Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga Culture and Society -Book Review: by Gyau Kumi Adu

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Book Review: Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga Culture and Society, by E. A. Ammah, edited by Marion Kilson (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2016).

By Gyau Kumi Adu joewykay55@gmail.com

The thesis of the book is to inform readers about the Ga culture and society in general covering the time of the beginning of the Ga culture and ends at the turn of the 20th century. It uses an interdisciplinary-approach[1] of Ga philosophy, theology, politics, linguistics, religion, history and sociology. One significant theme running through all these essays is that the African culture is very rich, for that matter the Ga culture, in a wide range of subjects (as mentioned earlier).

Pertaining to how rich the Ga culture is in philosophy Ammah writes: “In the Ga Bible, wisdom is translated as nilee (knowledge of all things). But in kple, we have Oleete for wisdom. When used as Teteoleete, it means “the man who dwells in appearance and show of sense,” as Plato remarked long ago.”[2]

Concerning the depths of the Ga culture in sociology Ammah notes: ‘The sense of Ga community is built on the concrete foundation of… May our brooms be “thick,” may we obtain bestowable things to bestow on it, may it work for us that we may enjoy.…  It can be readily seen from this that the question of the group and that of the individual is not a problem in the Ga society.’[3]

In my view the book meets its main objective by covering these areas. It is a very classical book which will endure for many generations to come. It is very revealing. It covers many important subjects that the youth of Ghana are not privy to. One reason is that many Ga writings are difficult to come by. Some significant writings are also out of print.

Nevertheless, I think that sometimes because it is too general, very important facts are left to the readers to go search for. An example is the discussion dubbed “Leaving Old Tema”. This is how the story ends “Lorries are waiting to move people. Some people climbed into the lorries which carried them to the new town. Kpele drums are struck from the old town up to the new town. When they arrive, one knows that Kpeshi has been removed.”[4] Reading this sparked up a lot of thoughts in me since I have stayed in the location they were moved to. The section recollects how the Ga people of Tema who resided around the Temahabour were moved to Tema New Town (Manhean) with sorrows. The writing captures this with a bit of poetry tinged with facts. It is very revealing to read. Nevertheless, very important details are left out.

The story does not cover how the new place was built (a few lines on this would have crystalized the writings and made it more solid). It leaves out important details such as what was the condition of the lands (The government did not pay anything for those lands[5]). This explains why these Ga people will leave the place with tears.[6] This information actually ties up the pieces that Ammah mentions in the book earlier on the land tenure system. Since this abrupt departure of the Ga people, in my view, has altered the Ga structure of Tema New. Tema is more modern with a lot of business and commerce, but Newtown looks isolated, traditional and deserted from Tema. More research into this area will be very revealing. To look at the origin of Manhean in relation to the current social structure and the land tenure system that applies.

The book is divided into five parts: (1). Ga Culture in Comparative Perspective (2). Ga social Organization (3). Ga Political Structure and History (4). Life transitions Ceremony (5). Ga religion

The book review will centre on only (1), (2), and (5)

In the first section (1), one line that struck me was “… it is a fact that Ghanaians have been miseducated to the extent that everything in their own culture is regarded as primitive or pagan.”[7] Later he writes that “The most surprising part is that ‘many of our so-called educated people are victims of such psychological confusion, that they unfortunately regard their self-esteem as violated if they are found to have anything to do with ‘primitive’ languages instead of speaking foreign languages parrot-wise.”[8] Else Mensah writes “There are many GaDangme who cannot read or write the Ga or the Dangme language, yet they are fluent in foreign languages…”[9]

This is one problem that confronts Ga research. Many don’t know how to read it. The majority view the local culture as “primitive” and hence when people are good in it, not having a good English language background to support it, they are seen as backward. As Ammah rightly said, this is a “cultural confusion”. Dr. Laryea has done a good job in his writing “Yesu: HomowoNuntso” in this regard by writing a book on the Ga culture in Ga. However, just few are able to understand it and make meaning out of it.

The second section touches on the structure of the Ga community and some important institutional structures such as marriage, land tenure, and inheritance. I will concentrate on marriage and land tenure.

About marriage Ammah has a comprehensive view on it. He mentions the steps involved:                       (1). Knocking (2). Consent (3). Waist covering-cloth or espousal (4). Puberty rite (5). Dowry (6). Wedding. What I found interesting in all of this is that, after the marriage the “the husband gives the wife a sum of money to open cooking. She (the wife) now has responsibility for serving her husband.”[10] Although Ammah does not mention that on the other hand for the man this means that he assumes responsibility to love his wife by providing for the home, I think such an assumption is not far-fetched from it. This is in line with the Biblical idea of wife submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their own wives.[11]

Speaking on the land tenure system for family Ammah writes “For when the male is grown up to a period that is recognizable as manhood… he is given his own room or a portion of land to settle with his wife…”[12] In my estimation, this system was good to preserve family property. In that, vast Ga lands will have been preserved if given to family members to settle and make their own home. It is something which is common among Ga people that land be given to a family head to start a new settlement in a new area. However, the current land structure where land is sold to anybody has altered this structure that Ammah talks about. Children are no longer left apartments to settle, but lands are sold for huge amounts of money. Alhassan makes an important statement on this. He explains that, “Since colonial and postcolonial governments took ownership of land and converted natural resources into cash commodities, communities have had little incentive to protect and promote its efficient exploitation…the serious problems confronting us…economic and developmental problems facing the country (Ghana).”[13] This statement is truer in Ga land, where the nation’s capital is.

The chapter I found most interesting in the third section was “60 Years of Ga politics”. It chronicles the history of King Ayi Kushi, the first king to be recorded to Nii Amugi. The most striking feature of this writing is that during all these times the major problem of kingship that began with the destoolment of the first Ga ruler by their alliance the Ga made with the Akwamu is what started the kingship problem that the Gs have to date. Another issue that has strengthened this problem is with the Ga leader known as Dzaasetse. Ammah writies “In summing up 60 years of Ga politics, we are bold to say that sixty years of politics began with a strong Ga Stool Dzaase…. We regret to record that 60 years of Ga politics closes with the very weak Dzase of Nii Teiko Abonua… The weakness of this Dzase was reflected at the entsoolment of… suggest that the exalted position of the Ga stool became a toy in the hands of the Ga people, an unprecedented situation in the history of the Ga royal family.”[14]

I suggest that the current Ga chieftaincy disputes can only be resolved if these issues that Ammah raises in this chronicle is properly looked into since all these problems are a development of those problems.

The most fascinating part of this book I enjoyed in the last section was Ammah’s discussion on Ga prophets. He notes that there have been three major waves of leadership. The first is the Ga priests (wulomo) who led the Ga to their present abode. The second is the kings (mantse) which governed the people in the settlement, and the last is the prophets who were sent by God to deliver the Ga from certain problems. Ammah speaks that “The office of a prophet is not regular like a wulomo. He is not elected and installed by man; he is called, ordained, and commissioned by a power divine… The current view of the people is that the control of rain in Ga society is vested in the prophets.”[15] He mentions one prophet called Lomoko who made rain available in a time that the Ga people lacked rain.

I think this information is quite revealing. Upon all my readings on the Ga culture, I have not come across such an information. I think it will be of much benefit to the academic society if more research is done into this area to find out more about the agency of prophecy in Ga.

Conclusion:  I think this is a very great book. I have been really educated on the Ga culture. I will give this book five stars for its quality and in depth perspective on the Ga culture.

Gyau Kumi Adu

I am a sincere, self-motivated, versatile and creative young gentleman, who has extensive knowledge in philosophy and religion, particularly in relation to the African experience. I aspire to use my knowledge and academic experience to assist in developing and shaping the continent of Africa, and for that matter Ghana, through my writings on the Ga culture, Biblical doctrine, and other practical issues in life.

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[1] I use this not in the technical sense of the word where the author intentionally relates more than one branch of knowledge at a time to present truth in a very broad perspective. However, although the author does not apparently use this approach, his mastery of the all these subjects (as mentioned in the write up) inherently employs this approach, especially when the broad is read as one collection rather than in pieces as a set of essays. In fact the author does not just use local sources but foreign sources as well to establish truth or cogent arguments.

[2]Pp 24.

[3]Pp 97

[4]Pp 222.

[5] Did some research on this by asking some natives.

[6] Although this information is sensitive and could have been said in a way to not sound political but informative for the future youth of the country to be acquainted with facts.

[7]Pp18.

[8]Pp18.

[9][9] Joseph Abekar Mensah, Traditions and Customs of Gadamgmes of Ghana: Descendants of Authentic Biblical Hebrew Israelites (Houston: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co., 2013), 339.

[10] See footnote 14, pp 150.

[11] Ephesians 5:24-25.

[12] 153.

[13] Osman Alhassan, Traditional Authorities and Sustainable Development: Chiefs and Resource Management in Ghana,” in Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, Governance and development,” ed. Irene K. Odotei and Albert K. Awedoba (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006), 528.

[14] 216.

[15] 376 and 378.

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3 thoughts on “Kings, Priests, and Kinsmen: Essays on Ga Culture and Society -Book Review: by Gyau Kumi Adu

  1. Hello Ataa Ade,
    Good to know that at long last Ataa E. A. Ammah’s book is hitting the book shelves. I did part of the proof reading of the manuscript, and I know that that book is a gem in the accumulating treasury of books on GaDangme history and culture.

    As Ataa Amartey lamented in his “Omanye Aba”, educated GaDangmes have mysteriously shied away from writing books; and even when written, they will not read them. But come to an argument, and you will hear all the sterner stuff of which a GaDangme is made.

    I must attest that this is one book written with an actual performer among the various personae dramatis. So his perceptions and insights, literally , could be described as coming from the horse’s own mouth. People whose curiosity about GaDangme history and culture has been welled up by a desire to know, must quickly seek to secure their own copies as worthy compendiums to their authority behind their knowledge.

    Ernest Tetteh
    Washington DC.
    Author of “The Outdooring, Dedication and Naming of an African Child – Ganyobi Kpojiemo”.

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