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Working Paper No. 08/2011

UCL Anthropology Working Papers Series

Department of Anthropology
University College London
14 Taviton Street, London
WC1H 0BW, U.K.

ISSN 1759-6688
Editorial Board: Sara Randall, Martin Holbraad

Working Paper No. 08/2011
Published online February 7, 2011
© Copyright rests with the authors

'SAKAWA' RUMOURS:
OCCULT INTERNET FRAUD AND GHANAIAN IDENTITY

ALICE ARMSTRONG

Dissertation submitted in 2010 for the BSc Anthropology

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ABSTRACT

‘Sakawa’ hit Ghanaian news headlines in 2007, prompting a nationwide epidemic of rumours which continue today. These rumours accuse young men of manipulating evil occult powers to perform successful internet fraud. In order to gain occult powers ‘Sakawa boys’ are said to perform socially grotesque rituals ranging from sleeping in coffins to cannibalism. These rituals endow Sakawa boys with the power to spiritually enter the internet; possessing the mind of the foreign fraud victim to extract quick and easy money. This is the first ethnography on Sakawa but the phenomenon is not completely new. Supernatural manipulation of the internet has continuities with longstanding West African cultural archetypes surrounding occult power and wealth that is gained at the expense of others. However with Sakawa this expense is not just paid by family or friends, misfortune is inflicted on the entire nation. A wide range of Ghanaians condemn Sakawa as “not Ghanaian” behaviour which raises fears for Ghana’s national identity and international reputation. An ontogenic approach is used to explore this change in scale, discussing the intimate relationship between identity boundaries and occult beliefs which shift and change as Ghana develops as a nation. Sakawa rumours draw on long-standing occult idioms that negotiate ‘Us’ from ‘Them’ and are revealed as the latest re- negotiation of a specifically Ghanaian identity, under and aware of the gaze of the world.


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