Essays on Ghanaian Philosophy – EA Ammah Essay1 Ghanaian Thought and Philosophy

E. A. Ammah, “Ghanaian Philosophy,” The Ghanaian (October 1961, November 1961, December 1961, January 1962, February 1962, March 1962, April/May 1962, June 1962)

NOTE: Beginning in the October 1961 issue of The Ghanaian and continuing in monthly installments through June 1962, E. A. Ammah published  a lengthy essay, “Ghanaian Philosophy.”   The essay is remarkable not only for its analysis of Ghanaian thought but for its comparative discussion of other religious traditions throughout the world.  Although E. A. Ammah titles his essay “Ghanaian Philosophy,” his exposition is an exploration of Ga philosophy as revealed primarily in kpele hymns.   He identifies and discusses three Ga schools of thought: (1) God’s School of Thought, (2) the Son of God (Awi Tete) or the Wisdom School, and (3) the Sceptic School of Thought.   In comparing Ga thought with other traditions, E. A. Ammah draws upon a variety of sources including The Bible, articles in The Hibbert Journal (a liberal Christian periodical published in Britain 1902-1968), notable scholarly monographs of the 1920s and 1930s,  various encyclopedias, as well as Islamic, Indian, and Buddhist teachings. Marion Kilson

The essay is reproduced on this blog in 4 parts – Ade Sawyerr


Ghanaian thought
Why go to ancient Greece,
And other far off lands,
In search of golden fleece,
‘Tis here, these Ghana stands.

October 1, 1961, the date on which the University of Accra was born, marked a great turning point in the intellectual and cultural history of Ghana and also of Africa as a whole—a renaissance or revival of knowledge.

To borrow the words of Henri Bergson, “it is the customs, institutions, even in language, that the intellectual and cultural acquisitions are deposited; they are then transmitted by unceasing education from generation to generation, from mouth to mouth.”  It is by this way that Ghana was able to build up its cultural heritage of which we are very proud.  An aspect of our intellectual culture is philosophy or “notion of the universe,” nature, man, and God.

Three in One
Ghanaian thought unlike Greek, but like Hindus, is three in one, and one in three, namely, philosophy, religion and science.  It must be remarked in passing that Indian “religion and philosophy are one”, and that, “For India, then, there can be no real conflict between science and religion, between religion and thought” (J. H. Tuckwell, Indian philosophy, an appreciation. Hibbert Journal, October, p. 10).  This is exactly the content of Ghanaian thought; the sole difference is that, India stresses pantheism, while Ghana upholds theism, God’s transcendence or revelation.

These pages discuss what Ghanaian philosophy is about.  But to start, it is deemed important to know the present situation as to the place of philosophy in the West.  We are told that, “there is no agreement among philosophers, and no one who can speak with authority on its behalf,” that something should be “done to galvanise philosophy into some sort of meaningful activity and to bring it into relation with the problem of life,” then professional expounders of philosophy…may see it would [be] to the advantage alike to themselves and of the world to make philosophy socially useful.”  Having examined the role of science, Dr. Schiller says, there is “the need for something more than science, namely for a comprehensive or synoptic treatment that will combine the partial views of the various sciences and will instruct us how to think of reality as a whole, and how we can read a single coherent sense into the whole of our experience.”  Showing the relevant sphere of philosophy, the learned Doctor writes, “here then is an important task, an indisputable domain, to which philosophy might devote itself.  It has always claimed to be concerned with the whole” (see Has Philosophy a Message, Hibbert Journal, July 1938, pp.595 and 597).  This is exactly the concrete and coherent  “message” Ghanaian thought is to deliver “to a world wearied of constant change” (Percy Dearmer, Christianity and the Crisis, 1933, p. 65).

The time is opportune that Ghana should speak for herself and also for Africa as a whole.

What’s philosophy?
What, then, is philosophy?  “It is the pursuit of knowledge; “an attitude of mind as well as a system of ideas,”it is concerned with “the relation of the physical universe to the ultimate ground of all things.”

In plain language, “in using the word philosophy, we normally have in mind these three aspects of it—metaphysics (which is designed to give us knowledge of God), ethics and politics (which is designed to be guides to right behavior for men and nations.”  “With these we may put logic which is the knowledge of the rules for clear and reasoned thought.” (E. Evans and T. H. Robinson, The Bible: what it is and what is in it, p. 192).  It is also the “love of wisdom,” and “the philosopher,” says Plato “is the man who takes [a] synoptic or comprehensive view of the universe as a whole (Encyclopedia Britannica,  Vol. 17, p.759) that exactly was the attitude adopted by Ghanaian thinkers.

The main source of Ghanaian philosophy is based on Kple (Kpele) hymns, and other [?] Kple, like Islamism or Christianity is the religious expression of the Ga-Adangme people.  Kple or Kpele means “all-comprehensive.”  As a religion, it is practiced from Awutu to Prampram (Gbugbla).  The religion is Kple; the music is Kple; the drumming is called Kple; the dancing is known as Kple; the dancing place is Kpletsososisi,  all-comprehensive indeed.  This at once leads us to Ghanaian realms of philosophy.

Another Idea
In the Ga Bible, wisdom is translated as nilee (knowledge of things).  But in Kple, we have Oleete for wisdom.  When used as Tete oleete, it means “the man who dwells in appearance and show of sense,” as Plato remarked long ago.  Such a vain person is admonished, naa bleoo (walk or go slowly), an expression which implies “there is more beyond.” Oleete by itself means “philosophy,” lee (knowing ), te (first).  Philosophy in Ga is therefore teteetenilee “first (or ancient) philosophy,” this is in line with Aristotle’s definition  “first philosophy.”

The names of Plato and Aristotle remind us of certain words used in [the] Ga rite of circumcision, namely, Pata Ologo foofooioPata is father, Ologo is  certainly word or wisdom.  Foofooio is the transparent bright blood that flows from the wound of the newly circumcised.  The whole thing may therefore mean God’s bright work or wisdom.  And be it remembered that, according to Philo, the Logos represents God’s Wisdom.

Another interesting philosophical idea can be discerned in [the] Ga infant outdooring (bi kpodziemo) ceremony.  It gives an answer to the question of the ultimate reality in its monistic or dualistic form.  It also has a semblance of materialism and the atomic theory.

In the ceremony, the celebrant lifts and shows the baby to the morning star, Tsotsoobi;  touches it against the ground, and sprinkles water on it.  These four elements constitute, light, air, earth and water.  This tallies with Empedocle of Argentum Doctrine of the element—as the principle in the four-fold of Being.  This man regarded reality as eternal, but not one.  This is materialism.  “Matter,” we are told “is the only reality of which the elements are earth, water, fire and air. (See Ency. Brit. Vol. 12, Indian Philosophy, p.249).  Materialism, therefore, denies the existence of God as the Creator.  But the Ghanaian “materialist” that formulated the infant outdooring ceremony, firmly believed in the existence of a Divine Creator.


Origins of the hymns
The origins and the reciters of the Kple hymns are hidden from us.  All that is known is that, most of the hymns are prefixed as Akee, it was said, sometimes Kome or Odai.   Sometimes Sakumo is prefixed as Kome or Odai Kee or Kome or Odai said, like the “thus said the Lord” of the Hebrews.

The origins and the reciters of the Kple hymns are hidden from us.  All that is known is that, most of the hymns are prefixed as Akee, it was said, sometimes Kome or Odai.   Sometimes Sakumo is prefixed as Kome or Odai Kee or Kome or Odai said, like the “thus said the Lord” of the Hebrews.

Kome or Odai refers to the same being or as an Indian expression says, “the real is one the learned called by various names.”  So most of the hymns were recited by Kome, patron angel of Ga, possibly, and other “spirits of spheres—angels—Intelligence” of Aristotle’s concept, and became the property of human beings.  It is the “thus said” or “was said” that makes the basis of Ghanaian philosophy revelational.
It is revelation
If Ghanaian thought is based on revelation, the dogmas and beliefs form  [the] “essential and constructive part.”  It is also very important to disclose that reason which plays [a] vital role in science and Greek philosophy, according to Ghanaian thought, was an endowment from God, the Ultimate Reality, the essence of all things, whose appellative is Onukpa, Transcendent.

Ghanaian philosophy is built on three systems or schools of thought:

(1)    God’s School of Thought;
(2)    the Son of God (Awi Tete) or the WisdomSchool and
(3)    the Sceptic School of Thought.

The first opens its awareness of the relation of the universe to the ground of all things with God, Nyongmo; the second encloses it with the Son of God, Awi Tete; the third enfolds it with doubts—that true or real knowledge is unattainable by man.

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