Trees and Valleys are Gods: Folktales as Intangible Literary Anthropological Artefacts for Environmental Protection in Ghana

Author: Hasiyatu Abubakari (University of Ghana)
Speaker: Hasiyatu Abubakari
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


A current fundamental threat to the earth is the rate of depletion of the environment due to human activities. Several silvicultural approaches have been deployed to the neglect of indigenous practices that have the potentials to resonate more with local folks and have them fully imbedded in the process. This study leverages on SDG 4.7 which puts culture at the heart of development policies and sees it as the only approach which ensures a human-centered, inclusive and equitable development. It underscores the use of folktales for the achievement of SDGs 13-15. The current study focuses on using folktales to express social and cultural practices and perceptions of the Kusaas of Ghana regarding environmental protection.

The six folktales selected for this study deal with different ecological issues. They amplify: myths surrounding animals in their natural habitats; the relationship between human beings and animals in the ecosystem, human induced activities that affect the ecosystem, beliefs in forests and water bodies as spiritual resources with ancestral and supernatural powers.

This study employs the framework of literary anthropology which concerns the relationship between anthropology and literature and seeks to examine the interaction between human beings and their wider environment (Craith and Fournier 2016). Rapport (2012) acknowledges that the ‘field’ of literary anthropology is twofold. Whilst one concentrates on the life of the individual, the other looks at literature itself and the role it plays in our society (Craith and Fournier 2016). To this effect, Rapport defines the concept by explaining that “literary anthropology can be understood here as an exploration of different kinds of genre of expression, and how these genres can be said to have a historical specificity, a cultural evaluation, and a social institutionalism attached to them” (Rapport 2012). This theory is employed to explain and understand the culture, traditional knowledge, norms and values of the speakers of the Kusaal language in Ghana through their popular culture. Folktales form part of the oral literary genre of the Kusaas and is more of a narrative or literary symbolism of their way of life. The research method is qualitative.

Craith, Máiréad, Nic, and Fournier, Laurent, Sebastian. 2016. “Literary Anthropology:The Sub-disciplinary Context.” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, Volume 25, No. 2: 1-8, Berghahn Books.

Rapport, N. 2012. Literary Anthropology. In Oxford Bibliographies Online. doi: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0067

Keywords: environmental conservation, climate change, folktales, environmental education, Kusaal language, cultural philosophy, ecological deities, Mabia languages