ABETEI – Modern Gadangme Emblems
Created by Ishmael Fiifi Annobil, Totem ISBN 978 1 899151 08 0 2016
I have always been fascinated by Adinkra symbols that were popularized by Professor Ablade Glover with the posters that he sold from his studio at La and I led many tourist in the 70s for them to purchase copies. So, when my older brother completed his Postgraduate thesis on ‘Signs and Symbols of the Ga State’, in the early 70s from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology I have asked him several times to retrieve a copy for me.
However, my search for Ga symbols started in earnest when I tried to find a replacement for the logo of the church that I attend. I discovered that some symbols had been emblazoned on the walls of the Ga Mantse Palace and my search led me to Michael Adashie whose symbols were from his thesis College of Art at KNUST. He had used proverbs featuring animals as a basis for this work and he willingly sent me copies of his symbols.
Early this year, my computer started throwing up a book titled ABETEI, the google algorithm must have been at work because I must have been posting articles on Gadangme issues. I initially ignored these suggestions, but it became persistent till I followed the link and realized that it was a book on Gadangme symbols. It felt like my prayers had been answered.
There was no review of the book and I did not know what to expect but I decided to give it a go and bought the book. This book was also about symbols derived from proverbs and the author had been impressed by the work of Rev Professor Kudadjie who had come up with a Gadangme proverbs appropriate for preaching the Christian word.
Reading Ga in capital letters can be difficult, especially if it has all the diacritics of the old orthography and I found this a minor irritant when I initially flipped through the book.
But the book was so beautiful that I could not put it down, I devoured it till the morning. I started reading the table of contents that had all the proverbs and the pages on which they appeared in the book. As I read the Ga and then the English translations that were conveniently placed underneath the proverb, tried to imagine how they would be represented in the main book, I was captivated because most were new proverbs that I had not encountered in other books.
By the time I started turning the pages, I was already in love with the book. This book of emblems is a beautiful book, aesthetically well designed, more like tastefully presented and a real coffee table book that gets conversations going. Simple, lots of white spaces, minimalist, my favourite colours, black on white. The fonts are bold and elegant. The arrangement attractively presented – one design a page on the right side of the page with the proverb and explanation on the left side of the book.
But it was not just symbols. The genius of a creator had written a worthy article about why he worked on these symbols, his motivations and why he chose the proverbs that he did. Essentially this is about giving life to the many wise sayings that are used for elegant public speech or for advice behind closed doors.
The emblems capture the essence of the culture and deserve to be read by all. The proverbs are refreshingly appropriate, and the book is one more feather in the cap of those who want to rehabilitate the creative industries as a prelude to sustainable development of our people and our country.
For the author, and for me as well, projecting the culture of Gadangme can be achieved in different ways and in multiple media platforms. The arts and craft that are in danger of being lost must be reclaimed and reinvigorated. The symbols on our lintels and on our canoes must be preserved for the future generations. The onslaught on the language must be arrested and the we must be vigilant so that any threat of cultural misappropriation must be reversed. There is room to accommodate Adinkra symbols with Adashie and with Abetei and even more symbols from the different regions of Ghana. This book is all about culture, about symbols, about rebirth. It is also about the mind of an artist filmmaker.
These are proverbial stones or rocks, I call them proverbial gems will make an excellent addition to the cultural revival of Ghana, the precursor to economic development using the creative industries.
My view has been that without a period that reformation that makes us comfortable with our identity to the extent that we are confident to project our Ghanaian personality and creativity we will continue to copy the icons of the west and our development will continue to be warped in that fashion because we will not be able to play catch up successfully.
Because if we are to be productive, we must think in our languages and our expression of thought must be framed around out innate values so that our products and services will satisfy the real needs of our people. It is therefore with a great sense of pride that I welcome these symbols and recommend the book to every Ghanaian.
And before you ask why I am so keen on this book, it is because I will buy it as many times; I bought one for my chief collaborator on Gadangme cultural issues – Mr Allotey Bruce-Konuah for him to evaluate. Then my wife saw the book and wanted one for her filmmaker nephew in Ghana and then my other collaborator on Gadangme organisational issues, Owula Albert Johnson came to visit and I showed him the book and then he said he wanted one, so I bought another copy which is yet to be delivered to Numo Nortse Amartey and then another and all this while, I was really meaning to evaluate the book and read it properly. Then I went to a memorial service and I met the gentleman, Mr Ishmael Annobil who wrote the book and then I decided that I should really write this review.
London, May 2018