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24.12.2002 Feature Article

Christmas In Kumasi, Ghana in 1960s

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I wrote this for a friend's daughter's (Nanayaa -Texas, USA) school project, under the theme “Christmas Celebrations around the World”. Enjoy.

Christmas in Kumasi, Ghana in the 1960's when I was Nanayaa’s age (10) was mostly celebrated, to the best of my recollection, in the following way according to the five points you wanted me to elaborate on: A) Foods -- The main dish was big chicken soup and fufu meal during the mid-afternoon of Christmas Day. These were specially prepared soup with the best of seasonings, including “Akokomesa”, a seasoning meant for chicken soup only. We also had a lot of crackers and soda-pop drinks (minerals), sometimes for the first time during the entire year. B) Presents - Presents for most kids in that era consisted of new clothes and shoes from our parents. Only the upper class could afford a few expensive toys for their children. Most kids made do with balloons, paper-made Christmas hats and plastic dark glasses, if any at all. Kids never gave any presents to adults. Neighbors gave every child who came to their door some goodies, very much like Halloween in the USA. But they were mostly cookies and crackers instead of candies. Some relatives will give us little sums of money when they dropped by our house to see our parents. C) Activities: Church groups will come by at dawn singing Christmas carols. Neighbors will sometimes join them for a block or two. Church service in the morning was a constant in our lives for the Christian families on Christmas day. It was time to wear the new clothes we received that morning to church. The Non-Christians among us celebrated the occasion as end-of-year. The greetings for that day and the rest of the week were "Afenshia paaooh" and the response was "Afe nko eme to yen bio" which roughly translate into "Happy New Year" and "Hope to see you next New Year" respectively. D) The exciting times during the Christmas celebrations for my pals and me were the Christmas Eve or in our parlance "24th night" and the afternoon of Christmas day. On "24th night" the kids used to light up the sky with fireworks from a brand named "Knockout". They were mostly safe and did not pack much power. The kids on each block will gather and take turns hurling our "Knockouts" into the sky or into kerosene cans. It was fun to see whose lit up the sky best or hurled the cans into the air the farthest. Some of us built little huts in the backyard from bamboo sticks and palm branches. They were called "Bronya apata" or “Christmas houses”. That was the place the neighborhood kids will gather and try things we will not want our parents to know about. They were mostly a puff on a cigarette and maybe a sip of some alcoholic drink that we had smuggled in there. You had to be at least 15 years old to get these "privileges". The older boys told tall tales about their exploits (boy-girl relationships) during the year. We danced in the afternoon of Christmas day. The two prominent suburbs of Kumasi were Asafo and Ash-town. I happen to come from Asafo. These were the suburbs that had their own brass bands and dancers called “Teete” which is now called as “Sholoku”. These were very much like the New Orleans’ fancy-dressers with some people on stilts. They will parade through the streets of Kumasi during the afternoon of Christmas day much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The band from Asafo was called Unity and was led by one Wofa Darboh, a WWII veteran. Legend, Asafo style, had it that he taught the international great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong a few things on the trumpet when he jammed with him at Kumasi-Asafo’s Jamboree Club in the mid 1960s. The Ash-town band was called Cosmos. Anyone could join in the dancing when they came through your neighborhood. I used to look forward to this all year, particularly when the two groups usually met at the city's main train station in another suburb called Bompata. It was near the popular Movie Theater, Okansil, and under the watchful eyes of reputed gangster Aganni, who ran the theater and always dished out a lot of money to the good dancers. Up to this day I cannot understand why I never got a penny from him. The dancing and the music became a who-is-who for the bragging rights for the next year. The two bands will play the same songs together for about 15 minutes until they came to their separate finales. Every year’s finale for Unity’s Wofa Darboh was the same song. We called it “Wofa Darboh se ye be pon”, that is “The show must come to an end”. He composed it solely for the occasion, we later learned. There was a solo part where he will do some syncopation on his trumpet that will send us into some wild spins. Every now and then you can catch me singing and dancing to the refrain under the shower at 40 something years old. The leader of the Cosmos did his shtick on the drums by throwing his drumsticks high into the air, while he briefly played with his hands, and always managed to catch the drumsticks behind his back. This will blow the minds of the Ash-town folks. The winner of the competition almost always centered on which group had the best dancing young couples for that afternoon. There were no official judges but we all knew who won. I am sorry to say that during my younger years my suburb lost more times than we won. We always consoled ourselves with the notion that the folks from Ash-town were boorish dropouts who spent all their time practicing for such moments. It was not necessarily true, they were just too "coooool" for our liking. It was always the best fun during this occasion though! No wonder people from other parts of the country will always ask “Are you from Ash-town” when they learn that someone is from Kumasi. I wish they would change that to “Asafo” if the person were not behaving boorishly. They had their Ali Babas, Kofi Johns, K. Boakyes and Cynthia Glamours vs. our Joe Powers, K.Ks, Nana Konadus and Kofi Akyes. A friend once told me that you could still catch a few of the Ash-town girls of that era dancing to the “Teete” at London Ash-town Society get-togethers. But the tolls of aging, the works of Drs. James Owusu and Ali (included for this edition only), and doing double shifts have reduced them to just the wiggling of their extensive waistlines; all the acrobatic moves have deserted them. What a shame!!! But I am not weeping for them. We headed home after this to the chicken soup and fufu feast. For most families this was the only time during the year they could afford chicken. Their meals consisted mostly of fish and beef during the rest of the year since they were more reasonably priced as compared to chicken. E) Decorations - Nanayaa, there were no mistletoes, no stockings, and no Christmas trees in homes. The big stores in the main shopping district, Adum, had Christmas trees and lights on them. A few homes had Christmas lights but no trees. All the nightclubs had the Christmas lights to attract customers. The nightclubs were heavily patronized during such occasions with bands such: The Ramblers, Uhuru, Yamoahs, K Gyasi and The Noble Kings, and others. Despite all the missing items from (E) above it was still a lot of fun with the temperature around 85 degrees and everyone outdoors and having fun. Almost everyone you knew stopped by to wish you "Afenshia paoooh"

Francis Yaw Berkoh Nketia
Francis Yaw Berkoh Nketia, © 2002

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: FrancisYawBerkohNketia

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