Title: Home and away: mental geographies of young migrant workers from Northern Ghana and their belonging to the family house
Authors: Cassiman, Ann #
Issue Date: Oct-2005
Conference: Doing, thinking, feeling home: The mental geography of residential Environments location:Delft University of Technology date:October 2005
Abstract: A family house in Kasenaland (NE-Ghana) originates at the converging of various paths of moving people, goods, food, children, wives, the living and the ancestors. A house is a body in motion, which is continuously remoulded by daily movements of its inhabitants for whom it is a nexus of belonging. The paths evoke the travels of those who left: migrants, deceased, or those who travelled to the bush, referring to the southern parts of the country, the main cities (Accra or Kumasi) or in transnational diaspora.
Today the movement of travelling is of topical interest since more and more young men and women move towards the South in response to harsh economic and climatic conditions in the northern regions. Many sons and daughters leave parts of the large compound houses emptied, and while away or upon their return, they built new rooms in expensive materials and with new designs, as witnesses of their partaking in a larger, so-called ‘modern’ world.
In this paper I will focus on seasonal as well as permanent national migration of Kasena people. I explicitly take up the point of view of those who stay behind in the homelands. Field research was carried out in the rural areas of the Upper East Region of Ghana. This contribution discusses the migratory movements in the light of mental geographies and their socio-cultural, material and mental implications for dwelling and belonging in rural compound houses.
In a first part, after offering a brief description of migration patterns and their meaning, I analyse today’s migration acts as new and remodelled initiation rituals. Travelling to the unknown lands in the South is currently considered part of a young man’s fruition into adulthood. When returning home, the youngsters carry proofs of having gained access to a larger, globalised world, such as fancy dresses and gadgets, tokens of a ‘modern’ city life. In a second part I will analyse the family houses of the migrants and the various ways in which their physical absence is being dealt with in material terms. Thereby the women act as mediators between the different worlds their children belong to. In a third part, I will elucidate the relationship between these new modes of dwelling and a core existential myth illuminating the origin of dwelling among the Kasena. The migrant will be compared to the mythological figure of the nomadic hunter. In conclusion, I will argue that the creation of a home requires a relation to the un-oriented realm of the bush, which can be the unknown and faraway, the city or a larger ‘modern’ world. As today’s embodiment of the hunter, the migrant realises this relationship. Many of the recent migrants opt for the creation of a home in their family houses, back in the Ghanaian hinterland. For those who stay in the village houses, the modification of building materials and styles, brought home by the migrants, inserts them into a larger world and into modernity, without profoundly affecting the essence of dwelling in a Kasena village.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa
# (joint) last author

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