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Remains of Ritual

Northern Gods in a Southern Land

Remains of Ritual, Steven M. Friedson’s second book on musical experience in African ritual, focuses on the Brekete/Gorovodu religion of the Ewe people. Friedson presents a multifaceted understanding of religious practice through a historical and ethnographic study of one of the dominant ritual sites on the southern coast of Ghana: a medicine shrine whose origins lie in the northern region of the country. Each chapter of this fascinating book considers a different aspect of ritual life, demonstrating throughout that none of them can be conceived of separately from their musicality—in the Brekete world, music functions as ritual and ritual as music. Dance and possession, chanted calls to prayer, animal sacrifice, the sounds and movements of wake keeping, the play of the drums all come under Friedson’s careful scrutiny, as does his own position and experience within this ritual-dominated society.

See the author’s website for the book for audio, video, and color images from his fieldwork.

272 pages | 2 color plates, 25 halftones, 3 line drawings, 23 musical examples | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History

Music: Ethnomusicology

Religion: Religion and Society


“In his Remains of Ritual, Steve Friedson has given us a pathbreaking work on the nature and dynamics of ritual practice. This sensuously contoured and theoretically nuanced tale of how the northern Gods came to possess Ewe mediums in Ghana’s southern lands underscores powerfully how the fusion of sound, movement, and meaning evokes central themes of Ewe history and culture. In so doing, Friedson demonstrates how history and culture are reckoned and passed from present to future. This work is ethnography at its very best.”

Paul Stoller, West Chester University

“Beautifully written, with a deft integration of history, theory, interpretation, and fine-grained ethnographic detail, Friedson’s narrative-style analysis of Ghanaian Ewe shrine rituals and their music is compelling reading with breathtaking insights in every chapter. Integrating the phenomenological approaches of Heidegger with his sustained field research, Friedson presents the reader with more than just a fresh look at Ewe trancing, drumming, dancing, and singing—he teaches us how to conceptualize gold-standard fieldwork. Without didacticism, Friedson demonstrates the importance of long-term field research and how he negotiates his own role as a participant in the most intimate of Ewe shrine rituals without actually becoming a member. Efficacy is in the doing, not in the believing. He has appropriated and reinterpreted a philosopher from the European past to present a strangely beautiful and haunting tale of a contemporary West African musical/religious practice.”

Judith Becker, University of Michigan

“Friedson guides the reader through the complex realities of Ewe shrines, their gods, fetishes, and priests. The ontology underpinning the various kinds of engagement that Ewe have with their gods is revealed in the brilliant sensitivity of Friedson’s exposition. He shows how the forces of the shrines and the powers of their priests must be grasped in the dynamics of participation. Here music is central, and Friedson reveals the exciting new terrains of understanding that become manifest in it. This is a masterly work that constitutes a major contribution to the anthropology of ritual performance and will have significance for knowledge well beyond the West African world that is the basis for Friedson’s many, many insights.”

Bruce Kapferer, University of Bergen

"This volume consists of an engaging and well-written text that incorporates layers of anthropological, ethnomusicological, and philosophical analyses of increasing complexity, augmented by extensive endnotes, which make it accessible to a wide general audience."


Remains of Ritual successfully demonstrates the potential of the discipline of ethnomusicology to be at the forefront of scholarly discourse on culture, rather than a junior sister to disciplines such as anthropology and philosophy.”

David Locke | Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology

Remains of Ritual is a superbly written study of the rituals and music associated with the southern Ghanaian Ewe worship of gods who originally came from northern Ghana. . . . [This] is sure to be a major contribution to the study of Ewe and African music and ritual.”

African Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


On Language

Note on Transcriptions

Southern Lands

Northern Gods

Brekete Pantheon

1 Where Divine Horsemen Ride

2 Salah! Salah!

3 The Poured Gift

4 Deadland

5 The Rhythm of the Crossroads

6 Burials

Coda: Opening the Door







Society for Ethnomusicology: Alan Merriam Award

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