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18.02.2003 Feature Article

Which Way - Ghanaian Culture!

Which Way - Ghanaian Culture!
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Apart from physical features, perhaps one of the more significant means for distinguishing between people is by their culture – language, way of dressing, eating habits etc. Even in multi-cultural countries like we have in Africa, the part culture plays in distinguishing between nationals of one African country from another can be quite significant. Usually, I have no difficulty distinguishing between a Ghanaian and say a Zairian or even a Nigerian, on sight. Certainly this cannot be due to any physical differences, for personally, I cannot readily pinpoint any such differences, if indeed there are any. Occasionally, too, I come across some people, who even when they themselves tell me they are Ghanaians I find it difficult to believe them, judging from their dressing and general comportment. While this does not mean that all Ghanaians, Nigerians or Zairians behave the same way, it does mean that as a people there are some features that distinguish each of these groups as nationals of different countries. In spite of the cultural diversity among our various ethnic groups, therefore, it is gratifying to note that there is still one important factor which makes us different from people of other nations – our cultural identity as Ghanaians. It is this broad cultural identity, and not the differences between our numerous ethnic groupings, that this article will attempt to discuss. The Name Ghana One of the most admirable things about the name of our country, “Ghana”, despite the fact that its origin cannot be traced to anywhere within the geographical borders of the country, is that in whichever language it is written, it is always GHANA. This gives us a clear and unique advantage which not all countries can lay claim to. For example, under our colonial name, our country was not uniquely “Gold Coast”. It was also known as “Cote d'Or”, “Gold Küste”, “Costa del Oro”, “Sika Mpoano” etc. depending on in which language it is written. In the same vein, “Schweiz”, “Suisse”, “Svizzera” refer to the same country I first learnt to know only as “Switzerland”. You only have to take note of the efforts our western neighbour, “Cote d'Ivoire”, has been making in recent years, without much success, to ensure that it is addressed only by its French (official) name to appreciate what I'm talking about. While the founders of our dear nation had good foresight to give us a unique name (instead of maintaining what our colonisers had christined us) however, they sadly ignored to give indigenous names to our regions. Instead, they left them the way our colonial masters had labelled them for their own convenience. Ghana, like Nigeria, had been divided into geographical zones – Northern, Eastern, Western etc. However, whereas Nigerians have over the years, rediscovered themselves and found indigenous names for virtually all their states, we in Ghana have not only maintained the names given to our regions by the British but have actually continued to give even funnier English names to those we created later. When we decided to create a new region from the former Northern Region, the best name we could think of was “Upper Region”, which was later on further divided into “Upper-East” and “Upper West” Regions. So maybe next time we are going to have something like “South-Eastern-Upper-East”, “North Eastern” or “South-Western Brong-Ahafo” Regions. Even a casual look at the map of Ghana will show that our “Eastern Region” is not even close to our present day eastern border. How can our “Central Region” be called as such when it is in fact one of the southern-most regions? And how many of our regions could qualify to be referred to as “Western”? Without any intention to be disrespectful to any Region of Ghana, I think the only ones whose names are appropriate culturally are: (Greater) Accra, Ashanti (apart from its English spelling), Brong-Ahafo and Volta Regions. I believe it is high time we found indigenous names for all of the other regions! The situation is not much different with our constituencies and districts either, with names like Upper-West Akim, Bawku Central, Asokwa West, Tano North etc. What for example, does “Asutifi North” or “Asunafo South” actually mean? Let's find out the meaning of “Asutifi” and “Asunafo” and see if by adding the North and South to them respectively we are not guilty of what may be interpreted in English as tautology. The unfortunate impression such actions tend to create is that even in our own local administration we cannot do away with the English Language even for a moment. Ministry of Culture The irony of it all is that since Independence we have always had a Ministry with responsibility for “Culture”. At one time during the term of the previous administration the head of the National Commission on Culture was a very respected traditional chief. On paper, therefore, the impression would seem to be that we attach high priority to our culture. But I wonder how much of our culture will soon be left if we keep neglecting it the way we are doing now. I am already beginning to imagine a time to come when some “foreign experts” will come and teach our children a little bit of the Ghanaian culture if things continue the way they are going now. Already many Ghanaians feel embarrassed whenever faced with a situation where they have to exhibit just a little bit of their culture. Even basic practices like correct forms of greeting and ways of dressing are gradually getting lost. Alex Konadu summed this up perfectly in one of his songs when he said: “When he starts dancing (his traditional dancing) you would think he is joking, but that's as best as he can dance”. And why not, when nothing is being done to promote our culture in our day-to-day life? During my school days so much was done to suppress our culture while every effort was made to teach students to behave the way the British do. For example, it was against dining hall regulations to hold the fork with the wrong hand even though as I now know, you may hold it any way you find comfortable. Apart from wearing Kente for church, we (especially the boys) were never encouraged to wear cloth or any local dresses for that matter. During those days if you tried to speak pure Twi you were considered to be “munufic” (coined from the name of the then Minister of Rural Development, Mr. A.A. Munufie). Unfortunately I don't see any sign of improvement in the situation now. If anything at all, it may be getting worse. Ask any school child his age in his own language and he will answer you in a mixture of that language and English. Ask for the price of water or pepper in the market and you will be told “fifty” or something of the sort. In short, many Ghanaians do not know even the basic numeric figures in their mother tongue. Television Perhaps where the steady loss of our languages is very evident is the very area which could have been used to help promote them – the media. While I'm not calling for official control on how people should speak on the street, I think someone should have the authority to ensure that only the correct form of our local languages is used in local programmes on our national radio and TV. Apart from their usefulness as a tool for information and entertainment we all do recognise the educational aspect of radio and television. In fact, many people learn foreign languages mainly from radio and TV. Not so in Ghana. If you watch an Akan drama (for example) with a foreigner he will wonder whether the programme is in English. We all do appreciate that not much can be done about how individuals speak. It is my belief, however, that something can certainly be done to ensure that at least programmes on our national radio and television in local languages should be pure, no matter how informal they may be. Mixed Marriages In almost all mixed marriages involving Ghanaians and foreigners (especially non-Africans) it is usually the culture of the Ghanaian which is swallowed up whether they live in Ghana or not. This is because it is the Ghanaian who is more prepared to sacrifice his or her culture in favour of his or her partner's. For example, a child of a Ghanaian father and a Swiss mother growing up in Ghana will most probably speak German in addition to English and possibly a Ghanaian Language. But the child of a Ghanaian mother and a German father living in Switzerland is most unlikely to understand, let alone, speak the mother's language. As a matter of fact, it happens quite often that many Ghanaian children born and bred in Ghana up to school-going age who move to England or the States to live with their parents later claim they don't speak their mother tongue after only five years of being away from home! Some Ghanaians living in Europe for some time even tend to pronounce their own name wrongly – the same way the European or American pronounces it. As we all know, Europeans generally tend to pronounce our names with the wrong accent. So, with time, instead of pronouncing his name correctly for his hosts to learn, my countryman starts calling himself with a foreign accent. Call him on the phone and you will understand what I mean. Some even go to the extent of changing the spelling of their name with the explanation that it is too difficult for Europeans to pronounce. It may sound funny, but I know one Samuel Adu Kofi who now writes his name “Sam Adoocoffee”. Local Dishes A foreign tourist staying in a first class hotel in Ghana may be very lucky to have a taste of a really traditional Ghanaian dish in the hotel's restaurant. While there may be a lot of “Continental” dishes to choose from, the “Local” dishes will in most cases, list a variety of rice. Even at the time that almost all the top hotels in the country were owned by the State no effort was made to project our cultural identity in any of them. In short, if it is nice, it must necessarily be foreign. Fried rice, yes, but “Omo Tuo” no! Our culture easily gets dissolved whenever it comes in contact with others. To preserve it, I think we need to create the environment that would let the Ghanaian be more comfortable with his culture. Considering the ease with which the Ghanaian youth can copy foreign cultures I don't think it should be too difficult to teach them what they have been denied for so long. From time to time, we hear of a National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFAC). Probably, in the sense that it is an exhibition of what we have culturally, NAFAC is worth the effort. However, I'm not so convinced about its usefulness in actually creating the awareness necessary to help us practise and maintain our culture. It is like believing that an occasional national football festival would necessarily lead to an improvement in the standard of football in the country without doing anything to encourage the youth to take interest in the game at the local level. We need to find a way to revive and preserve our dying culture by encouraging people, especially the youth, to live with it rather than concentrating on showing the world what is still left of it. Twumasi-Fofie, Kwame Bern, Switzerland

Kwame Twumasi-Fofie
Kwame Twumasi-Fofie, © 2003

The author has 46 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwameTwumasiFofie

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