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12.09.2018 Feature Article

Do We Really Appreciate What The Past Has Left To Us?

The Author
LISTEN SEP 12, 2018

As I watched the absolutely inspiring scenes that took place at Kyebi on 23 August 2018, when the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu The Second, and his augustretinue graced the streets of Kyebi (to mark the 75thanniversary of the passing of Nana Sir Ofori Atta The First) I could not help but lament that we have inflicted so many losses upon ourselves since our independence.

For instance: when I was going to school at the same Kyebi in the early 1950s, we had an Akan newspaper called Nkwantabisa [Literally: The junction where what's not known is asked about.] It was published by the Vernacular Literature Bureau. There was another Twi newspaper called Duom. [Keep Going Forward.] The Gas also had a newspaper called Mansralo (if my memory serves me right. In fact, most of the languages used for broadcasts by the Gold Coast Broadcasting System (GBS) had their own newspapers.

Today, I believe have two organisations that should be publishing things for us to read in our native tongues: the Bureau of Ghana Languages (does it still exist?) and another devoted to our “culture” in general. But where can their productions be found?

Now, in 1950, the British, working through a private newspaper group in London called The Mirror Group, tried to capture the minds of the literate section of our populace by establishing a daily newspaper called The Daily Graphic. Using the slick methods of the tabloid section of London's Fleet Street newspapers (TheDaily Mirrorof the time had the largest daily readership in the UK at the time) the Graphic became indispensable to the educated Ghanaian, and indeed it soon became the generic term for “newspaper” in the country.

Newspapers owned by Ghanaians, such as the Daily Echo The Ashanti Pioneer andThe Spectator, could not compete with the Graphic. The existence of publications in our own languages was therefore a prescient effort at giving us a gift which, if used properly, could help us to resist indoctrination from abroad.

The reason why I have gone back into history is that I wish there had been publications well-resourced enough to capture and publish the cultural riches that were exhibited at Kyebi on 23 August 2018. Among the questions I would have liked to have answered for our succeeding generations are:

  1. What were the praise-singers of both Monarchs saying and why were they using those particular words and terms? I noticed, for instance, that the Asantehene's praise-names, as declaimed by his Minstrels, often consisted of three lines only. Occasionally, they were extended to about five lines. How could so much thought be compressed into so few words? The only people I know who use that type of poetic technique are the Japanese. Can we be taught new writing techniques by these Minstrels?
  2. What were the differences between what the praise-singers of each Monarch iterated, and why?
  3. Both Kings had Leopard totems exhibited around them. What is the source of this peculiar relationship between their Kingdoms and the Leopard?

I do hope some writer with a curious turn of mind, can be given an opportunity to talk to these people and record their oral history, before their tongues vanish from Planet Earth.

I was intrigued by one of the Otumfuo's praise-singers, who after reciting the names of the various monarchs who had been dispatched by Otumfuo Osei Tutu, grimly warned the Otumfuo: “If anyone offends you, don't spare him! Except me – because as doe me, I am so humble!”

Does he make the Otumfuo smile? Does such an ironical turn of phrase emanate from the same source as the “Jesters” in the palaces of European monarchs, as immortalised by Shakespeare, for instance?

I must praise some of the TV commentators for having shown themselves to be extremely resourceful on the day. The Adom TV team were most instructive. Adom TV, was able to identify those who had special knowledge about Akan culture, and give them much air-time. I caught the name of one, Nana Agyei. I wish these people with so much knowledge of our culture would kindly contact me:[email protected]/com

The Otumfuo himself was a revelation. He spoke extempore, even though there was a very well-scripted version of his speech available. To explain why it was possible for Asante and Akyem to bury the differences of the past and come together today, he resorted to a rich proverb: “The tongue resides in the mouth together with the teeth, and occasionally, the tongue gets bitten by the teeth. But the two stay together in the same mouth most of the time, without conflict!”

In other words, whatever bad history might have existed between Akyem and Asante in the past, they are now solidly together – in the same way the tongue and the teeth work together to feed their human host at meal-times!”

The Otumfuo also revealed that the rich attire in which he was clad was the same as adorned Otumfuo Prempeh The First in 1935, when he showed himself to his people at the durbar held to welcome him, on his return from the Seychelles Islands. (Otumfuo Prempeh The First had been deported to the Seychelles Islands in 1896 after sacrificing himself by surrendering to the British, rather than cause further bloodshed to Asante, by continuing to fight against the vastly superior weaponry of the British. The Golden Stool, however, was never surrendered – thanks mainly to Nana Yaa Asantewaa.

The imagination which the Okyenhene, Osagyefuor Amoatia Ofori Panin, exhibited by conjuring the whole spectacle into being, is beyond commendation. To have so cleverly recognised the occasion as the one that could be utilised to bring Otumfuo Osei Tutu The Second to Kyebi, with dignity and respect to both Monarchs (namely, the 75th anniversary of the death of Nana Ofori Atta The First) was sagacious beyond belief. For Nana Ofori Atta worked through the Aborigines Rights Protection Society and the Gold Coast Legislative Council to secure the return of Otumfuo Prempeh The First from the Seychelles.

The incredible work put in by the planning committee set up by Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, which surmounted all the enormous logistical difficulties, deserves great praise.

The unity achieved on the day must be focused on ending the wanton destruction of the environment of the Kingdoms, through that terrible man-made calamity, galamsey.

Mr Ohene of Adom TV was able to relate, correctly, the Great Durbar, and how our “United Monarchs” can end galamsey “in five years”.

Mr Ohene demanded: Follow the ancient edict that vegetation should not be cut as near as fifty feet from a river or stream, and that rats should also not be hunted 50 feet from water-bodies. I as: Don't take a bulldozer, excavator, or changfangmachine, anywhere that's fifty miles from a river or stream! And: Nananom, please URGENTLY resurrect your Asafo or Kyirem groups, so that they can enforce these ancient measures. The very name, Asafo (The Masses) springs from history: they were specifically organised to take collective action to protect their land and environment against all evil marauders.

Such as galamseyers undoubtedly are!

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2018

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

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