BOOK REVIEW: THE OUTDOORING DEDICATION AND NAMING OF AN AFRICAN CHILD: A CEREMONY OF THE GADANGME PEOPLE OF SOUTHEASTERN GHANA – Ganyobi Kpojiemͻ Vol 1 by Ernest H.C. Tetteh (London: Ophelia Vanderpuye On-line Publishing, 2016).
Reflections on the Book
The primal purpose of this book is to explain three interwoven cultural practices of the Gadangmes: The outdooring, dedication, and naming ceremony of Gas. Although there are writings on Ga naming ceremonies, there is no book on the Ga culture that extensively deals specifically with the depth of Ga names this way the book does. The author’s exegesis and mastery of Ga names is incredible. In fact, after reading the book I realized that if you take away a person’s indigenous name, you take away a person’s distinct cultural identity and heritage. Our names partly define us. Can Ghana be said to be Ghana after all the local names have been erased? Am I still a Ghanaian when I have a totally Western name? Can my lineage be traced if I adopt a completely Western name? Can I be an indigenous Ga and still be a Christian? These were some of the lingering thoughts on my mind after I finished reading this classic book.
The outdooring ceremony is principally one in which “a baby is brought outside for the first time (usually occurring eight days after birth).” In the words of the writer, the “beautiful ceremony [is] to symbolically introduce a new-born baby to God… as well as to the mysteries of the seen and the unseen world…” E.A Ammah, looking at its Ga equivalent word, kpojiemͻ, notes the following: It ‘is made up of three words. “Kpo” is “yard”, “dzie” is from ‘dze’ “come out” or “appear”, and “mͻ” is person… [Therefore it] means to “take or bring the child out into a yard.” It is at this outdooring ceremony that the baby is dedicated and given a name (family identity). Hence, a child is not recognized as part of the family without the ceremony.
The author’s main argument about the Gadangme culture in general and specifically about these three ceremonies is summed up in the following words: “to reclaim the dregs and to strengthen what remains at this stage in the continuing erosion in Ghana of aspects of GaDangme culture due to the denigration and demonization of the traditional values that were once dear to Gadangmes and their heritage.” I could not more than agree with this argument. The writer traces this problem to the current “pessimistic” stance that the Church in Ghana as a whole has towards the Ghanaian local tradition: It is seen as something very backward and ‘demonic’.
I think this problem is deeper than that. It goes back to the cultural foundations that the European missionaries built when preaching the gospel to our ancient ancestors. James Axtell stipulates that the approach Europeans used was to “civilize Savages (Africans, including Ghanaians) before they can be converted to Christianity, & that in order to make them Christians, they must first be made Men.” In Ghana, this civilization and Christianization dilemma negatively affected our naming system. All that was Ghanaian was seen as evil. Many Ghanaians who became Christians were forced to take “Christian” and “European’ names. This led to distortions in the local names.
The first African to be ordained as an Anglican Church minister was a Ghanaian renamed Philip Quaque who hailed from Cape Coast. The name Quaque is a distortion of Kweku – a local name for a Wednesday born. When Kweku came from oversees having been transformed to know the ways of the “white-man”, he lost touch with his own people. He made less success with reaching out through the gospel to his own people. This is a similar story happening to many Christian ministers of today. They seem in touch with the foreign culture and all of its abstract theology, but have little impact on the indigenous people and culture. Perhaps this is one of the negative effects of Henry Venn’s [i.e. an Anglican minister] three-self formula for missionary work in Africa: self propagating, self-governing, and self-sustaining; which omitted ‘Self-theologizing’ of the Africans as a way of developing an African theology out of its cultural heritage handed over to it, rather than transporting a “wholesale theology” from Europe. Hence, the theological proficiency needed to blend Christianity with the indigenous culture was left out. All that was African was seen as evil and backward. This theological gap between Christianity and the local tradition was lamented by Prof Omenyo, the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana:
The failure of historical Christianity to enter into a constructive dialogue with African traditional cultures and religions has long been recognised. The consequence of this theological deficit is the inability of most African Christians to reconcile the worldview with the type of Christianity professed by Western Christian missionaries in Africa.
In the section dubbed the “Anglicanization of Gadangme names”, the writer discusses some of the name distortions in the Ga culture. He notes that “…some GaDangme names went through some transformational processes or Europeanization. Thus Kpakpo became “Pappoe”, Kwaate changed to “Quartey”; Kwei came to be misspelt as “Quaye”, Akwei changed to “Acquaye”, Okai transformed to “Okine or Okyne”, Teiko was translated as “Tagoe”, “Ayite” was transcribed as “Aryeetey”… Kofi has become Quophie.”
The author raises a very important cultural dilemma pertaining to the way in which contact with the Europeans has led to serious changes in our naming structure. Odotei points out that the Ga cultural naming system was according to seniority and sex. Ideally, due to these naming patterns, as the author indicates, it was supposed to be easier identifying family lineages by looking at someone’s name. Nonetheless, these name distortions has made it very difficult to recognize local names since they have been Europeanized. In fact some of the changes to European names are very difficult to know their indigenous roots. In cases where someone adopts a totally Western name, we might never know the person’s roots. It will be very intriguing to know whether these changes in Ghana also affected European names as well, in one way or the other.
A major gap in the book is that the author does not tell us how we can solve this cultural dilemma. Some have attempted to resolve this by resorting to the “Sankofa thesis” which stipulates a return to the past to take the past values. Nonetheless, we are still left with whether we take it wholesale or partially. What aspects are we supposed to transport and what are we supposed to leave behind? Nkrumah argued that “In the educational process of the African the best in the western culture should be combined with the best in African culture.’ Yet he did not demonstrate how this synthesis of cultures could be achieved.” Certainly, there are aspects that are worth carrying forward. The educational policy of the Basel mission has immensely benefited Ghana with the setting up of many mission schools. On the other hand, there are aspects of the indigenous culture that are not worth continuing. The author describes one of these in the context of widowhood rites:
“On one other occasion, hot pepper laced with a tincture of car battery electrolyte, mixed in such human urine concoction with its pungent stench of ammonia, was allegedly splashed on the grieving widow! (shitͻwoo)”
Such an act is not worthy of emulation. Our mothers are not supposed to suffer such humiliating and demeaning rituals upon the death of their husbands.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, namely:
- What’s in a name?
- The Value of Children as Economic Assets
- The Birth of a Child
- The Stages of Ga Customary Marriage
- The Essence of Outdooring, Dedication and Naming Ceremony
- Why a Name?
- The Twin-Cult Festival
- Name-Appellations and Honorifics
- The Influence of Chieftaincy in the Coinage of appellations
- Death and Funeral Rites
- The Names of the Months of the Ga calendar
From a panoramic view, these 11 chapters can be grouped into these Three areas: a. Chapters on the Outdooring ceremony and Naming of a child: #1, #6, #8, #11; b. Sections on Dedication: #5, #7; c. Rituals and Institutions: #2, #3, #4, #9, #10.
My review shall be limited to only two chapters: (2). (9).
In this section, the author explains the way in which children were viewed in the past as opposed to the present. In the past, children were seen as economic assets. The more children a person had the more economic benefits one has. As the writer puts it “In Ghanaian society, as in many other traditional African cultures in times past, children were looked upon as economic assets for wealth generation.” These children usually helped parents on the farms. This is also true concerning war, since the higher the population (children born), the higher the strength of an ethnic group.
This is reflected in the benedictory words of the marriage ceremony: “Afͻ nyͻma, ni awͻ nyͻŋma saa nͻ” (Give birth to ten, who will sleep on ten beds). A grand party is thrown whereby a sheep is slaughtered in honour of a mother who achieves this status of giving birth to 10 babies. Great honour is bestowed upon such a woman. According to custom, it is only a mother who has remained faithful to one husband, who is qualified to be celebrated. Hence, this tradition promotes fidelity in marriage.
In contemporary Ga custom, giving birth to such a large number is no longer an attractive choice. As the author states, “the benedictory encouragement at a traditional marriage ceremony for newly-weds to strive to bear ten children in order to ultimately be honoured with the ceremony of the tenth child… bear and raise a large family, has become anachronistic.”
Currently, times have changed. Giving birth to ten will be too much a huge economic burden due to the cost of raising a child: schooling, feeding, clothing, and so on. The family system has become more individualistic, hence it is very difficult to maintain the former idea of raising many kids.
- CHAPTER 9
The author discusses some of the reasons why there seems to be many linguistic similarities between the Ga language and other languages like the Twi. This is one of the problems when studying the Ga language. Henderson Quartey notes that “It is misleading to assume that where a word occurs in both Ga and Akan (Twi/Fante) then the word must be of Akan origin. The pattern of language assimilation appears to be a two way traffic in areas concerned.” However, when a word is borrowed from another ethnic group it may lose its meaning. There still seems to be a huge historical gap over as to what exactly happened to cause these changes in the Ga language.
The author gives as certain possible explanations. One reason may have been due to the practice of bringing royal sons of other ethnic groups like the Akwamu’s to be groomed in the Ga royal court. “… Prince Odei, the heir apparent to the Akwamu stool was brought under tutelage at the Ga Mantsɛ’s royal court to be groomed in chieftaincy affairs, state-craft and royal decorum in order to ascend the Akwamu stool.” In so doing, each ethnic group will exchange and assimilate many cultural terminologies and practices.
One interesting section of this book is section dubbed “Some Ga Name-Appellations and their meanings”. The author here discusses Ga names and the meaning of their Twi appellations (sablã). Here are some few (extracts from page 176-189):
|Substantive Name||Name-Appellation (sablã)||Meaning (of sablã)|
|Adotɛi||Otswi||The harbringer of good omen.|
|Ajei||Obuakͻ||One who impartially delivers a verdict and leaves.|
|Amaalai||Nkrani||A typical Ga man. A survivor.|
|Amasa||Okumuafo||He who fights or kills his helpers.|
|Ako||Ojablaku||He who stokes fire into a lulling conflict.|
|Ashi||Kumaowuo||A Conqueror of death. A fighter to the death.|
The chapter ends with a catalogue of names and their meaning. Here are a few:
The book closes with a catalogue of unfamiliar names, words, places, and things, with their explanations. This is not only restricted to the GaDangmes.
The author must be congratulated for this great work in putting together such a rich store of knowledge that will help all want to will know about cultural roots of GaDangme names. I recommend this book for everyone who wants to know more about the Ga culture. Unfortunately for my generation, most of us were not brought up to know how deep our tradition is. Hence, have not come to the grasp of how we can use our culture as a tool to express our identity, for that matter our religious identity of Christianity. This book helps to start the process of restoration by giving a very deep foundation for understanding the cultural significance of Ga names.
Ammah, E.A. Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga culture and Society. Edited by Marion Kilson. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2016.
Aspect And Modality in Kwa Languages. Editors Felix Ameka and Kropp Dakubu. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008.
Axtell, James. Native and the New Comers: Cultural Origins of the North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Biney, Ama. The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah. New York: Palgrave
David Henderson-Quartey, The Ga of Ghana: History and Culture of a West African People. London: Book-in-Hand Ltd, 2002.
Odotei, Irene. “What is in a Name? The Social and Historical Significance of Ga names”, in Research Review, NS Vol. 5, No 2, 1989.
Omenyo, Cephas. Pentecost Outside Pentecostalism: A Study of the Development of Charismatic Renewal in the Mainline Churches in Ghana. Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum Publishing House, 2006.
Oxford Dictionaries, “Outdooring – Definition Of Outdooirng in English”, accessed January 13, 2017, http://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/outdooring
Tetteh, Ernest. The Outdooring Dedication and Naming of an African Child: A Ceremony of the Gadangme People of Southeastern Ghana. London: Ophelia Vanderpuye On-line Publishing, 2016.
 The author’s critique of earlier scholars is amazing. He provides a cultural basis for accepting or refusing certain positions of earlier scholars such as M.J Field (see page 2-3 of book), popular view on Mojawe (see page 5), Amartey (see page 190), and Henderson Quartey (171).
 Oxford Dictionaries “Outdooring – Definition Of Outdooirng in English”, accessed January 13, 2017, http://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/outdooring
 Ernest Tetteh, The Outdooring Dedication and Naming of an African Child: A Ceremony of the Gadangme People of Southeastern Ghana (London: Ophelia Vanderpuye On-line Publishing, 2016), vii.
 E.A. Ammah, Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga culture and Society, ed. Marion Kilson (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2016), 225.
 Tetteh, The Outdooring Dedication and Naming of an African Child, ix.
James Axtell, Native and the New Comers: Cultural Origins of the North America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 147.
Cephas Omenyo, Pentecost Outside Pentecostalism: A Study of the Development of Charismatic Renewal in the Mainline Churches in Ghana (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum Publishing House, 2006), p.3.
 Tetteh, The Outdooring Dedication and Naming of an African Child, 34-35.
 Irene Odotei, “What is in a Name? The Social and Historical Significance of Ga names”, in Research Review, NS Vol. 5, No 2 (1989), 35.
 Ama Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah (New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 2011), 23.
 Tetteh, 210.
 Tetteh, 24.
 Tetteh, 24.
 Tetteh, 25.
 David Henderson-Quartey, The Ga of Ghana: History and Culture of a West African People (London: Book-in-Hand Ltd, 2002), 49. Also see the footnote of M.J. Field, Ga family and social change, 39-40.
 Emeritus KroppDakubu, the Ga authority in the area of linguistic said that “Similarly, words taken over from other languages eventually become completely “indigenized.” Kropp Dakubu “Ga Verbs features,” in Aspect And Modality in Kwa Languages. Ed. Felix Ameka and Kropp Dakubu (John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008), 92.
 Tetteh, 171.
 Tetteh, 176.