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Does “The Burial of Kojo” Uphold Anthropological Merit?

Samuel “Blitz” Bazawule’s The Burial of Kojo follows Esi, a Ghanaian woman recounting her childhood and the various tumultuous relationships between her family members. Esi’s story focuses on the relationship between her father, Kojo, and her uncle, Kwabena, as well as her father and mother’s marriage. Bazawule skillfully captures the beauty of family, the complexity of spirituality and religious beliefs, and the significance of culture and tradition. Although Bazawule is an exceptional storyteller and a talented artist, his film does not explicitly  present anthropological theories or pertinent cultural context and concepts that the audience may need to understand specific scenes or images. Through a cinematic perspective, Bazawule exceptionally portrayed the events that unfolded in Esi’s life; however, as an ethnography, Bazawule could have included some background information through Esi’s perspective, or an interview with himself, the actors, and actresses to shed light on the culture of Ghana and the Ghanaian perspective on pertinent topics, such as the economy, religion, and family systems. The film subjects the audience to a greater extent of interpretation, resulting in confused perceptions of the true nature of the culture surrounding the afterlife and kinship systems. For example, the concept of life, death, and the afterlife was introduced in several ways. The introduction of the crow and “sacred bird” throughout the first scenes, and the revelation of Kwabena’s death may confuse viewers without sufficient background information about the importance of such symbols in the Ghanaian culture. It is critical for the viewer to understand the underlying symbolic nature of these presented features. As a viewer myself, I was thoroughly confused by Kwabena’s presence when Apalu revealed that Kwabena died seven years ago in an accident. The scenes switching back and forth from Esi’s dreams and reality were difficult to distinguish during the second half of the movie as Kwabena was a part of these illusions. It was only after discussing the movie with peers, and doing some research that I understood Kwabena’s role in the lives of Esi and Kojo.

Like Bazawule’s film, Lisa Cliggett’s Grains From Grass explores similar themes of kinship, spirituality, economy, age, and gender in the Gwembe Tonga society of rural Zambia. In comparison, however, Cliggett’s ethnography demonstrates a remarkable balance between anthropological theory and detailed observations of her fieldwork. When comparing Bazawule and Cliggett’s presentation and portrayal of gender roles and expectations in their respective societies of interest, Bazawule utilizes a more creative approach with symbols and imagery to focus on a specific family and their situation, while Cliggett proceeds in a more straightforward manner and provides both specific and broad examples from within the community. For example, during one of the beginning scenes of the film, we learn that Esi’s mother, Ama, desires to move to the city. Due to their financial circumstances attributed to Kojo’s inability to support his family financially, Ama leaves irregularly. Esi narrates her mother’s departures through her perspective, so we do not know where Ama leaves to, and what she does during that time. Instead, we can only assume Ama’s actions and intentions during short scenes between her and Kojo. In Cliggett’s ethnography, on the other hand, the discussion of gender inequalities and roles are reflected in specific individuals, their families, and the community. An example of this is seen in Cliggett’s brief narrative of Siabulungu, an elderly woman who played a central role in a funeral Cliggett attended. In the excerpt about Siabulungu and her responsibilities, the expectations and stereotypes placed on women are initially centered on Siabulungu then extended to a wider conversation about women’s roles in the Gwembe Tonga community.

Admittedly, it is quite difficult to compare a written ethnography to a visual one; however, the aim is similar if not identical – both produce a written or visual piece that informs others about different cultures and perspectives. Although Bazawule and Cliggett approach the presentation of their ethnographies differently, it is not fair to discredit Bazawule’s film as one that does not deserve anthropological merit. Bazawule’s The Burial of Kojo portrays the cultural and sociopolitical dynamics of Esi’s society in such an artistic manner that it deserves recognition in the field of anthropology.

Jackie Doctor

Oxford Emory

My name is Jackie Doctor, and I'm a sophomore at the Oxford College of Emory University. I'm an Anthropology and Biology major on a pre-med track. I'm interested in pursuing a profession in Allied Health. I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones, Parks and Rec, and Bob's Burgers, and I read, write, and play the ukelele in my spare time. 
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