Between respect and reciprocity: managing old age in rural Ghana

  • S. van der Geest Medical Anthropology Unit, University of Amsterdam


Two principles underlie the attitude towards elderly people and their care in the Akan culture of Ghana: respect and reciprocity. The author argues that these principles are often in conflict with one another. Elderly people are entitled to respect because of their advanced age but they may not deserve it in terms of reciprocity. The ambivalence in the Akan attitude towards elderly people should be seen in the light of the contradiction. A culture of pretending provides young and old with the means to solve this contradiction. Outward respect is showered upon the elderly, both by younger generations and the elderly themselves, but adequate care may be withheld. A "fitting" funeral is the approved design for finishing off this uneasy condition gracefully. This article is based on anthropological research in a rural town in the southern part of Ghana.


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