outdated Green Revolution approaches that involve clearing land, chemical fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation, all of which already constitute 15 percent of global greenhouse gases. If you double that in Africa for a billion people so they can eat, what have you done? They can eat for 50 years before the world ecosystem collapses.
Gates’ former director of agriculture, Rajiv Shah, who was a doctor and public health expert, is now administrator of USAID. He may have some idea of what is going on in this area. I have seen him at some climate change and agriculture meetings where a famous question is asked: is this a trade-off or a synergy? My hunch is that the people who argue for a trade-off want to get the adaptation money away from the food security bureaucracies. There are roughly $20 billion floating around the world since Copenhagen. That is a great deal of money for NGOs to go and get. The argument is that adaptation money is not necessarily synergistic with climate change mitigation.
The tragedy is that mitigation in a developing place like Ghana is about carbon intensification on the land. Food security is about soil organic matter, which is carbon, not chemical fertilizer. In chemical fertilizer, the principal ingredient is nitrogen which, no matter what you do, will always escape into the atmosphere. Even in Gates’ “bottle-cap approach” where farmers place a bottle cap of fertilizer directly on the seed so no one overdoses on fertilizer (not than anyone does overdose on fertilizer in Africa: it’s too expensive), still half of it escapes as nitrous oxide out from under the battle cap. Nitrous oxide is very virile in this case.
Go back to southern Ghana which has matrilineal societies growing tubers, yams, and manioc (since the Portuguese brought it in). This is very different from farther north, where it is all millet and sorghum on patrilineal, patri-local land. Also, these northern places are desertifying. We can say annual cereal crop agriculture creates a desert; that’s sort of the local, short version learned on previous occasions in our Sahel work. When you weed fields you take out grasses before they seed and thus there is no seed in the sand. This means that even if it rains, nothing grows, and that is called the desert. That is what savannah agriculture has done around the Sahara over the past three thousand years.
A way of pushing back is through perennials like trees. There is a tree that everyone loves that used to be called acacia albida and is now called faidherbia albida. You might call it an opposite tree. It is important in traditional animist religious systems in the Sahel. It has leaves during the dry season and it sheds its leaves at the end of the dry season. During the rainy season there are no leaves; the leaves have gone back into the soil, depositing their nitrogen there. Annual crops thus can grow better under the trees. The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has a program to plant these trees all over Africa.
This is an example of how all these Green Revolution institutions are in a sense, at the end of the day, trying to do something where the farmers have known about the obstacles for centuries. In a lot of the Sahel, they don’t put too many of these trees in any one field for two reasons. First, if a field becomes too fertile, some fat cat will take the land from them. Second, trees do bring birds and monkeys, and they will eat the seed. I think we’re going to have to learn to live with birds and monkeys and save this planet.
The food security people would argue that cereals and grains—although they are the ecological basis for male chauvinism—are, from an economic development point of view, a better basis for food security because you can store them. Gates/AGRA is pushing in Ghana for storage and for maize but has yet, I suspect, to look at its carbon footprint. But you can’t store maize in Africa; millet or sorghum or rice work better as they are easier to store and transport to market. If you can transport crops to market then you can create a commodities market of some kind for food. That is how ultimately I think Africa will become food secure. That is what this country [the Unites States] did: the commodity market came out of Chicago. The futures market is one of the most creative things that ever happened in agriculture; it has made this country the bread basket of the world, which it remains. With grains and cereals, you are not transporting the water, which is what happens with the yams and tarot and which takes extra gasoline, emitting another greenhouse gas. The entire carbon footprint has to be part of the choice here.
Gates has moved forward courageously through AGRA on one topic, the very thing environmental NGOs attack them for (more than tripling the nitrous oxide emissions with their strategy): biotech seeds—the low nitrogen rice seeds and the drought-tolerant rice. Rice paddies produce a lot of methane. It is not that rice needs so much water, it is that rice doesn’t mind water: it doesn’t ruin the rice. When you have rice paddies, there is a lot of methane. Aside from a couple of experts at FAO, very few planners are really looking at the synergies and the trade-offs. Coming out of Bali and going to Poznan, the climate change delegations from developing countries, including Ghana, did National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPA). Most NAPAs were prepared by the weather services of these countries because, of course, climate change is all about weather. They focused on dykes and planting mangroves. Some of these things are synergistic: mangroves are a big part of reforestation which would earn you mitigation money. But if adaptation is not synergistic with land-use improvement, then you don’t get paid for it. Africa’s ability to supply mitigation credits just from reforestation, afforestation, and forest protection is hundreds of billions of dollars at current prices. In fact, some say it could be 15 to 20 percent of excess carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to 70 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would be huge. Without Africa, you probably could not redress global warming. Let’s term it so-called global warming, as many now term it “global weirding.”
Let me turn to religion. The male/female thing is a key part of the patrilineal issue. The Ashanti are the most famous matrilineal group in West Africa. I have a doctorate in anthropology, agricultural anthropology as it used to be taught at Yale. Some there might have argued that after the Ashanti particular yam- and cocoyam-based economy shifted, they would have moved into a more patri-local structure, if it had not been for the cocoa revolution of the colonial period. Suddenly, the matrilineality was reinforced by the slave trade, because the men went to war. In order to not be made a slave, you had to send war-parties into the interior to capture other slaves to sell. The British wanted to send them into the gold mines, so they came up this cocoa idea. Polly Hill did a very good book on this, which, like all good books from the colonial period, has produced libraries of commentary since.
Cocoa’s history and geography are complex. Ghana’s cocoa boom was ruined by Nkrumah after independence, when they set up a socialist cocoa board. Unfortunately, the board is still in place today. I met today with Mars Company, which is trying to scale back in Ghana and return to Cote d’Ivoire because the cocoa marketing board is behaving as it did under Nkrumah. Under Nkrumah and his cocoa board, Togo exported more cocoa than Ghana, even though it didn’t have a single cocoa tree in the country: it all leaked across the border into the country. Of course, Cote d’Ivoire had Houphouët-Boigny instead of the cocoa board. Even though they had a sort of civil war in Cote d’Ivoire, the cocoa was going into areas that had been deforested. Because of the civil war there had been a lot of so-called illegal logging. Now that a lot of those hardwoods are gone they are replacing it with cocoa. This is in western regions toward Liberia.
Northern Ghana is just like Mali: millet, sorghum. Gates is said to be working on maize; I don’t know if it is hybrid maize. In any case, it is pretty high input maize for Africa. For 10 years you could grow a lot of maize, have a lot food, but then be left with a desert. Whereas if you grew peach palm, breadfruit, manioc, taro, and yams, things like that, you’d have a lot of food locally and you’d have mitigation money. You would be what voluntary carbon planners call re-vegetating. There is reforestation, afforestation, and now there is re-vegetation.
Surely AGRA would be a great forum to discuss the trade-off between mitigation revenue, climate change mitigation, and sustainable food security.
What do you know about AGRA?
I met a nice woman from there, a Canadian, a tree-hugger. She gave a talk at the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa—their events are always worth attending. Emmy Simmons, now retired, was a part of that (she used to be my boss). She made good points about the transport costs of tubers and breadfruit.
Land tenure is religion in Africa—which is how colonial and now even more so post-colonial states have been able to disempower rural institutions by simply not recognizing them and being very secular. They call all land domain de l’etat and then give easements or concessions. Even reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) projects are just 95-year easements where the state ultimately owns the land. The improved land usually can be coveted and even acquired by the more powerful. This is a disincentive for women, who in neither the traditional nor post-colonial formal system are allowed to own agricultural land, or ever seem to own agricultural land.
We spent $5 million with the Land Tenure Center in Uganda to get one section in the Ugandan Constitution to allow women to own agricultural land, and the country is twice as green as a result; the women are there with the children who control the goats and they can put trees in. The women haven’t wanted to plant trees in other countries because that improvement could make them liable to lose the land, but in Uganda their right to the land is constitutionally protected, so they put the trees in. It’s amazing and such a no brainer. Too often these unquantifiable power considerations are passed over by economists who analyze only factor markets. Anthropology is dismissed. But it is about institutions: markets are institutions. Trees are about institutions and about religion. Go around and talk to women about carbon credits and they’ll say if it’s two dollars a ton or eight dollars a ton, sure it’d be nice to have a little extra money but we’d be happy to have none of the money if we could keep the tree and the land.
So what you’re basically saying is that women own the trees but men own the land. You mentioned earlier a gem: that in Bambara the word for field and penis are the same. In a sense the fields are for men?
That is the Bambara language; a tonal language that has different pronunciations. I used to speak Bambara when I was doing my field work but the men laughed whenever I asked questions.
For Mali, I make the distinction among grain agriculture systems. Mali is totally a grain agriculture system. Grain systems used to be only in Mauritania; now they are in Mali, headed south, bringing with them the desert. It is the system that has helped to cause the desert over time.
My own focus in Mali is on planting trees. In Mali each tree has a different tenure understanding. An especially valuable tree is the shea butter tree. Women own the fruit of the shea butter trees that grow on their husband’s land, but the husband decides whether a shea butter germination remains in the field. Shea butter turns out to be worth a lot of money. It used to be used only for local cooking oil and local soap but now it’s the Yves St. Laurent, L’Occitane organic cosmetic of choice. The price is higher if the women’s groups can process it. It’s a great product: if I don’t have skin cancer now it may be because of the shea butter soap we used in the village. It smelled terrible the way they processed it; the stuff L’Occitane exports doesn’t smell. There are these trade-offs.
This is about both culture and religion; the two are inseparable particularly when talking about the traditional.
Culture is a word that sort of covers everything, whereas religion is a hard word because organized formal, go-to-church-on-Sunday religions only exist in very stratified and legally formal societies. “Religion” understood as such has never gone very deep into agricultural societies. That’s why even in American agriculture, farmers all tend to join these fundamentalist sects. They don’t tend to go to Catholicism or Episcopalian hierarchal, bishop-led religions, which tend to be more urban.
What you should consider is the spread of Islam in Ghana and the relationship to agriculture. It’s fascinating. When you [KM] and I were in the field, it was the heyday of African Studies because you couldn’t go to China, and Africa was the Cold War battleground of the day. Coincidentally, there were a lot of grants and scholarships. Many books were written about Africa. Many were about Islam moving into the animist or Christian coastal areas: Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire. Mali was once-over-lightly Islamic. They feel very strongly about 9/11 in West Africa. They think it is a total, fundamental betrayal of Islam; you don’t have to bring it up, they’ll bring it up. But that is not the first thing you hear when you go to Egypt or something.
Where did Islam penetrate and where did it not penetrate? That is a good question. Consider the Ashanti in the middle of Ghana and how they dealt with their “stools,” their matrilineality and how they used Christianity. Who were the Muslims? The traders were all Muslims. Bambara is called Jula (Dioula) in Cote d’Ivoire and the word means trader. The Jula are an ethnic group of traders who are all Muslim, and they are all the way down in Bali country, which is Christian/animist. The Bali are basically an under-developed version of the Ashanti. The coastal groups in Ghana are less matrilineal but they have grown more swamp rice as their staple.
I don’t think these Africans would have a word equivalent to our “religion.”
Obviously there is a lot of traditional practice around planting, and, for example, witchcraft is often linked to drought. We have heard less how Islam treats these phenomena. In Senegal Islamic brotherhoods are very active in agriculture, and, for example, organize around peanuts.
The French organized a new brotherhood to get the peanuts out of Senegal. It was a brotherhood where you didn’t have to grow enough millet and sorghum for your own family—the brotherhood would always make sure you had enough to eat, i.e. the French would always make sure the brotherhood would have enough. This was so they could grow peanuts. This was until the peanut basin became a sand dune.
Are there equivalents elsewhere?
They tried in Mali, but it didn’t take because peanuts bring monkeys into your millet and sorghum field with a vengeance, and if you don’t have a successful crop of millet and sorghum, there will be trouble. In Mali in 1974, after the 1973drought in 1973, I was placed in a village that had done very well in the drought. They basically said, we did great because we absolutely never did anything we were told to do by the government, like grow peanuts, use fertilizer, or use an ox-drawn plow. They furnished what an outsider would call a religious explanation but they wouldn’t call it that. They just said, this is not how we manage the relationship with ni. Ni is translated as the life-force. In patrilineal societies you get your ni from the father’s clan. You can only be bewitched by someone with whom you share ni. Katherine’s bad opinion cannot make me sick unless we share some DNA. As far as we know we don’t, but if I did get sick and everyone knew you had it in for me, some diviner might divine that in fact we did share DNA or ni. In matrilineal societies it is different; it may not be your father’s clan. In Mali, patrilineal still, you get from your mother something called the ja. It is your form or your likeness. When you dream, it is your ja that goes and has those experiences, not your ni. Your reflection in the mirror is ja, as is your photograph and generally what you look like. Nobody can take your ja and do a number on it but a relative can curse your ni. They say, the food you grow keeps the life alive, it’s all one and it comes together at the nya. The nya is a fetish where they all meet: the life, the blood.
They have a third word, nyama. In East Africa, they have the nya-nya which is like a cannibal and on the edge of all this stuff. It’s not ni but it affects it. Nyama-Nyama is like dust. When you get dust out from under your fingernails, it is nyama. Excrement is nyama. It is part of your life but it’s not welcome. The fetishes and secret societies are all tied into that. One of them is a fairly minor fetish that involved farming. The word to farm is chi. The sculpture that almost every house in DC has a fake copy of is the chi-wara—an antelope from Mali. The chi-wara is an interesting name because the wara is not the name for antelope. They have male and female versions of the chi-wara and the female has a baby on its back. The male has plumage. They will dance the chi-wara dance to special drumbeats. It is all part of farming. They will dance it more as part of seeding and weeding than harvesting for what that is worth. It is a harmless thing and it doesn’t interfere with your purity and ability to look others in the face at the mosque. Some of these other fetishes you have to stay away from if you are going to mosque.
But then, they wouldn’t say they are going to the mosque or “I am a Muslim.” They say, “I pray.” You either pray or don’t pray. When you pray, there are other things you are not supposed to do, like drink sorghum beer. People will ask me what I do and I’ll say I am from Isa’s people. That is, Jesus' people. All this they know because Jesus is in the Koran. Their response is, “Oh, you can eat pork.” They’ll try to sell you all their pork. But then I respond, “No, I’m sorry my wife is from Moussa’s people.” Or Moses’ people. And they know Jews don’t eat pork. The politics of pork are very interesting, as are those of drinking. In Mali, if anyone is a Christian it is because they want to drink. Otherwise, it’s pretty well social suicide, certainly in urban Mali.
What I don’t know, but I am sure there is literature on this, is: the Ashanti chiefs are all male, but they inherit the chiefdom from their maternal uncle, your mother’s brother. Also, the cocoa revolution, how that works. The price of chocolate is eight times what it used to be 15 years ago. Why would they grow maize? Just get it from Kansas and let Kansas eat chocolate. How does improved maize production affect this as opposed to breadfruit or tree crops?
The influence of Islam leans people toward grain trade because they are traders and like the grain trade.
What about the Pentecostal revolution that appears to be sweeping Africa? Is that relevant?
It is probably very relevant as a Protestant sect. There used to be a lot of studies of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were Jehovah’s Witness missionaries elsewhere in Africa whose followers suddenly rose up in arms against the colonial powers, though the missionaries themselves were not the instigators. It was called the Watchtower Movement. But I never heard of that in Ghana.
People go to church in Ghana. People really go to church. We arrived on a Sunday morning and I was trying to get some quick meetings because we were in conferences until Tuesday—forget it: everyone is at church. That includes a Ghanaian who used to be at Goldman Sachs; he runs something called DataBank. He was at church. I don’t know what church he is in but he made a ton of money at Goldman, went to Ghana, and started a bank.
On agriculture, it is the granaries up north, shea butter up north—it is very similar to the Sahel. They speak languages very similar to Mossi, an ethnic group in Burkina Faso. From an anthropological standpoint, Ghana is probably the best studied part of Africa. This is why today anyone studying anthropology avoids Ghana. As you work your way south, it gets matrilineal and Kumasi is the capital of the Ashanti. The chief of chiefs, they may try to call him king, the “big stool” (they call them stools: even the constitution references stools, it is one example of how traditional governance got worked in) the office is called the stool. There are articles about the difference between the stool, the office, and the person. It becomes more bi-lineal toward the coast because of the rice, or so I would argue. But the hungry people in Ghana are the ones displaced by the dam. From a human rights perspective, the Volta Dam was a disaster. I am not sure that anyone has ever done resettlement behind a dam right, but they sure didn’t do it right in Ghana. Of course a lot of the Ashanti sacred sites are under water which is considered disruptive. They consider it to have compromised their ability to grow food successfully. There was also much more fertile land in the river beds.
At a recent event on slavery, examples they showed in film were from Ghana—young boys enslaved by fishermen. Are you familiar with this?
No, but I have never been on the lake. I am not surprised. I know cocoa and you just can’t win in cocoa.
They are boycotting Ghanaian cocoa now.
Because of the so-called child labor. I was in a meeting once chaired by a Ghanaian minister. He shared an anecdote saying: “I grew up on a cocoa farm and I went out every morning before school with my father. They never paid me and they were the best times of my life. These are the times I saw my mother, father, and uncles the most. It never occurred to anyone to pay me; they clothed me, fed me, and sent me to school.” The children are from Mali or Burkina Faso who are in the plantations.
But do African households have dependents? Captives? The word actually means captives. Do you buy and sell captives? Not when anyone is looking. But in Mauritania they do and are proud of it as it is part of the culture. I don’t know about Ghana. Ghana is trying to get with the program on female circumcision and slavery: they are very conscientious about it. Senegal is too.
Part of what we are trying to do is get both a sense of traditions, but also how they are changing. You talked about the dam and its effects in the area. Will fishing will be a big factor in development?
Yes, who are the fishermen and who are they in relation to those who had sacred claims on the land through the stools? The stool that is now 200 meters down at the bottom of the lake? Supposedly they had ceremonies and brought the sacred objects out of the ground, up to higher ground. I remember when I first went to graduate school this was given as an example of how to do it right. Since then, research says nobody is happy about it except the Russians who paid for the dam.
My knowledge of Ghana is less because I worked mostly on francophone countries, because I was forced to learn French as a child. Particularly at USAID, many very bright people could not get through a sentence in another language. I ended up with the Francophone beat. I have been to meetings in Ghana conducted in French with no translation; many Ghanaians speak French. All their neighbors speak French; if the choice is dealing with Nigeria or learning French, they’ll learn French.
And what are you doing in Ghana?
Rockefeller Foundation funded World Wildlife to figure out how we can get from the trade-off to the synergy that I was talking about earlier. Somebody, either at Rockefeller or World Wildlife, decided that we should be doing three different kinds of pilots in three different West African countries, getting this co-benefit carbon intensification credit rural empowerment process going. The Ghanaian case is how to set up institutional carbon finance so that you can do carbon futures. One reason they picked Ghana is that Ghana is the only country that has tried to do any kind of agricultural commodity futures.
This will open the way to REDD projects in the future?
Ghana could have a few REDDs but what is going to reduce poverty is, in Kyoto-speak, AR: a-forestation, reforestation, not REDD. This actually trades under the clean development mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocols. This makes up 65-percent of the country’s compliance credits in the Kyoto Protocol. The European Union, in its wisdom, has decided it’s not going to recognize a-forestation because the “greens” think it’s an indulgence. They use this word for fossil fuels—these moves make life easier for the classic coal burning countries like the U.S. and Australia.
In fact, another, less official, reason for the block is that the EU doesn’t have the technology to measure the land-use change. That technology is only well developed in two countries and the U.S. is one. It happens to be the U.S. because of our remote sensing that comes from our military applications that have gone over to NASA and from NASA to USDA. At USDA, it is used to defend green subsidies to American farmers. So we have the technology. If anyone is doing AR in Kyoto a lot of American tech-companies would be hired for this satellite mapping. The Europeans didn’t want to say out loud that the USA is not even in the Kyoto Protocols, why should we spend all this money on their tech companies? So they outlawed it—never mind the poor people in Africa and whether they can get mitigation credits or not for improving their land. But as I was saying before, the women know how to improve the land; they want to improve the land they just don’t want to lose it. If the land looks like a sand dune they won’t lose it, but if it looks good they will lose it. Suddenly if there are mitigation credits then the government, who receives (too) much of the money from the mitigation credits, will say, “No, leave the women on the land, we can gain from this mitigation.” That’s how that works.
This is all through WWF that you are working in Ghana?
WWF and the Rockefeller Fund have a consortium with CARE and ICRAF. It grew out of a program Rockefeller funded with the Clinton Foundation.
Are there any questions you would like us to be exploring?
To me agriculture is about land tenure. Land tenure law and land tenure as practice are two different things, in Africa especially. That is a crucial policy process. Ghana has a lot of landless people and people who share-crop. There are complicated things there, how does it play out?
Ghana is not like Nigeria where Christians and Muslims kill each other. They don’t have a lot of Muslims like in Nigeria—20 percent Islam is nothing compared to Nigeria. Burkina Faso is interesting because it’s probably half and half. Mali is probably 85 percent. Niger is 95 percent. Guinea, there is a lot of cultural hostility there with the Muslims being the majority; Guinea has maybe half of the surviving chimpanzees, our closest relative, and the reason for this is because of Islam. Muslims won’t eat chimpanzees; they won’t even kill them—something in the Koran about monkeys being so much like us that it is a sin to kill them. There are troops of chimps trained to gather shea butter fruit: another reason why Muslims wouldn’t want to kill chimps even though they go in and wreck your field. I remember when we were being told that, there was a woman in our group who responded with, “Oh my, that’s exploitation, they’re not being paid.” The chimps are not being paid. Well, they are being paid; they give them little cakes for making piles of shea. That’s how far political correctness can go: the chimps would all be dead if it wasn’t for their labor.
I don’t know about Islam in Ghana, but it may be the least Islamic country in West Africa. Both Sierra Leone and Liberia have Mandé groups that go back to the Mali Empire. They were traders—attracted by diamonds, etc. It was the Christians like Charles Taylor who were the real brutes.
I had an advisor, who probably hasn’t been to Ghana in 30 years, but she had written a dissertation on traditional healing in Ghana and how it was partially psychological. Traditional healing is still important, and is very tied up in social dynamics. Similar to a voodoo ceremony, until you find out who everyone is in relation to everyone else you don’t understand a voodoo ceremony. Ghana has a lot of what they call ecstatic religions: possession, etc. This is present in a lot of fundamentalist religions. This is all part of healing: getting the spirits out. The Catholics take a dim view of this. It is the local dynamics. Haiti is a country I know much better and if you want to use voodoo to get things sorted out with your immediate family and neighbors, you become a Catholic because you cannot practice voodoo unless you are a Catholic. But if you want to take a break from all that, people will become Protestant for a 20-year period then return to Catholicism, when they want to play the voodoo again. Being Protestant means, among other things, that you don’t do voodoo in Haiti. The missionaries say, “Oh, he’s seen the light.” But really, he’s taking a break. No one can “get” you if you are Protestant.