Nii Armah Josiah Aryeh: Fare thee well valiant warrior for the GaDangme Cause – Ade Sawyerr

 

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My friend, Nii Armah Josiah Aryeh, has returned to the ancestors, too soon, and we mere mortals are left to bear the pain of losing him.  In his relatively short life, he did a lot to inspire numerous Gadangme people on a path of consciousness. He provided the opportunity for like-minded people to rally behind a cause of projecting, yet again, the unique position of Ga people in nation building.  But he will be better remembered as a politician, who rose to high office within a political party through his force of ideas and his competence, but who could not sustain his position because of political intrigue.

Though Nii Armah proved adept at handling press conferences and gave many television and radio interviews, he was perhaps more comfortable when drafting these documents, probably because he was an academic. He wanted to be viewed as more than just another ordinary politician.

I got to know Nii Armah in the mid-1990s when he had just completed his PhD study in Law.  He had accompanied a friend of his, Robert Trebi Asafoatse, to visit my good friend Joshua Nii Attoh Quarshie.  Nii Attoh, who had been instrumental in the setting up of Gadangme Nikasemo Asafo, telephoned me and suggested that I meet with this young man who had refreshing ideas and fire in his belly, for the projection of Ga culture within an urbanised Accra, the capital of Ghana.

I invited him to join us at the monthly meeting, the start of a fruitful association that ended up in his becoming secretary of the organisation, for a brief period.  Our association continued with the formation of the GaDangme Foundation in London and resulted in other important developments in the Gadangme Diaspora that gave a voice to the GaDangme Council in Ghana. He had been involved in other Ghanaian groups such as the Black Stars for the World Cup and Gadangme Think Tank which incidentally included luminaries such as Numo Nortse Amartey, Nii Nortei Omaboe, Albert Johnson, Sally Baffour, Dr Jo Blankson who became the Ga Mantse King Tackie Tawiah III and one of the present Ga Mantse, Nii Adama Latse II.  He was also associated with some Ghanaian Socialist Group and with the Liberated Nkrumaist Brigade in London

Though our discussions were about how to move our organisation forward to achieve our goal of influencing the psyche of the typical cosmopolitan and detribalized Gadangme from a civil society perspective, they always took a political framework.  We discussed the importance and achievements of the likes of AW Kojo Thompson, Solo Odamtten, FV Nanka-Bruce, Tommy Hutton-Mills, Obetsebi Lamptey whose legacy had been largely forgotten and observed how the likes of Tawia Adamafio, Sony Provencal, EC Quaye, Paul Tagoe, Ako Ajei, Kwatelai Quartey, Boi Doku had galvanised the Ga into national participative politics.  It was clear that he had an interest in politics and felt that he could play a useful role in shaping the destiny of Ghana.

But our immediate task remained trying to get the GaDangme polity interested in civil society activity that will  push them to contribute to and participate in regenerating the urban community with the purpose of lifting them out of poverty.  We considered several issues: the language under threat because of the onslaught of in-migration, the culture under assault from the charismatic churches, our institution of chieftaincy convoluted because of a lack of a written constitution and decided that perhaps the best hook would be to rekindle an interest in the history of the Ga people.  That was his forte because he had reviewed several documents during his doctoral dissertation and he still had access to the libraries.

This period coincided with the decision to rehabilitate the burial grounds of King Tackie Tawiah I in Accra. A group of us set up the King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Trust that together with the Union of GaDangme Associations, eventually metamorphosed into the Gadangme Foundation.  Nii Armah offered to research the history of the Gadangme people with an emphasis on the leadership of King Tackie Tawiah during peace time.  The high point of The King Tackie Tawiah Memorial lectures in July 1997, was that the prestigious Brunei Theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies was filled to the brim for each of the three lectures and the content received resounding acclaim from the large mass of Gadangme and other people who attended.

I was grateful to Nii Amarh when he actively supported my candidacy to be chairman of Ghana Union London, helping to organise and recruit several members and advising on an agenda for action after the elections.  I, in turn, had introduced him to several of my older friends in Ghana who would assist him both in his career in the law and in his involvement with the Gadangme Council.

A year later Nii Armah left London to take up an appointment as a senior lecturer in law at the University of Ghana.  Nii Armah continued with the sterling work when he returned to Ghana; organising within the GaDangme community, helping to energise the Gadangme Council with the lectures that he delivered, and assisting with outreach work amongst the GaDangme community.   He also ended up as the liaison with the chiefs and elders.   He started to help write that constitution of the Ga people which he felt, left unwritten, had been the cause of much of the disputes amongst chiefs and families owning land.  He attributed these disputes to the disunity and total breakdown of a system of governance that had left our traditional rulers at the mercy of politicians and civil servants at large, who were controlling the lands that had become the main source of income for our chiefs.

The pull of politics was probably too strong for him and he left the Gadangme Council without achieving the goal of uniting the Chiefs with the people.   He himself could not win the seat he contested though eventually by dint of hard work and merit he rose to become General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress as they went into opposition.  He was not treated very well by his party and became mired in some controversy betrayed by friends and close allies within the party and within the wider political community.

In a perverse sense though we had often discussed the fate of Ga politicians such as Ako Adjei and Tawiah Adamafio and Owula Kojo Thompson, who had climbed high but ended up being marginalised by their own parties, he did not escape that fate despite his many celebrated press conferences that he organised to propagate the social democracy ideology of his party.

Most thought that he had left politics behind to concentrate on his academic career. He had such a sharp and incisive brain with attention to detail, and he was thorough as a researcher. He wrote well and was an ardent and persuasive orator but he was impatient with those who did not readily see his point of view and who maintained other positions.

His autobiography ‘Inside Ghana’s democracy’ largely sought to justify the events of his departure from the NDC but he also wrote some academic books – ‘Property Law of Ghana’ and another ‘Islamic Customary Law in Ghana’ as well as the ‘Law of Wills in Ghana’ that he autographed for me.

But Nii Armah was not done with politics completely, and he bounced back as Chairman of the breakaway National Democratic Party led by Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings and persisted in trying to get back into the party from which they had deserted.  He had to give up that position when his health started failing him early last year.

We have lost him too early, he had a lot to offer the people of Ghana and he was diligent in the causes that he championed, but perhaps unable to form the necessary alliances to see these to fruition and to maintain a dispassionate perspective.  He certainly was ahead of his time considering some of the innovative strategies that he espoused as an activist for the Gadangme concern.

The caucus of the Gadangme community in London will certainly miss you and the legacy you leave – your unpublished King Tackie Tawiah Memorial Lectures will find their way to a blog in your memory.

May your soul rest in perfect peace in the Lord

Anyemi Nii Armah, yaa wo ojogbann

Ade Sawyerr

London June 2017

 

Dancing with the Gods: essays on Ga Rituals by Marion Kilson – a book review by Gyau Kumi Adu

Book Review: Dancing with the Gods: essays on Ga Rituals by Marion Kilson (New York: University Press of America, 2013).

By Gyau Kumi Adu (joewykay55@gmail.com/ https://joewykay.wordpress.com/)

 

Analysis of Title

The book’s central theme is about important discussions on Ga rituals based on case studies she conducted on the Ga people of Ghana. The title “Dancing with the Gods” suggests two things. Firstly, that dance rituals (as dance movements) are very key in the execution of Ga rituals. In my view, this is plausible since many Ga dance rituals capture important aspects of the ritual life and process. Kilson argues that “Dance also was often an integral part of religious rituals. Dance was usually a communal rather than an individual act. The high point of most religious festivals usually involved some form of dance.”[1]

Secondly, the title suggests that Ga rituals mainly achieve union between mortal men and the gods. Kilson points out “The maintenance and restoration of order in the relations between God and man depend upon the performance of ritual by which mortal Ga attempt to establish contact with divinity and to achieve certain goals through this interconnection.”[2] Ga rituals are no exception. In fact, mediums (wͻŋtsɛmɛi) usually achieve spirit possession of the gods through dance rituals. Without this they cannot perform their most vital role of becoming communication lines by which the gods speak to the people. Ammah in the context of funeral customs reveals the way in which Ga mediums disclose the cause of death through the agency of dance rituals.[3] I have personally observed Ga rituals that emphasize on extended dancing procedures in order to let the gods descend (yishi) upon mediums. These dance rituals are a significant in maintaining unity between members of the community as well. They all sing, cheer and dance in unison.

A close look at the book reveals that Kilson’s concentration is rather on general theoretical discussions on Ga rituals than on dance rituals in praxis. Hence, the second point seems to be the more appropriate choice behind the choosing of the title. That is, dance representing the purpose of Ga rituals to achieve harmony between the spiritual and physical world, since they are not done in isolation; they are done in connection to the spirit world.

In my reflection, Kilson’s theoretical discussions on Ga rituals such as the Taxonomy and Structure of Ga rituals, puts her on par with scholars in ritual studies such as Victor Turner and Catherine Bell. Her writings have become very foundational texts, since these writings were done at a time that many people knew little about the nature of Ga rituals. What is very captivating is the comprehensive detailing of Ga ritual dates, periods, and events.

Continue reading “Dancing with the Gods: essays on Ga Rituals by Marion Kilson – a book review by Gyau Kumi Adu”

James Barnor JamesTown Revisited – Ghana@60 a community photographic exhibition

James Barnor JamesTown Revisited – Ghana@60 a community photographic exhibition

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James Barnor has returned home and we must applaud this young at heart, 87 year old son of James Town, who still active with more projects and things to do, and who in recent times, has consistently put Ghana and Africa right at the top of the world’s attention with his iconic photographs of Ghana in its formative years.

He has been excited from last October 2016, when he held another exhibition in France at Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière where his photographs were projected all over the Metro stations and streets of Paris as publicity for the exhibition.  This exhibition was also used to promote a book of his photographs and he had an opportunity to present one to President Mahama who was then in France to attend a conference at Unesco.

In our weekly discussions since then, he has continued to talk about how his original studio EverYoung on St Edmonds Street needs to be turned into a photographic museum to inspire other young people in James Town British Accra where it all started.  His other project was how to replicate the exhibition of his works that the Black Cultural Archives had mounted in Othello House Kennington to commemorate the Ghana@50 anniversary.

So, when he called one day, and left a message with my son for me, saying that he was on his way to Ghana, I did not quite know what to make of it till I saw in the Ghanaian news online that he had been invested with the honour of Member of the Order of the Volta.  He came back and I was privileged to have attended a reception held in his honour by one of his good friends and Black British celebrated photographer Neil Kenlock, who once co-owned the first commercial Black Radio Station in Britain and he would not stop talking about Ghana@60

Then one day he blurted out the good news. He was going back to France in February to host an exhibition on Ghana@60 at Unesco and then he was going to take that exhibition to Ghana to the former seat of government, the Christianborg Castle.

Well, certainly some of his photographs are now at that Ghana@60 exhibition, but it never really was the the solo exhibition he had contemplated.  The first time Mr Barnor had exhibited in Ghana was in 2012 at the British Council and the Accra Mall, an exhibition sponsored by Myx Quest of Qirv, but now he has two exhibitions going – one at the Movenpick that has been sponsored by the destination-ghana conference and has been ably organised by Ambassador Johanna Odonkor-Svanikier and another at Jamestown Café in Ussher Town.

The James Town exhibition is one of the most innovative exhibitions that has been curated in our time.  It challenges but also projects and promotes the concept that our productive endeavours will best flow out of our creative thoughts and energies and that unless we can appreciate our own arts and culture, our growth and development will remain deficient and dominated by foreign content.

Joe Osae-Addo has turned his ArchiAfrika Gallery and his James Town Café into a community facility to host this important exhibition.  In so doing he is providing a service to the JamesTown community that once boasted distinctive architecture of yesteryears and he has staked his commitment to the regeneration of the area in a way that blends with the people and their spirit.  Into this mix appears Allotey Bruce-Konuah, a visual communicator now running ‘accralomigh’, a scion of the original Bruce who gave us Bruce Road and the Konuah family of educational entrepreneurs who gave us Accra Academy.  He has done marvellous work with the young pupils in Chorkor and probably now coming back home to help transform the artistic and cultural landscape of JamesTown with this unusual exhibition.

Allotey had started his working life at ‘photofusion’ in Brixton and had always been interested in recording and documenting iconic images of communities in transition so that their visual images can be preserved for posterity.

Allotey was the first to start digitising Mr Barnor’s work in 1998 at the offices of Equinox Consulting in Brixton South London. Mr Barnor had exhibited his photographs before on his 75th birthday, an exhibition attended by the then Ghna High Commissioner in the UK, Isaac Osei; his works have been previous curated by Rachel Pepper of the Acton Arts Centre, but it was Allotey who introduced Mr James Barnor to the Black Cultural Archives and through him that he met other curators who have exhibited his works at the BCA in South London, at the Autograph in Shoreditch, at the prestigious October Gallery in Holborn, in Manchester and Bristol and Medway, at Harvard University, in Chicago, in Toronto, Canada in South Africa and France and several other places.

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Now, Mr James Barnor’s face and his works have been splashed all over in several photographic and news magazines and respected newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers and though his photographs have been on the walls of great institutions such as the Tate Gallery and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, but there was still unfinished business between the two.

As Allotey recounts “I am privileged to have known Mr Barnor, who I also consider to be a good friend, and I am very proud that though the genesis of this association started in Britain we are harvesting its fruitful produce in Jamestown British Accra with this unique exhibition of his works”.

Allotey says that “Mr Barnor remains an inspiration to me which is why I  started the EveryoungJBA.org project that is building a veritable archive of our past. It already provides several photographs of places and families, it will now become a fully-fledged audio visual archive to preserve the best in music, film, photographs and important documents”.

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The beauty of the current exhibition being curated by Allotey Bruce-konuah is that these ‘Independence Photographs’ were the very first negatives that Allotey digitised and it is fortuitous that these pictures now have a pride of place in the community where a lot of the action of the independence took place.

Bringing them back to the community is important it may just inspire another JamesTown born 28-year-old, the age Mr James Barnor was when he took those photographs 60 years ago to adopt photography.

In the often-repeated cliché, ‘pictures tell a thousand words’, or rather ‘pictures do not lie’,  the fact that they cannot be easily revised means that they will not excite any controversy.

For me this is the real reason for anyone to attend this exhibition.  There are no photographs of my contribution to the cause of independence and Mr James Barnor did not capture me as I marched down the street to the event, but I was there too, but the are several photographs of some of the unsung ones who helped usher in our freedom, sixty years ago,.

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James Barnor Jamestown Revisited is running till the 5th of May 2017 at ArchiAfrica Gallery, James Town Café and on the streets of James and Ussher Town in Accra.

Ade Sawyerr is a partner in the diversity focused management consultancy Equinox Consulting that works on issues relating to economic development of disadvantaged communities and social cultural and political issues of African heritage people in the Diaspora. He can be reached at jwasawyerr@gmail.com, followed @adesawyerr, and read at https://adesawyerr.wordpress.com

 

The Outdooring, Dedication and Naming of an African Child – A Ceremony of the GaDangme People of SouthEastern Ghana – Ganyobi Kpojiemͻ Vol 1 Book Review by Gyau Kumi Adu

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BOOK REVIEW: THE OUTDOORING DEDICATION AND NAMING OF AN AFRICAN CHILD: A CEREMONY OF THE GADANGME PEOPLE OF SOUTHEASTERN GHANA – Ganyobi Kpojiemͻ  Vol 1 by Ernest H.C. Tetteh (London: Ophelia Vanderpuye On-line Publishing, 2016).

By Gyau Kumi Adu (joewykay55@gmail.com/ https://joewykay.wordpress.com/)

Reflections on the Book

The primal purpose of this book is to explain three interwoven cultural practices of the Gadangmes: The outdooring, dedication, and naming ceremony of Gas. Although there are writings on Ga naming ceremonies, there is no book on the Ga culture that extensively deals specifically with the depth of Ga names this way the book does. The author’s exegesis and mastery of Ga names is incredible.[1] In fact, after reading the book I realized that if you take away a person’s indigenous name, you take away a person’s distinct cultural identity and heritage. Our names partly define us. Can Ghana be said to be Ghana after all the local names have been erased? Am I still a Ghanaian when I have a totally Western name? Can my lineage be traced if I adopt a completely Western name? Can I be an indigenous Ga and still be a Christian? These were some of the lingering thoughts on my mind after I finished reading this classic book.

The outdooring ceremony is principally one in which “a baby is brought outside for the first time (usually occurring eight days after birth).”[2] In the words of the writer, the “beautiful ceremony [is] to symbolically introduce a new-born baby to God… as well as to the mysteries of the seen and the unseen world…”[3] E.A Ammah, looking at its Ga equivalent word, kpojiemͻ, notes the following: Itis made up of three words. “Kpo” is “yard”, “dzie” is from ‘dze’ “come out” or “appear”, and “mͻ” is person[Therefore it] means to “take or bring the child out into a yard.”[4]   It is at this outdooring ceremony that the baby is dedicated and given a name (family identity). Hence, a child is not recognized as part of the family without the ceremony.

Continue reading “The Outdooring, Dedication and Naming of an African Child – A Ceremony of the GaDangme People of SouthEastern Ghana – Ganyobi Kpojiemͻ Vol 1 Book Review by Gyau Kumi Adu”

Traditions and Customs of the Gadangmes of Ghana: Descendants of Authentic Biblical Hebrew Israelites – Book Review by Gyau Kumi Adu

 

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 Book Review: Traditions and Customs of the Gadangmes of Ghana: Descendants of Authentic Biblical Hebrew Israelites by Joseph Mensah (Houston: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co., 2013.)

By Gyau Kumi Adu (joewykay55@gmail.com/ https://joewykay.wordpress.com/)

 

The thesis of the book is to demonstrate that Gadangmes are of Jewish origin. A careful distinction is made in the book between Jews (from the tribe of Judah) and Israelites (all the 12 tribes). Although, all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews. Mensah writes “Most people have come to incorrectly to associate the term Jew with Israelite…  an Israelite is a descendant of Jacob… The term Jew (Hebrew)… means a descendant of Judah.”[1] This distinction is important since in the history of the Israelites, Judah became the southern kingdom, and Israel the northern kingdom. The central theme of this book is that the Gas hail from the Jewish stock.

One of the important discussions that no one studying the Ga culture can ignore is the whether they are from the Jewish stock or not. Mensah agrees with Ga oral history that the Gas are of the Hebrew stock. He further advances this perspective by pointing out that Gadangmes could possibly be from the “Gadites” tribe of Israel using linguistics. He writes.

They [i.e. the Gas from oral tradition] believe they are descendants of ‘CUSH’ or perhaps, Gad and Dan from the twelfth tribe of Israel. It’s fascinating to note the name of their King who led them to Ayawaso in Ghana is Ayi Kushi (Cush); and this lends support to their claim that they are Jews… It will appear that the letter “d” became omitted from the word Gad over several centuries. What we now refer to as Ga people is rather GAD people or people from the tribe of Gad.[2]

In other words, the Ga are Gadites as the word Gadangme suggests. Probably, during interactions between this Gadite stock of Jewish Gas and other cultures, a transformation occurred within the culture. Eventually, a suffix was added to the word Gad: “angme”, making it Gadangme.

Another interesting thing about this linguistic historic analysis of Mensah is that it seems the meaning of Gad and Ga has a strong semblance. The Ga historian, Rev Carl Reindorff notes that the word “Ga” is coined from the expression gaga[3], “connoting black-ants or a marching army of termites which form military troops devouring everything that comes their way. History tells of a similar conquest by the ancient Gas. They destroyed armies that crossed their path.”[4] Hence, the meaning of the word Ga connects to a military soldier. Interestingly, the Hebrew word ‘Gad’ can be also translated as fortune or soldier.

Continue reading “Traditions and Customs of the Gadangmes of Ghana: Descendants of Authentic Biblical Hebrew Israelites – Book Review by Gyau Kumi Adu”

I am not a Cow&Gate baby: I was naturally nurtured


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A year older and hopefully much wiser allows me to reminiscence about a wonderful life thanks to the blessings that God has showered on me.  I was born in a popular place in Ghana, Accra, Ga Mashie near the Salaga Market, delivered by a lady midwife who needs to be applauded for the excellent work she did in supervising my birth and several others of my generation.  I have tried today to find whether there is any mention of her on the internet but sadly cannot find any trace on the web about her midwifery practice.  Then she was just called Aunty Sisi. She was Mrs Nettey-Marbell.  Perhaps the reason why i cannot get Google to trace her is because it was so long ago.

i found this weighing card and thought that it told its own story!

Now let me  reconstruct what must have happened.  My parents lost a son before I was born, so I suspect that after the funeral rites of this brother that I did not know, they were locked up in accordance with Ga custom, and encouraged to try for another child, a fruitful result, if I may say so myself.  Born a bundle of joy to my parents but also causing a lot of anguish because my frequent bouts of illness, they must have spent a fortune those days taking me to hospital after hospital for these undiagnosed illnesses and several traditional medicine practitioners as they sought a cure for my twetweetwe.

Continue reading “I am not a Cow&Gate baby: I was naturally nurtured”

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.

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