What to Do with Outmoded Traditions and Customs?
In her article titled “Spreading Fear and Panic,” Ms. Elizabeth Ohene raises several issues of concern to our seemingly ossified customs and traditions (See “Opinions” Ghanaweb.com 6/13/19). Under the oxymoronic subheading of “The Loud Silence in Accra,” the writer seems to sardonically mock the annual ban on noisemaking ritualistically imposed on residents of the Greater-Accra Metropolitan Area by the Ga Traditional Council, largely composed of chiefs and indigenous elders of the Ga Traditional Area or polity. The ban is more of a ritual formality, for the most part, than it is practically enforceable. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, the ban on noisemaking cannot be literally enforced in the most diverse or cosmopolitan city in Ghana. But I, nevertheless, strongly suspect that it is reasonably well observed in many a rural community in the Greater-Accra Region, especially in areas where farming and fishing activities are the dominant occupations.
Like the consubstantial observation of the Eucharist in Christian churches, the ban on noisemaking is a purely symbolic ritual recognition of the Earth-Goddess-Mother and an ontological/philosophical appreciation of the metaphysical or spiritual and supernatural forces that govern not just Planet-Earth, but the universe at large. What is more? Even the most genius of Judeo-Christian scientists and thinkers, including globally renowned and celebrated scientists like Prof. Albert Einstein, in the Twentieth Century, or in our time, and Sir Isaac Newton, the Seventeenth-Century British theorist of the Force of Gravity, recognize the fact of supernatural forces being in firm control of the universe. I also don’t know that the electronic media, largely radio and television broadcasting and, these days, computers and cellphones, as well, whose “noises” can only be specially received by specially built reception machines, can routinely violate the annual ban on noises imposed by the Ga Traditional Council, except in cases where these broadcast reception machines are deliberately turned on loudly outside the confines of vehicles and buildings to disturb the public peace, as it were.
At any rate, the ban on noisemaking is a twelve-hour daily ritual spanning an annual period of four weeks or one month, often beginning from 6 pm to 6 am. Of course, in the twenty-four-hour modern or postmodern world in which we live, depending on where on Earth one finds oneself, it is all to be expected that the observance of such an ancient ritual would not be “picture-perfect,” as it were. So, yes, the impact of the noisemaking ban would not be evenly spread or observed throughout the land. Even as the author herself significantly notes, if singing goes on in churches devoid of loud drumming and dancing, it is worthwhile recognition of this most ancient sacred ritual. I have even imagined that the ban on noisemaking could be strictly enforced for about one hour sometime during the course of the evening every day during the season of the ban on noisemaking.
But then, the question becomes: what hour of the evening do we all settle upon as the most ideal? And, what if a seriously ill person has to be rushed in an ambulance to the hospital in the middle of the night? Of course, for inevitable practical purposes, exceptions such as the present instance could be made. We need to also recognize the incontrovertible fact that without the periodic and rhythmically regulated observance of rituals, life would be far less meaningful and interesting than it presently is. Actually, I also wanted to add “worthwhile.” But, perhaps, what is equally significant to point out is the fact that nearly every major Ghanaian culture or ethnic polity observes the annual ban on noisemaking or, more commonly, drumming and dancing at different times during the year just before the various harvest festivals observed in the country.
You see, not only are we, humans, made of earth and out of the Earth, the ban on burials has something to do with the fact that ritually speaking, anytime that we dig into or open up the Earth/earth to bury our dead, we ritually and symbolically pollute the earth; although practically speaking, we also return to the earth what originally belonged to the earth. Which is why in Judeo-Christian liturgy, even as we inter our dead, the minister/pastor commits the remains of the dead back to where they originated or came from: “Thou art dust and ashes; and into the dust shall you return.”
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By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
June 13, 2019
E-mail: [email protected]