The recent past celebrations of Ghana's national occasions, more especially the fifty fourth and fifty fifth independence celebrations, have undoubtedly been submerged into a pool of debate over the issue of libation. It is an issue if not addressed could pose a serious contentious future problem for Ghanaians. Critics quickly condemn the practice as archaic and unreligious. Some further argues that pouring libation depicts Ghana as an uncivilized and ungodly, which they believe stains the good name Ghana has built for itself as a monotheist state. Before we dive into the depths of this issue, let us seek the meaning of libation, globalization, religion and ignorance, which will play key roles in this argument and our quest to find an amicable solution to this issue that has raised so many eyebrows over these couple of years.
According to Wikipedia (the free encyclopaedia), 'globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity.' The term globalization is however, mostly associated with economics; free flow of goods and services across national borders. In our context however, we shall be looking at globalization briefly as the free flow of culture into our borders. Religion is an adopted and modified word from the Latin word 'religare' which means 'to bind'. In this context we could say religion is something that brings people together or unite them. Meanwhile, religion according to the dictionary of world history is a 'code of belief or philosophy, which often involves the worship of a God or gods'. Ignorance according to the Wordweb dictionary is the 'lack of knowledge or education'. Libation is essentially a drink offering; a pouring out of a small quantity of wine, milk or other liquid as a ceremonial act (Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Kwasi Sarpong, 1999). Having explained the key terms which may be of use to us in our discussion, we may now move without covering our arguments with shadows behind.
The issue of libation has been an issue of contention for a very long time and has been sluggishly dragged on until this recent past abandoning of the practice on two consistent anniversaries. As early as 1958, the then Archbishop of Cape Coast, Archbishop William Porter, appointed a committee to examine the whole issue of libation in the light of Catholic Christian teaching and practice (Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Kwasi Sarpong, 1999). The issue of libation seems to have fallen into a deep sleep until April 5th, 1992, the Rev. Fr. D.K. Ansah, an Anglican Priest, at a meeting in cape Coast poured libation when he realized that the person designated for this task was not present (Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Kwasi Sarpong, 1999). This act by Rev. Fr. D.K. Ansah of course woke up the sleeping issue, which may have fallen into dozing until it was woken up once more. This bone of contention has drawn the line between supporters and critics of the pouring of libation once again.
What at all is causing this problem? Is it forgetfulness, globalization, religion or ignorance? Forgetfulness, I really doubt, the organizers of the anniversaries cannot tell the good people of this country that they have forgotten about the pouring of libation. Unless of course they are telling the good people of this country that they have forgotten about the whooping 24per cent of Ghana's population who are traditionalist (Encarta, 2009).
Supporters simply do not believe that globalization with all its advantages and certain shared cultural practices is the culprit which should be blamed for the ignorance of the pouring of libation on our Independence days. The blame they believe should be given to the organizers of the events who may have intentionally ignored a national heritage. Conservatives simply do not and will never blame globalization for the gradual erosion of the pouring of Libation. They further argue that, these recent neglect is a well calculated effort to downplay the importance and significance of this age old traditional practice. Critics argue that the pouring of libation is archaic and make Ghanaians a laughing stock in today's global village. They further argue that, if anything at all, the pouring of libation has lost its significance and like other outmoded cultural practices must be allowed to be eroded by the sea of time. This argument fall short in front of Africanist, who argue that cherished institutions and traditions that do not violate the rights of the people should be maintained and not thrown overboard.
Globalization have played a key role in the eradication of inhuman practices such us human sacrifice, female genital mutilation, the trokosi system and many others but may be playing, if at all, an insignificant role in the eroding institution of libation.
Religion seems to be the main area of contention when the issue of libation is woken up. The major two religions in Ghana to some extent do not want to have anything to do with the pouring of libation. They argue that the mentioning of deities and offering of drinks to ancestors is not congruent with their religious practices and therefore must not be accepted. This argument is however hollow if the 1992 constitution is brought into context. Article 26 clause 1, of the 1992 constitution states that 'Every person is entitled to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion subject to the provisions of this Constitution'.
Clause 2 of the same article states that 'all customary practices which dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental wellbeing of a person are prohibited'. This article to some extent clarifies the stance of libation in our constitution.
Proponents of libation may argue that libation is a culture, tradition and a chief part of traditional prayers. The rich cultural heritage of the people of Kumasi is visible in Akwasidae festival, funerals, child-naming ceremonies, communal spirit and religion. The traditional religious practices are still upheld through the pouring of libation, marriage rites and rites of passage (Ghana districts 2006). They further argue that libation do not violate the constitution and do not violate any ones right or dehumanize anyone. It is therefore uncalled for to ignore such a key practice in our traditional certain on national occasions. Some go further to argue that if such practices like libation are ignored, one day we will have a government who will ignore Christian or Muslim prayers at a national occasion and this could lead the country into chaos.
To some proponents, the institution of libation may have lost its religious significance but just as the importance of puberty rites was once downplayed and its repercussions are seen in today's unwanted teenage pregnancies, it will only be the sea of time that will tomorrow tell Ghanaians that we have lost everything that identified us as a people. Knowing the customs of a country is, in effect, a guide to understanding the soul of that country and its people (Encarta 2009). The English as we see today have gone through numerous changes politically and culturally. But they never abandon their culture, instead they borrowed others culture and added it to theirs to make them better. After all is culture not said to be dynamic? It does not matter whether President Mills want libation to poured or not on national occasions, once traditional religion and practices are acceptable by the constitution of Ghana, anything else is unconstitutional and must be viewed as such. The excuse that one person or the other is a monotheist, and since libation calls on deities, is not a good enough reason to abolish the institution of libation from being showcased on national occasions.
In this modern era where spoons are available almost in every household, the Chinese still culturally use chopsticks to eat. In July, the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona (Spain) is brought to life. Bulls are run through the streets climbing over people, simply because it is a custom that needs to be maintained. The bulls festival of Spain to some extent is dangerous to lives and properties but it is maintained.
Imagine Obama wearing a smock and holding a cow tail in his hands celebrating the independence of the United States of America, or imagine Cameron or better still, imagine Queen Elizabeth wearing our most adored and cherished kente cloth with aheneba while making appearance before the so called mother of all parliaments. Can you picture what the people of Britain will say? I will bet my last gold coin, which is if I have any, that the contemptuous eyes that will look at them alone will assure their very souls even after death that they were in the wrong place.
When Sovereign states celebrate their independence, it is at least expected to show case what they as a people are capable of doing politically, economically and of course culturally. We have a president who decides to wear a black suit under this hot Ghanaian sun to mark a most cherished 50th anniversary of this great nation, when an airy kente or smock could have done the job better. What about the show case of tae Kwando on an independence day when libation and cultural activities geared at selling Ghanaian culture to the world are relegated on the background. Can you imagine the Chinese Premier dancing 'bamaya' or 'kete' on the Chinese Independence Day? It is just impossible! Globalization or no globalization, archaic or current, outmoded or not, it will never happen.
Critics can say all they want but they must realize that the interest of individuals cannot and must not be put above the good people of Ghana which is enshrined in the constitution. The relegation of the pouring of libation on national occasions is nothing but ignorance either on the part of the organizers or whoever may have instituted these measures.
Conclusively, libation is a harmless religious practice and a custom that takes different forms in nearly all the ethnic groups in Ghana and must therefore not be relegated during national occasions. Libation whether it has lost its spiritual significance or not, whether it calls on deities or not must be practiced and showcased during national occasions. Anything short of this is unpatriotic and unconstitutional. Instead of showcasing tae Kwando on national occasions, libation must be allowed to take its place despite the skirmishes and critics.
By: Yassannah Nurudeen ([email protected]).