Some babies and toddlers in parts of West Africa are considered spirit children—nonhumans sent from the forest to cause misfortune and destroy the family. These are usually deformed or ailing infants, or children whose births coincide with tragic events or who display unusual abilities. Aaron R. Denham offers a nuanced ethnographic study of this phenomenon in Northern Ghana that examines both the motivations of the families and the structural factors that lead to infanticide. He also turns the lens on the prevailing misunderstandings about this controversial practice. Denham offers vivid accounts of families’ life-and-death decisions that engage the complexity of the context, local meanings, and moral worlds of those confronting a spirit child.
About the Author
Aaron R. Denham is a senior lecturer in anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He formerly was a mental health provider for children and families, a fellow of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders.
“The work that Denham has carried out and disseminates in this finely written and sensitive book is absolutely ground-breaking.”—Ethos
“Denham’s narratives on the human-spirit interactions in Nankani are fascinating. . . . Anyone who did not realise that Denham was born and raised outside of Africa might think that the book was written by a native African who was born and nurtured in this particular culture.”—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
“Although his book is based on a small community, the nuance with which Denham treats ‘infanticide’ contributes broadly to medical anthropology, childhood studies, and religious studies.”—Choice