[Anthropology on/of the road]

> Religion and spirituality on the road

Setting an eye on Ghana's busy roads, its vehicles and passengers allows to discover just another very lively issue in this West African country: religion and its adaptation to everyday life. Here, the road and the roadside as one arena for popular culture surprises with its capacity for integrating people's religious beliefs and practices. The (auto)mobilization of spirituality?

Ghanaians travel frequently. In cars, taxis, mini-busses ('trotros'), in the more comfortable O-vans or STC busses, many of them spend a lot of time on the road. A Ghanaian having left his village early in the morning to take a trotro to Accra to do some business might return in the evening and report that “Enne na metuu kwan,” meaning ‘Today, I have travelled'.



'JESUS IS COMING SOON' - 'Miracle Working God' (gelb-roter Aufklerber)

Accra/Ghana (2000)



Travelling Gospel
Many of those who get on a vehicle start their journey with a silent prayer. Others just read a passage from their pocket bible. Once on the road the drivers love playing loud gospel music. Frequently there is an itinerant preacher among the passengers on his mission to spread some good news. Anyway, most vehicles' front and back are decorated with proverbs and slogans referring to Christian faith. “Dr. JESUS” – “All shall pass” – “God's time is the best”. Stickers inside the vehicles carry similar sanctifying messages. “Relax. God is in control.” – “Never fear.”

Indeed, God better be in control, and there truly are reasons to fear. Travelling in Ghana is dangerous, car accidents are frequent, mostly fatal and a threat to the nation. Keeping to the spiritual means described above therefore is one way to face these dangers of the road, while being on the road.


Careless driving
People presume that most accidents have a human cause. Over-speeding and over-loading of vehicles are crude facts and have evolved into a hot national debate on the car operators' irresponsible striving for profit, on road insecurity and mortality in the country. Popularly, one fears the ‘Three B's' – bad drivers, bad cars, bad roads. However, people meet the road as a paradox: it is at the same time dynamic and life-giving – since promoting commercial activities - as well as death-bringing.


Bewitched curves
But the threat also comes from alongside the road. The famous ‘death curves', for instance, are feared by passengers who know about the enemy: witchcraft. One of these ‘death curves' is reached shortly after leaving Accra on Ghana's main road to the north. At Potrase, an apparently idyllic village in the Atiwa Mountains, the curvy road suddenly plunges into the green valley. People die here every week.

It is believed that curses are spelled over this curve by the village's inhabitants. Here lies the cause of car accidents. As a consequence, both church officials and ‘traditional' priests regularly engage themselves in rituals and prayers in order to cleanse the road and the village from its presumed evils – and from its bad nationwide reputation.


Cleansing the road
For many, the horrifying car wrecks which can be seen abandoned in odd position on the roadside give clear evidence of that ‘juju' and the great supernatural powers involved in such accidents. Specialists selling amulets offer protection from these general dangers on and around the road. Likewise, the ‘car scriptures' and other evangelical impacts seem to have discovered the road as their mission field.

Do these phenomenon reveal some sort of religious appropriation of the road? Vehicles, the road and the roadside are obviously being used as platforms for spirituality – for prayers, preachers, sermons and songs. This allows linking mobility with the spreading of ‘the gospel'. In the end, it is fears, beliefs and practices of witchcraft which are mobilized – even transported – on Ghana's roads every day. On roads which are always ‘under construction'.


'Thank you Jesus - Have you said it today?' - 'In God we trust' - 'Relax. God is in control'

Accra/Ghana (2001)

Verkauf von spiritueller Reiselektüre (Gebetshefte, Bekehrungsgeschichten, Bibellosungen) am trotro-Busbahnhof

Accra/Ghana (2002)

Gebetsketten am Rückspiegel und Marienbild am Amaturenbrett

Benin (2003)

Reinigungsritual mit Tieropfer

Um den Mercedes des Königs von Akyem Abuakwa wird ein Kreis mit Schafsblut gezogen. Erst dann kann der König seinen Wagen verlassen

Kyebi/Ghana (2002)

Bizarre Unfälle. Die Straße als Plattform für Hexerei und übernatürliche Kräfte?

Ghana (2002)

Über den Pedalen baumelt ein Rinderhorn-Amulett mit Schutzfunktionen.

Tatale/Ghana (2003)