Otherworldy Videos: Two Perspectives on Akan Spirituality

A few days a go, I watched these two documentaries on the religions of the West African Akan ethic group.

“Return to the Land of Souls”

Watch the entire film here

This is the description of the film: In the 21st century, many ancestral beliefs are struggling to survive in a hostile, fast-changing world. In southeast Côte d’Ivoire, some Akan communities still make contact with the spirits through Komians or animistic priests, who go into a trance and are possessed by the spirits of the Forest and the Waters.

Jean Marie Addiaffi (1941-1999), a writer and intellectual from Ivory Coast, fought to conserve the Akans’ oral literature, myths and legends, and the knowledge and uses of the plants. “In Return to the Land of Souls,” Yéo Douley, a disciple of Jean Marie Addiaffi, will set out on a journey to visit his master’s grave and carry out a ritual libation. On his travel, he will attend the initiation rites of three people chosen by the spirits and witness one of them proclaimed as the new Komian, or high animistic priest.

I particularly liked this film because it gave a more knowledgeable, humane and personal touch to the Akans’ rituals. It did not have a detached outsider point of view unlike this next film, “Demons of Ghana.

“Demons of Ghana” depicts the conflicts between Akan traditional religion in Ghana and Christian megachurches. I have some criticisms of the film. First, it does not give a historical context of how Western missionaries have contributed to the conflict. Second, the narrator and filmmaker is “othering” both groups through his language and actions, especially at the end when he continues to videotape the wedding ritual after he is told not to and when talks about how in the West we are so different (no we are not, which is what I talk about on my blog. Third, the film does not give an overtly well-rounded perspective of traditional religion in the people’s lives, except for one priestess speaking about her experiences, but I read that was done under false pretenses. This film is often objectifying and disrespectful; it seems like it is more for sensationalism.

2 thoughts on “Otherworldy Videos: Two Perspectives on Akan Spirituality

  1. Excellent post!

    I found both videos to be problematic, the first one less so that than the latter because as you pointed out it showed a personal touch and familiarity with Akan religion and spirituality. I could not even watch the second one.

    While I appreciated “Return to the Land of Souls”, I was sceptical at first because there were some scenes that were shown without adequate explanation of what was going on (IIRC there was one ritual shown after a woman was introduced as being a priestess of Mami Wata however there was no mention of what the ritual pertained to and it was not part of the larger rituals involving the initiation). I thought this was a bit gratuitous, but almost every other scene after that came with some explanation and I appreciated that.

    1. Yeah, I was rushing a bit that post, so I didn’t get a chance to write more about the first one. I have to rewatch it and thanks for the commentary; I will definitely look at it again with that in my mind.

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