Remains of Ritual: Northern Gods in Southern Lands, by Steven M. Friedson, focuses on the ethnomusicology of the Ewe speaking people of present day Ghana and Togo during the 1920’s and follows the course of Ewe ritualistic practices of Lahare Kunde (“Brekete”), African spirit-god worshipping, along the Volta Region providing a detailed ethnographic analysis over fifteen years. Friedson address the main point by providing a detailed ethnography of the Brekete shrine religion by paying special attention to the overall feeling tone and the inner workings of the Ewe people. Friedson lays out the book in a detailed manner to allow the reader to understand Ewe phrases and understandings in the beginning of the text, and then allows the reader to follow Friedson along through his journey of Ghana and connection with the Ewe people. The author describes in detail the Ewe people, his connection with them, and the cultural religious practices. As far as to put aside the ethnographic detail, Friedson insists on presenting the reader with large anecdotes of being amongst the Ewe people and how over time Friedson has connected with them through dance, drinking, rituals; allowing the reader to create a more emotional investment to the study.
Music and dance are discussed in the beginning chapter, where readers encounter the presence of these dancing gods within the Ewe people. Friedson addresses the use of music and dance within the Ewe religion, arguing the use of ethnomusicology to explain, and theorize the Ewe people’s Brekete shrine religion. Friedson’s describes these gods and their rituals by relating how devotees understand their own beliefs and practices and where these beliefs will lead to possession. Friedson’s view of the importance of music within the Ewe framework, is the linkage of music with the cross rhythms, that allow the Ewe people to realize other realms of human life, spirituality. When Ewe people use drums for ritualistic practices, one must leaden how to engage themselves with the synergy of the rhythm, as well as follow along with the other instruments to reach the state of being in between realms, or that sense of spiritual possession. Ewe people incorporate the use of music to engage their devotees that are not chosen to become spiritually possessed, but to aid the process of those being possessed. Music is there forth used throughout the entirety of the ritual process, from beginning the possession to the dancing of the gods, to where the god leaves the devotee and now must be sent away peacefully.
Spirit possession, sacrifice, and fetishes are understood within the frame of the cultural devotees, specifically stating what the devotees say they are to be. When an Ewe person is possessed, they are no longer in control of their body and are in other words, in another space outside of reality, in where a god will inhabit their body to dance. Rather than explaining them through literal translation, Friedson draws on terms used by the Ewe people, in order to adequality cite these cultural practices. Fetishes become characteristic within the book by becoming the description of those items used in process of rituals for the gods to have or be seen as an offering. Firedson discusses the use of shrines for ritual practices by the Ewe people. These shrines are located in three town locations to the east of the Ghana capital of Accra, as well as in the town of Kpando. Friedson references the two places where rituals are hosted throughout the book, in a weekly worship service known as a salah and at a friend’s funeral. Animal sacrifices are also discussed in ritual practices in an Afa divination. Friedson emphasizes his study on particular Ewe gods, Brekete, Kunde, Bangle and Adzo. The devotees brought these gods from the north, part of Islamic cultures which is central to the theme of the book, of new gods migration and its tendency to change the cultures of worshipers.
Animal sacrifices are used to satisfy the gods, where animals would be used in every form of ritualistic practice. Animals such as, bulls, goats, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats. Friedson specifically discusses his discomfort with the scarification of American domesticated animals (dogs and cats) and does not go forth and sacrifice those animals when he is asked to. Friedson does however document and practice the sacrifice of both bull and chickens, where the bull would be the main source of animal sacrifice as where it was seen as the best offer to the gods. In the case of chickens however, they would be used for spirit possession, where the fall of a chicken after death would signify which god would be possessing a devotee’s body. Although Friedson did represent some discomfort towards scarification, Friedson properly documents and analyzes the Ewe people’s form and necessity for animal sacrifice. Even as far as to mention that some readers may have beliefs against the idea of sacrificing animals, but does provide arguable evidence to support and not disrupt the reasoning behind Ewe sacrifice.
Friedson’s formation of the book is detailed analysis of evidence and organization of connecting provides large pieces of anecdotes of his time with the Ewe people, character descriptions and stable information of the field. Friedson’s wide variety of perspectives forms the book from many viewpoints, from an ethnographic view of musicology and ethnology to a more emotional tie to the Ewe people. This approach, can be argued that it aligns the medium of the text with the nature of its content. Friedson maintains both a close and far relation with the Ewe people, in forming relations with them as if he were integrating himself within the culture, but also remembers to view the Ewe people through an etic approach. It is an effective and integral approach to this field of study bringing the viewpoint of both devotee and anthropological perspective into the light.
Before reading Remains of Ritual: Northern Gods in Southern Lands, I did not have any knowledge of musical ritualistic practices of West African people, that involved an animal sacrifices, spirit possession from the community of the Ewe people and the use of homemade drums to invoke the Ewe’s cultural and religious practices. Although, only having read the first couple of pages, I had a few ideas on how the book was going to continue. I thought the book was going to continue the theme of metaphors, having every cultural and religious notion be explained through metaphors and the overall organization of the book was going to be difficult to follow. As I continued to read through the book, my first impression of the read changed as the author progressed to describe detailed relations with the Ewe people, as far as involving himself within the frameworks of their culture and religious practices.
After reading the book, I was left with wanting to learn more about the inner workings of the Ewe people and other cultures that use music through their religious practices and invoking their spiritual deities. Specifically, the Ewe people’s methods of conducting a ritual practice was intriguing to say the least, it left me wondering how the sacrifices, dancing rituals, spiritual possession really look like in person. The author does a well enough job on describing the ritual practices in detail enough to visualize, but I still wonder the feel of the environment, the surrounding groups of people emotions and expressions, how everything around the practices correlates with each other. The book gave me a wide array of emotions, but overall it was a rollercoaster of feelings, from wonder of a new culture, being able to learn their religious practices. How the Ewe people coexist with their spiritual deities, as well as saddened by their religious animal sacrifices. But as Friedson describes, it is only because of how the American culture is towards these animals. Along with the emotions I felt and the author had living amongst the Ewe people, the book was an interesting, well studied, ethnographic visualization of the Ewe people’s religious ritual practices and how unique they are amongst other well-known religions.
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