Of house or bush: the cultural psychodynamics of infanticide in Northern Ghana

Aaron R. Denham

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3 Citations (Scopus)


In northern Ghana, the Nankani people describe how disabled or ill children and those whose births coincide with tragic events are spirit children sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. Upon identification, some spirit children are subject to infanticide. People often describe spirit children as wanting to kill the same-sex parent to take over the house. Based on discourse
alone, one might explain the spirit child in terms of a presumed underlying oedipal dynamic, but such an analysis is partial. When we interpret the spirit child from the bifocal vision of cultural psychodynamics, which links cultural phenomenology and psychodynamic paradigms, we gain a complex understanding of the interactions between Nankani cultural models, moral imaginations, family relations, and parental ambivalence. I interpret families’ perceptions of danger and their feelings of fear and hostility toward children
and refer to infant alterity, narcissistic injury, scapegoating, and projective processes that link individual sentiments and decision-making with their cultural and material contexts. Cultural psychodynamics illuminates Nankani conceptions of child development, morality, and parental psychologies and offers insights into how and why some parents kill their children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-88, 98-99
Number of pages14
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


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