06.06.2011 Regional News

Yamoransa Fante Kenkey. A Staple And Tradition

06.06.2011 LISTEN
By Shirley Asiedu-Addo - Daily Graphic

“Knead it between the tips of your fingers; if it turns smooth and sticky then it is likely to be from Yamoransa.”

This is the way Maame Efua described the Fante kenkey (Mfantse Dokon) made in Yamoransa. Its texture is smooth and sticky.

When eaten with hot pepper sauce or stew and fried shrimps or fish, it is just sumptuous.

Indeed, the sticky nature of the Yamonransa Fante kenkey does not only make it extremely enjoyable but also makes it very useful at the vulcanising shop.

Believe it or not, it is used in place of grease for tubeless tyres when they have a puncture to put them back in shape for use.

This is no joke. Nana Kwame, a driver and trained mechanic who has used the kenkey for this unconventional purpose, mending tyres says it works perfectly.

Kenkey is one of the principal foods consumed in Ghana. It is made from corn.

There are two types, the Fante kenkey mostly produced in the Central and Western Regions and the Ga kenkey common with the people of the Greater Accra Region.

The Fante kenkey is basically kneaded corn dough cooked in dried plantain leaves.

Although it is common to the people of the Central and Western regions, Yamonransa, the populous ancient community that lies few kilometers East of Cape Coast in the Mfantseman municipality of the Central Region of Ghana has a specialty.

With special skills acquired and several decades of practice, it is unlikely for a kenkey maker in Yamonransa to get it wrong.

The expertise in making the fante kenkey has endeared them to many customers from far and near.

Women in the community have also done well in marketing the delicacy.

They cherish the trade which has sustained generations of families for years.

Along the Yamoransa-Kumasi and Yamoransa-Accra highways , the community women, mostly middle aged, sit behind packed balls of kenkey in blue polythene bags ready to sell to their customers.

It is fascinating how they ran to vehicles that by custom stop along the road to patronise the kenkey; even at the peril of their lives.

The various signs and inscriptions on the small wooden sheds they use as shelter to sell the kenkey unmistakably identify each seller for her customers.

They include “God First”, “Zenabu”, “Shallot”, “Efua Esoun”, “Abiba” and“Broni Maame”.

I sat under the shade of the tree that added a little more shade to what their petit sheds provided them and observed.

Each polythene bag contained about eight balls of kenkey packed neatly. Depending on the sizes, the pack goes for GH¢4 or GH¢8 .

The packs have over the years served as presentable gifts from those living in the area to relatives across the country and even outside the country.

Many parents and relatives send the kenkey packs to children and other relatives. Maame Efua explained that this is the reason why the fante kenkey is nicknamed wona de okyia wo meaning “your mother sends her greetings.”  

Drivers in luxurious cars and others in rickety passenger vehicles all stop to patronise the kenkey.

The sellers sell with great speed. In less than two minutes a transaction is completed.

Araba Donkor does brisk business selling kenkey along the Yamoransa-Accra highway.

“You can call me Faustina Insaidoo for this interview”, she told me with a grin.

“I have been selling this for years, business was very good. Now it is not too bad though.

She told me they knew the market trends too well and managed their stocks according to these trends.

“We sell more when it is around the end of the month as many people who receive monthly salaries would have been paid,” she said.

“Business is not so bad. This is how I have managed to take my children through school and supported them.

Araba says she doesn’t see herself quitting the kenkey business any time soon.     

Nana Efua also a Fante kenkey seller said the business had really helped her to be financially sound.

But the kenkey sellers at Yamonransa are worried about a number of things.

Of outmost concern is the risk posed by the location they do business— the shoulders of the highway.

Few weeks ago, some two kenkey sellers were killed by a truck that had lost control. They died instantly.

The sellers indicated that they would have shoved off the risk if they had a place built for them to sell.

The customers would know this and would definitely come to get the kenkey.

The petit sheds were definitely not adequate shelter for the kenkey sellers and their situation is worsened in the rainy season.

They stand in the rain anytime it rains and or sweat under the scorching sun.

Another problem they said is the increase in the number of kenkey sellers along the highway.

“We can’t stop them. Everyone is now selling kenkey along the highways apart from us here in Yamoransa,” Araba said but quickly added that the sellers at Yamoransa were ready for the competition. “Yamoransa kenkey still has its quality and so we are ready for the competition,” she said.

Another issue of significant concern for the traders was the unavailability of credit to increase stocks and sales.

They indicated that they expected the Mfantseman Municipal Assembly to do more to help them with credit.

They hope to keep selling to make a living with or without access to credit.

But surprisingly many who sell do not know how to prepare it. They just sell the kenkey.

Araba said the preparation of the kenkey required special skill and strength. “I can’t do it,” she admitted.

According to her, it is done skillfully by women who have developed that skill over a long while. “Old women” who acquired the skills long ago now serve as trainers in the community.

And so again I set out to seek these “old women” and to find out more about what makes the Yamonransa kenkey standard out in taste.

Down towards the Yamoransa-Kumasi highway I headed, one lady gladly agreed to take me to one of the “old women.”

Up the hilly path we went through a meandering alley to Twa Nsu Keda (Cross the stream to bed) a neighborhood in Yamoransa.

I was warmly received into the house of Madam Esi Abokoma. Her trade name is Madam Abork. She is about 70 years and has been doing the kenkey for over 40 long years. She is the linguist to the “chief” of the kenkey makers.  Her daughter, Akua Abaduwa is 48 years and has learnt the skill of making kenkey.

She told me that it is done with a lot of caution and care. “The least mistake you spoil the kenkey,” she said.

You get corn preferably the dry corn, soak it in water for a day and mill it.

You knead the milled corn and keep it for a day, then its ready for use.

Abaduwa said you divide the corn into three portions and cook one portion stirring to get a smooth texture.  

After this you mix the uncooked portion with the cooked portions carefully considering the amount of water until you have a smooth texture.

Balls are then formed from the dough and cooked in dry plantain leaves.

The balls are put into large black barrels and cooked over a period.

Here is the precision key.
According to Madam Abokoma once the barrel is put on fire no air must penetrate the cover or the kenkey would go bad.

Intermittently they check for water in the barrel.

If water needs to be added it has to be poured on the sack covering the barrel for it to soak into the kenkey.

You listen and the sound of the bubbles tells the cook whether there is the need for more water. As this is being done, the fire is checked and adjusted as necessary. The kenkey is kept on fire till the next day.

Madam Abokoma has trained many young women in kenkey making. Now, mainly due to her age, she does not take part in the preparation of the kenkey. She only directs how it should be made.

She said she was happy that her two daughters had learnt the skill. Her worry was that her grandchildren were not interested in the trade.

“The young ones do not care about learning the skills” Abaduwa said. They are all in school and they don’t want to be kenkey makers.

With virtually no capital and a new generation disinterested in the kenkey business, including its production and sale, Yamoransa faces a possible extinct.

“I have only a son, said Abaduwa and he certainly would not be making kenkey.

She said her other nieces had also not shown any keen interest in learning how to make the kenkey. Some other people may be interested in making it in this town to continue the tradition, hopefully.

Araba said her children were schooling to the highest level possible and said she was certain they would not be into the kenkey business.

Now, every household in the community has members engaged in either the making or selling of the fante kenkey but it is not definite the situation will be the same in the foreseeable future.

The Municipal Chief Executive for Mfantseman, Mr Henry Kwaku Hayfron admits a lot more needs to be done to sustain the kenkey business of the people of Yamonransa.

He stated that the assembly was working to organise and encourage the women to form cooperatives to ensure easy access to loans under the Micro and Small Loans and Scheme and also to construct a permanent kenkey market to reduce the incidence of accidents around the sale points.     

Maybe, there would be a Yamoransa kenkey market.
Hopefully many more children will develop the interest in the kenkey making business and continue the tradition. Maybe the famous Yamoransa fante kenkey will live on.

The future will tell.