Last Thursday was like no other. It was a very special day, a holy day which was observed as a holiday here in Ghana – and elsewhere. The two great monotheistic religions of the world, Christianity and Islam shared the day by celebrating Ascension Day (Christians) and the Eid-el-Fitr (Moslems). We all took the day off as a day to enjoy the Eid-el-Fitr national holiday.
This is the kind of play on words school kids enjoy challenging each other with: A holy day and a holiday. They both have a ring of the divine about them and for a worshipful nation like Ghana, that means a lot!
Ghana, like many other sub-Saharan countries, was hewn out of many disparate ethnic, linguistic and religious entities, each with their very unique and diverse ways of doing things. After generations of foreign colonial domination and exploitation, these entities were eventually cobbled together as independent modern nation states during the 50s, up to the 80s of the twentieth century. Ghana was at the forefront of this new-found national identity. Every high school boy or girl knows that.
But what these school kids may not know is that the colonialists did a very thorough job conditioning their ancestors to accept that there is only one right way to be a good human being – their way. By the time of independence, to this day, it had become ingrained to the extent that even in the 21st Century that is the mindset of many people. Meanwhile, science, technology, human and natural resource management, those factors that would ensure and assure human progress were left unattended to, having not moved in step at all with the far-reaching strides of the “one good way”. We have therefore exhibited more dexterity at building palaces of worship than pulling ourselves out of underdevelopment with citadels of innovation, creativity and productivity.
Ghana has become one big sprawling prayer camp – all the 238,535 km² of her, with the religions jostling for space. It is the Christian places of worship that dominate and rule the nest. What the immediate pre and post independence periods knew as Christian worship as expressed through the Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Anglican Church, and others in this category, has now been augmented (taken over?) by the culture of American-style mega-churchism.
Some of these mega churches flaunt wealth and temporal power more than spirituality. Generally led by individuals reputed to be extremely wealthy through their evangelizing, these individuals have often employed a mix of “prosperity theology”, uncompromising self-righteousness and patronage from the powers that be. These powers that be are the capos in politics, business, security, civil service, the judiciary, trickling all the way down to the lowliest of worshiper. They control and direct huge followings using harvests, retreats, all-nights, all days, revivals and national prayer festivals to keep the faith alive and bank balances healthy. With a huge helping hand from the taxman who favours them with tax free status, they are accountable only to themselves. It’s been argued by some that not even to their God. Worship is big bucks and all the churches, big or small, worship that too!
Ghana’s constitutions have created room for religion to thrive and the current one (1992), lives up to that legacy. Article 21 and other human rights provisions guarantee the freedom of worship, allowing for some practices that are clearly in the realm of state capture and public disorder. The freedom of worship often comes along as superseding all other freedoms. It is an intriguing mix of the spiritual, the very practical bread and butter considerations and the inborn need to come to grips with the complexity of the cosmos but above all the power of control. One cannot trivialise such a mix…Going by the title of man or woman of God imbues the wearer with almost supernatural powers of control.
It has not always been like that. I must share here a very curious piece of creative writing I came across many years ago as a young person, in a collection of short stories described as the best in the English language. It is so far back in my memory that all I can remember is the title: “The Reverend John Creedy”. I hope my memory has not gone into the fuzzy lane of age and I got that right. As to the author, I simply cannot remember his name. But yes, it was a man. Time? The eighteenth or nineteenth century. The book most certainly will be out of print by now and though a very well-written story, would not pass muster today and would find no printer or publisher…It simply will not be politically or racially correct. It would please me and educate me if someone out there reading these words can jolt my memory.
Let me attempt a precis: The person to be later known as The Rev. John Creedy journeyed from the British owned African colony, then known as the Gold Coast, sometime in the eighteenth or nineteenth century as a young child or very young man. He was adopted by a “God fearing” Christian English family and brought up to be a perfect “God fearing” Christian English gentleman – all but in skin colour. Very assiduous, he excelled in the educational discipline of those times and ended up at Oxford or Cambridge. So successful was he that, he was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England. As a toast of the establishment, he hobnobbed with the high and mighty and became so confident and accepted that, he felt qualified to ask for the hand of an English lass in marriage. The Rev and Mrs. Creedy cut a quaint sight, but were made to feel at home in drawing rooms and church environments.
The time eventually came for The Rev Creedy to return to Africa to Christianize and “civilize” his people. In tow would be the delicate and sickly Mrs. Creedy. They embarked from Liverpool or wherever and disembarked somewhere on the shores of the Gold Coast to start their new life among the “heathens” and “savages” of his ancestry, with the sole objective of turning them into followers of a Jewish young man who lived and died somewhere in the mid-east over two thousand years ago and who over time has become accepted as a “Lord and Saviour” to vast numbers of people, now estimated to be around two billion of the world’s estimated population of seven billion…Long before John Creedy, droves of ships had arrived on the same shores with the same evangelizing mission which condoned one of the most inhuman acts of all time: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
I read the book when I was too young to catch the meanings, nuances or objectives of the writer. In the story, what started off with the zeal of a missionary would soon end in misery and tragedy. Imperceptibly at first, now among his people, The Rev John Creedy started shedding off the veneers of his Christianity, adopting instead the ways of his original ancestors. From now on, the story becomes excruciatingly painful to continue as The Rev Creedy’s descent into “savagery” had become total. He was now partly “Okomfo”, partly a deranged individual – an individual who would have no place in civilized society. In his descent, his delicate white Christian wife watches in horror and heartbreak. There is no need asking the fate of Mrs. Creedy, who pined away into a lonely miserable death far away from her ancestral home. The Reverend John Creedy had failed, reclaimed by the jungles of his place of birth and ways of his people.
After this denouement, I was left feeling both sympathetic to and angry with this African brother of mine who had been brought so high but allowed himself to be destroyed by his own loss of faith…
The Rev. Creedy’s downfall, it must be noted, was not the typical ending to the story of early African Christians evangelizing missions in Africa. The history of the European churches, now fully established in Ghana and other African countries, tells of many heroic and successful “savages and heathens” who ventured abroad to Europe and returned home after years of study to enter the pantheon of men of letters and men of God.
What then to make of the story of The Rev. John Creedy? As one tries to get one’s head around his reverting to type – back to his ancestry and its cosmologies – one can also ponder the finer points of how our history is not grounded in a Judeo-Christian-Islamic ethic. Some later generations after John Creedy would claim that Ghana belongs to this ethic, for me, those pushing that line are either mischievous, ignorant or simply spoiling for an unprovoked, unjustified and unproductive fight …
*To be continued in the next instalment.
By Amb. Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah, MOV