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Vol 6 No 1 (2019)

‘Money spoils the medicine’: Gift exchange and traditional healing in Northern Ghana

  • Eva Krah
October 9, 2016
April 17, 2019


In this article, I use classical anthropological and sociological theory on exchange to explain the robustness of the cultural economy of healing in Northern Ghana. While many scholars have argued that health care in Africa should be understood through the lens of neoliberal marketization, ethnographic research among Mamprusi healers shows that practices of traditional healing are firmly embedded in a cultural system of exchange. Although confronted with an expanding monetary economy, the healers adhere to the local credo that ‘money spoils the medicine’. This alludes to an approach to healing characterized by a kind of reciprocity that reflects (post-)Maussian principles of gift exchange. Drawing on these principles, I propose to complement our understanding of exchange with the concept of ‘moral monies’. As peculiar monetary (counter)gifts, these serve as instruments to reconcile contemporary monetary needs with the sociocultural, moral, and historical institutions in which traditional health care is rooted.