Weep! Please weep! For my uncle, Wofa Kwadwo Kuma.
For he is dead. [Apologies to Shelley: Weep for Adonais!”]
Why should Kwadwo Kuma's death concern you?
It should be, precisely because he was so ordinary.
He could have been met on the streets of any village in Ghana. And what has happened to him happens, unremarked, to thousands of Ghanaians like him, every day. You are only hearing of him because he happened, accidentally, to have featured in the early life of a – writer.
Wofa Kwadwo never went to school. And he didn't learn any particular trade.
But he seamlessly absorbed from his relatives, the techniques of cultivating cocoa and food farms. Not only farms he had constructed himself, but taking good care of those left to him by his mother, his elder brothers (Wofa Kwasi 'Pong and Wofa Kwadwo A'ade) and his father.
It was Wofa Kwadwo A'ade who caused Kwadwo Kuma to be called “Kuma”(younger) so as to be easily distinguished from his elder brother. Two Kwadwos in one household could create problems, you see. So all over Akanland, you often hear of Kwadwo Panin (elder) and Kwadwo Kuma existing in one household.
Wofa Kwadwo Kuma chose Christmas Day 2021 to go home to his ancestors. Or rather, Christmas Day kindly chose to take him away to a place where he would no longer be worried about how he was to survive, after reaching the ripe old age of ninety-plus.
Now, we delude ourselves, as Ghanaians, into thinking that we take care of our old folks (rather than pitting them in care homes, as is done in Europe and elsewhere.) But we lie to ourselves in assuming that we take good care of our aged relatives. Next time you see him, ask him about it. Just make sure that you are quite alone with him or her!
At his ripe old age, Wofa Kwadwo probably felt that he had become a “nuisance” to his younger relatives. How would he have celebrated Christmas, this year, for instance, had Christmas spared him the journey to “far beyond”?
He lived in a social environment in which the children in one's extended family come, instinctively, to your door, early on Christmas Day, singing: “Merry Christmas oh! Merry Christmas oh!” In return for their noise, they expect to be given biscuits or toffee or – money.
If you gave them money, they would use it to buy crackers with which they would increase the noise. They were a;ready making. Would you be able to confide to them, the fact that you were greatly dreading having to tell your wife that you didn't have enough money for her to use in making the usual special soup for the day? Yet, if you drove the children away, it would seem as if you didn't “like” them! Or that you were a type of “Scrooge” What the hell!
Besides all his other worries, the cock that woke Wofa Kwadwo up early each morning, had gone and got itself killed by a huge articulator truck that had parked on the road near Uncle's home. Many such trucks went and parked there – without anyone's leave – on their way from Tema to Burkina Faso or elsewhere.
Why did they choose to park at Nsutem? Answer: Because Nsutem is only two miles from Bunso “Junction”, and yet it isn't as crowded, in terms of parking space, as Bunso is.
The true secret mat lie in the fact that there are many chop bars at Bunso “Junction”. there. It even boasts of a “hotel!”
Anyway, who knows exactly what attracts truck drivers to a particular place, anywhere in the world? In America (for instance) an entire sub-culture has been built around truck drivers. Have you heard of, or seen, a film entitled Smokey And the Bandit? Can it be discounted that some truck drivers have paramours at Nsutem and other villages nearby?
Well, Wofa Kwadwo Kuma's cockerel went and lay beneath an articulated truck parked on the road at Nsutem. Under the truck's bulging differential, actually. It hid him – from hens that passed by.
The randy cock would suddenly dash from beneath the truck, run fast to ambush the hens and jump on them. But on this day, the truck under which he was hidden had moved without first using its noisy starter, which usually gave him a warning to get out fast from beneath the truck. On this day, the truck's battery had “died.” And so, the driver and his colleagues were push-starting it. The cockerel hadn't realised what was happening, and had been cruelly crushed.
When Kwadwo didn't hear the cock crying out to herald the dawning of a new day at three in the morning; when it failed to render its version of “Koo-ku-ro-koo!”[Cock-a-doodle-doo!]Wofa knew, instinctively, that the worst had happened. He wasn't too surprised. He had constantly instructed the children of the house by saying: “Mommutuno!” [place the cock under a raffia basket and keep the basket in place by laying some relatively heavy objects on top of the basket so that the cock wouldn't be able to scamper off – after hens – and get itself killed.]
But no-one listened to an “old man” like him these days, and unless he remembered, himself, to go and see whether his instruction had been carried out (regrettably, a rare occurrence for him , these days, than he was prepared to admit!) the cock was allowed to roost where it liked when it liked. And now, it was gone. Inevitably.
The reason why I am able to tell you so much about Wofa Kwadwo Kuma is that he once saved my life and I therefore developed a close relationship with him than is normal between Uncle and Nephew. He knew that I loved him to bits, and so he was always able to tell me what was really in his heart, whenever we encountered each other. Of course, the fact that such encounters between us were rare, lent a special magic to them.
As he lies at rest, I remember vividly, as if it was yesterday, what happened on the day he saved my life. I was about five or six years old. He and his elder brother, the already mentioned Uncle Kwadwo A'ade, had come to Asiakwa to see our family, and I had insisted on going back with them to see this “Nsutem” place that I had hear so much about but had never travelled there. My mother often went there for funerals but she would never take me with her. Now, my uncles had come to Asiakwa. And I pestered everyone until I was allowed to go with them!
At first, even my beloved Uncles said I was “too young” to walk the “long” distance [of about six miles] between our two villages. But I insisted on going with them.
It turned out to be such a lovely trip. My two uncles never ceased talking, all of the three or so hours that the journey took. And I learnt a lot. They particularly aroused my curiosity about the differences that existed between the flora and fauna of Asiakwa and that of Nsutem. Although I was so young, they talked to me like an adult, and told me how “sweet” a particular drink, that was tapped from a type of palm tree that was “taller than the ordinary palm tree” with which I was familiar, was. So special did they make drink appear that I got them to make me taste it at the first opportunity. It was called odoka. I am afraid it tasted vile to me! It wasn't at all like ordinary “palm wine”, which could taste nice, especially when it had just been newly tapped.
Anyway, we soon reached Nsutem and began to meet people who were going to their farms. So our lovely conversation ceased. I was astounded to find that their house at Nsutem was very close to the Supong River. Not only that – the Supong, which was fairly shallow at Asiakwa, was surprisingly large and deep at Nsutem. The water's surface was brownish, which meant that the river collected a lot of water from the forest when it rained. The water was so still you couldn't see it running, whereas at Asiakwa, you could almost see the riverbed. itself.
I was taking all this in when I saw him! He was – a boy of about my own age, called Kwasi Kom. He was in the big river, swimming away like a duck, with only his tiny head to be seen, bopping up and down. Maybe the tiredness of the journey had turned my brain into jelly, for I immediately threw my cloth on the bank of the river and was about to join the boy in the water!
My uncle Kwadwo noticed my excitement and yelled at me: “Kwadwo! Stop right there! HE knows how to SWIM!”
Eh? At Asiakwa, the two rivers we had, Supong and Twafuor, were both small and relatively harmless and one could swim in them at any time one felt like swimming. But that was not the case with the Supong at Nsutem? One learnt new things about the world every day, I thought.
My uncle explained to me that although the river looked still from the surface, there was something in it beneath the surface called owheam [current] which could catch you and speed you away until you drowned and died! Unless, of course, you knew how to swim!
My respect for Kwasi Kom, who turned out to be a relative, grew immensely and whilst at Nsutem, I entertained the hope that he would teach me how to swim – especially, to withstand the “current”. Alas, he was enjoying the benefits offered to him by his idyllic environment that he never seemed to have any time to tutor me. It was to my eternal regret that I wasn't able to befriend him! I even heard whispers that young as he was, he could take dogs into the bush and knew the technique to be used in hunting bush-rats and squirrels with them!
Uncle Kwadwo, da yie! [Rest in peace] I thank you for the exposure you gave me so young in my life.