Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity among the Ewe in Ghana / Edition 1

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"This book offers an ethnography of the emergence of a local Christianity and its relation to changing social, political and economic formations among the Peki Ewe in Ghana. Focusing on the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which arose from encounters between the Ewe and German Piestist missionaries, the author examines recent conflicts leading to the secession of many pentecostally oriented members, which it places in a historical perspective."--BOOK JACKET.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865437982
  • Publisher: Africa World Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 265
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 0.86 (d)

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In 1989 I started fieldwork among the Peki Ewe in Ghana to gain an understanding of Christianity at the grassroots level. Soon after I began, I visited a prayer service by virtually all the Christian churches represented in the area. It was held in the chapel of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a mission church which was established as a result of the activities of nineteenth century missionaries from the missionsgesellschaft (NMG), in Peki Blengo. This All Churches Prayer brought together various denominations such as Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, as well as a great number of African independent and Pentecostal churches. I was struck by the fact that these various and competing churches appeared to be united by a common enemy: the Devil. A huge part of the service was focused on his evil manifestations. One pastor preached on how to do away with 'pagan' gods which he described as Satan's demons. In the middle of the service there were attempts to exorcise a schoolboy who appeared to be possessed by a local god worshipped in his family, and there were numerous songs and prayers to ward off the Devil.

In the All Churches Prayer I began to realize the immense importance of the image of the Devil in local appropriations of Christianity among the Ewe. The devil was called upon to draw a boundary between Christianity and 'heathendom' - in other words Ewe religion from a Christian perspective - thus admonishing Ewe gods and spirits. Yet, as I came to understand in the course of my stay, demonstration by no means implies that the former gods and spirits will disappear out of people's lives. As servants of Satan they are still regarded as real powers that have to be dealt with in a concrete way - rather than outmoded 'superstitions,' as modern Protestant theology would have it. Thus, through the image of the Devil, 'old' Ewe spiritual powers continue to be exist. Put differently, the image of Satan offers a discourse with which to approach these powers as 'Christian' demons.

As a matter of fact, people allude to evil spirits and the devil so frequently that I was drawn to deal with this apparently pivotal topic in the lives of many Christians as a main focus of my research. Interestingly, talk about demons and the Devil occurred most frequently and openly in the Pentecostal churches. These churches, which have become increasingly popular in Ghana since the mid-1980s, also shape the religious arena in Peki to a large extent. Indeed those people who left the EPC for another church mostly attributed their move - or better still, their conversion, which transformed them from 'nominal' church members into 'born again' Christians - to the fact that the EPC failed to deal with demons satisfactorily because its leaders would take neither the Holy Spirit nor the Devil and his demons seriously. Therefore the church would be unable to ward off or cast out evil spirits in the name of God and achieve protection and healing. This critique also played a major role in the secession of two prayer groups from the EPC in 1961 and 1991 respectively, which gave rise to two new churches under the name of Abelengor - the Lord's Pentecostal Church, and the EPC 'of Ghana.' These churches have developed an elaborate discourse on demons as well as a number of rituals to deal with them. Along with the EPC, these two churches came to form my main field of investigation, and this study is about these three organizations and the relationships among them. I propose that by examining the images of the Devil held in these churches, it is possible to gain insight into the intricate process of the appropriation of Christianity at the grassroots level, as well as the widespread desertion of the mission-derived churches for Pentecostalism.

Yet all this is not enough account for the evolution of Ewe appropriations of Christianity. Despite the fact that by referring to the image of the Devil a boundary is drawn between Christianity and Ewe religion, both share essential features. The point is that in order to be communicated, the Christian message had to be translated into the local language. Christian Ewe discourse thus contains many 'heathen' terms which also account for the peculiarity of local Christian interpretations. Both the image of Satan and Christian Ewe vocabulary in general have a special relationship with Ewe religion. Whereas through diabolization spiritual beings are represented as demons, translation necessarily involves a positive integration of non-Christian terms. Therefore, it is important to investigate how these paradoxical strategies of both vernacularization and diabolization have contributed to local appropriations of Christianity on the borderline of the old and new religions.

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Table of Contents

List of Maps and Tables
List of Abbreviations
1 Setting the scene: Peki past and present 1
Pre-missionary times until 1918 1
1918 until 1989 14
Peki at the time of the research 23
2 The home base of the missionaries 28
The Norddeutsche Missionsgesellschaft: board and missionaries 28
Pietists and the world: the language of images 31
Awakened Pietists' dualist conception of God and the Devil 40
The Pietist religion 51
3 Vernacularisation 54
Missionary linguistics 57
Missionary ethnography 60
Ewe religion: a tentative reconstruction 62
Christian Ewe discourse 72
Translation 80
4 Diabolisation 83
The missionaries and the Devil 83
Ewe concepts and practices regarding evil 85
The Ewe and Abosam 94
Conversion and the Devil 108
5 Three churches out of one 112
The Lord's (Pentecostal) Church - Agbelengor 112
Consequences in the EPC 120
Membership of the EPC, Agbelengor and the EPC 'of Ghana' 130
'Africanisation' versus 'Pentecostalisation' 134
6 Doctrines and rituals 141
Differences in worship 141
Evil spirits and the boundary between Christianity and 'heathendom' 146
Pentecostalism and demonology 171
7 People and spirits 175
Conceptualisations and experiences of spirits 175
Spirits, family ties and the individual 179
Human - spirit relations in the context of Pentecostalism 204
Epilogue: Modernity, time and the Devil 213
Appendix Population statistics 217
Notes 218
Glossary 238
References 241
Index 261
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2001


    This book is a doctoral thesis for the author. It is very well researched and put together. However, as a missionary who works with the EP Church of Ghana and Ewe people, I feel it is useful only as an example of some common themes and experiences in Africa. It surveys only one small region of the church and is written as if this represents the whole. Myself and others in the church leadership question this and feel that accuracy is in question in this regard. However, if you are interested in Africa and missions, this is a fine book and tells the story of the church well, especially the split from the larger body. On this account, it is quite useful and worth a look. I think a follow up with further analysis of the Ewe church on a broader base would be very useful and make the book more important, giving it greater impact. I will say it is one of the best books written by an outsider on Africa, that I have read in preparing classes for seminary students and my own personal studies. On that basis, alone I give it a high recommendation.

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