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16.11.2003 Feature Article

Traditional beliefs, norms, a source of social disorder in South Sissala

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- A GNA Feature by B.D. Pobia

Tamale, Nov. 14, GNA - There is a place in Ghana where "Nature First Made People" still live. Life in this world depends on prophecy and the people there find it difficult to adjust themselves to modern trends.

In this world, prophecy is the determining factor in the life of the people. When the day breaks, each head of family will have to consult a soothsayer to tell what the day holds for individual members before they leave for work. The same is done when they return from work to their holy homes.

This practice has become the body and soul of the people in that a sting from a scorpion, snakebite or sicknesses such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and even delayed labour are believed to be punishment from the Ancestors or spirit beings of the land for wrongdoing.

These "Yesterday's People" are in the Funsi, Kojoperi and Kundungu Traditional Areas of South Sissala in the Wa District of the Upper West Region.

These areas are also known as the "Overseas" of the Upper West Region because during the rainy season the many rivers in these parts get flooded cutting off the communities from the rest of the country.

In these communities family heads are autocrats and whatever they say about a sick person is final and should be accepted by all. The living souls of the people are governed and guided by ancestors and spirit beings of the land. A sick person accepting a guilt or offence and sacrificing to the spirit beings are the only norms that guarantee their survival. Woe, therefore, betides any person who dares challenge the verdict of what has been prophesied.

People in these communities still believe that the mosquito does not cause malaria. They do not know that poor sanitary conditions in their homes and surroundings are breeding grounds for mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions.

The problem with the people is that they do not accept change. Their refusal to practise personal hygiene introduced to them by personnel of the Ministry of Health is worrisome.

Many pregnant women have died during childbirth as a result of locally prepared concoctions given to them when they are in labour. Most husbands have refused to rush their wives to hospital if the soothsayer says she has had an affair with another man.

It is even so disheartening that traditional birth attendants use some locally prepared concoctions for abortion and this has caused the death of many women in the communities. The most effective herbal preparation that these women use for abortion is the one made from the "Jatropha Curcus" tree.

A small branch of the plant, containing some whitish liquid, is carefully inserted deep into the woman's genitals and when the liquid comes into contact with the womb it results in the termination of the pregnancy. Medical Doctors in the Wa Regional Hospital have often found it difficult to understand why young girls from the area die of abortion but the secret is that these are caused by traditional birth attendants.

When a man contracts an HIV/AIDS related disease, the attention of the people are diverted to the belief that he had wronged the spirits of the land or an ancestor. With this belief, if that man dies, his brothers quickly rush to marry his widows who unknowingly infect their new husbands.

The husbands in turn pass on the disease to their other wives. Some of the people in the area also believe that they are spiritually powerful and, therefore, cannot be infected with the disease. For this group of people, indiscriminate sex is therefore their pastime.

Another problem is that the local gin "akpeteshie" sellers from Southern Ghana have invaded these communities resulting in high intake of alcohol among the youth. They even exchange foodstuff and meat for the gin. Discipline is completely broken down in the communities. Young men now steal or kill their fathers' domestic animals and sell to cattle and meat traders to raise money for drink and sex.

The local gin sellers import their sisters from the South to the villages to seduce the young men to patronise their liquor. These young girls whose health status are unknown may be potential sources of HIV/AIDS infection.

The non-availability of condoms in the few health institutions and the absence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in HIV/AIDS education in the communities are a source of worry. Pre-marital pregnancies among the girls are assuming alarming proportions.

For fear of societal disgrace most of these girls with pre-marital pregnancies rush to quack traditional birth attendants to have an abortion, which invariably results in maternal deaths.

In fact, the areas mentioned above, can be described as a "State within the State of Ghana" because of the long neglect by previous governments. Education is yet to reach their doorsteps. It is, therefore, imperative that the Government and NGOs should design special programmes to open up the area for socio-economic development.

To start with health education should be intensified in these communities to ensure a behavioural change towards sex and alcoholism. Even though the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service are making headway in the education of the people, it is still not enough to persuade them to abandon their cultural beliefs and norms.

Habits die hard they say but it is also said that persistence is the ladder used to ascend to the land of enlightenment; therefore, the necessary help should be extended to these people to change their minds and beliefs to embrace modernity.

GNA, © 2003

The author has 219 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: GNA

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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