Proverbial Gems: Book review of ABETEI – Modern Gadangme Emblems

 

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ABETEI – Modern Gadangme Emblems

Created by Ishmael Fiifi Annobil, Totem ISBN 978 1 899151 08 0 2016

Proverbial Gems

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.

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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.

Ade Sawyerr
London, May 2018

 

 

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History of the Gold Coast and Asante: Reindorf, Carl Christian. (1895) – A thematic review by Gyau Kumi Adu

(Reindorf, Carl Christian. History of the Gold Coast and Asante. 2nd Edition. Ghana University Press, 2007) A thematic review by Gyau Kumi Adu Email: (joewykay55@gmail.com)

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 Have you ever thought why “history” is the mother of all knowledge? One reason is that it shows the level of progress of any body of knowledge or event, and the functions of a thing: whether it has been able to stay on course or stray off-course.

Reindorf puts it so beautifully, “A history is the methodical narration of events in the order in which they successively occurred exhibiting the origin and progress, the causes and effects, and the auxiliaries and tendencies of that which has occurred in connection with a nation. It is, as it were, the speculum and measure-tape of that nation, showing its true shape and stature. Hence a nation not possessing a history has no true representation of all the stages of its development, whether it is in a state of progress or in a state of retrogression.” Reindorf’s work is precisely that. That is, to show a true reflection of the state of affairs in Ghana, then Gold Coast, from the period 1500 to 1860, based on traditions and historical facts available during his day. Whether Ghana progressed during this period as a whole or not is left in the hand of the reader to decide. (By Gold Coast he refers to the southern states such as the Gas, Fantes, Anlos, Akuapem, Akwamu, and Akyem). However, he gives more attention to the Gas and Asantes. In the first place, writings of other ethnic groups were difficult to come across. Having in mind that Reindorf was a Ga, this book was supposed to be an initial work which shall be continued by people of other Ghanaian tribes.

 

The book covers a very wide scope such as tribal and inter-tribal politics and wars, economics, religious institutions, migration, social customs, agriculture and missionary work in the Gold Coast. In my opinion, Reindorf must be put on par with writers who wrote chronological accounts of their country such as Josephus – the Jewish Historian, and Tacitus – the Roman Historian, because of the quality and import of his writing.

I shall touch on the following themes in the book, blending it with some contemporary views:

  1. Migration and Settlement of Ghanaian Tribes (with particular interest to the Ga)
  2. Forms of Governments – “Fetishocracy” and “Monarchy”
  3. A Missionary Challenge of the Time, and its Sacrifice

Continue reading “History of the Gold Coast and Asante: Reindorf, Carl Christian. (1895) – A thematic review by Gyau Kumi Adu”

What the Black Labour Movement must do! – Ade Sawyerr

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Black Labour: Speaking for Ourselves!!!! –  6th December 2017 at Peckham

Labour missed an opportunity in the 1980s to embrace and consolidate the support that it had from the mass of African and Caribbean people.  These people had mostly voted Labour at elections and the rejection of their own movement, Black Sections, was a kick in the teeth for most of the activists especially since the leadership was often unwilling to support them as candidates in winnable seats in areas where there were a lot of black people in the population.

I attribute this rejection as the reason for our inability to grow confident activists who should rise within the party without patronage.  The result now is that we cannot influence policy and help set an agenda within the party that would encourage more race equality.

The past couple of years have presented some opportunities but we are still so slow to take these up to create a formidable movement that should reflect our electoral usefulness to the party.

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The party has agreed to the formation of the Black Socialist Section in the party, but this has not quite translated into the political success of activists from African and Caribbean communities.  The issue of the name is important, there are many who are Labour who are not comfortable with the socialist label.

An Ethnic Minority Taskforce is in operation that incorporates BAME Labour, Chinese for Labour, Somalis for Labour, Labour Arab Group and Africans for Labour.  The concern is that the voice of the A4L will continue to be muted if it continues to be reactive to issues within the party and expects that it will be called to the table to discuss issues of importance to the party.  Even now that there are several persons of African heritage in the shadow cabinet, we are in danger of having the agenda set for us if we continue to be docile.

We know that the talk at our dinner tables and when we are on our own is about how disenfranchised we are.  We know that whilst it is easy for people to demand all women shortlists at party selection we still do not have the clout to ask for black only shortlists.  We privately admit that the party is taking us for granted and by extension taking our community for granted.

We have seen an organised well-resourced movement grow to have influence within the party within a short space of time!

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We know that as councillors we are rewarded with cabinet positions when we do not complain too much and that to a large extent we are easily set against each other; we get recycled and are almost always in danger of being deselected.  We even suspect that the leadership is ambivalent about promoting more race equality lest it result in a perceived backlash from the majority community and yet we continue to do nothing about this state of affairs.  We allow ourselves to be more disempowered

But we know that there is a lot that we can do!

We know that Labour has always been a broad church with the competing forces between modernisers and traditional Labour , Blairites against Corbynistas and new Labour against old Labour and we assist in this divide when our issues are about racial equality and looking out for the best interests of our black communities.  Even as we speak today there is a battle for who are the legitimate owners of the Momentum Black Caucus or Connexions!!!!

Our issues are about racial inequality and discrimination! Our issues are about poverty and marginalisation! Our issues are about jobs, hope for our youth, health and social care. Our issues are about anti-austerity.

If this is the party that we commit to, then we should let our voices be heard at the high table of our party.  But we can only do that if we are able to plan properly, organising appropriately and find resources needed to operate in a formal way so that we can become a force in Labour.  We must be bold and assume that we can set an agenda for the party acceptable to all.

We must be courageous, we must be resolved, we have to be united and we have to know how to set objectives that resound with will, we need to be able to plan our strategy and we need to organise to attract more black members to the black labour movement wherever they are – not too difficult since they probably vote Labour anyway.

So what must the Black Labour movement do to ensure that it can be listened to and that it exerts some influence in the party and amongst the large numbers of people who vote Labour at the elections?

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

ACHIMOTA AND ITS IMPACT ON THE CREATIVE ARTS

ACHIMOTA AND ITS IMPACT ON THE CREATIVE ARTS

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By: Nat Nuno-Amarteifio

Since its founding, Achimota College and School as it was named at the time of its inception, has had a disproportionate influence on the creative arts in Ghana. In every area of creativity, music, painting, sculpture, literature and theatre, Achimota’s influence has been deep and consistent. This paper seeks to explore the reasons for this phenomenon and to identify some of the main reasons that made these achievements possible. We shall also examine the contemporary nature of this impact.

Colonialism begun in Africa in the final decades of the 19th century when Europeans scrambled for terrritories and took political and military possession of its lands. In India, British rule lasted over two centuries. In Africa colonialism was expected to last at least as long until Africans absorbed the lessons of pax britanica and learnt to govern themselves. The 1920s was a time of unbridled and unapologetic racism. Accra, the ramshackle capital of the colonized Gold Coast was recently segregated along racial lines. The goal was political but the official reason was medical. The policy was justified as a necessary measure to save European lives from African diseases by keeping the two races apart, especially at night. It was generally believed by European medical specialists that Africans were immune to the effects of malaria but that their blood was full of the parasites. The evening was when mosquitoes fed on human blood and transported their contaminated cargo across racial lines to infect Europeans.

On January 28, 1927, the Prince of Wales College and School, Achimota was formally opened. The campus upon which the school stood was segregated. No Africans could stay there overnight without official sanction. It took the personal intervention of the Governor to obtain permission for Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, nominated for assistant headmaster, to spend a night under the same roof as Rev. Alexander G. Fraser, the headmaster.

African culture was regarded by many Europeans as backward and retrogressive and the African middle class bought into this perception. In 1918, Kobina Sekyi a Cape Coast author and social critic wrote a play called the Blinkards. It was a devastating satire on the nascent African middle class of the 19th century. Their social ambition was to strip away all identification with their cultural roots and to present themselves as English gentry. It was a cartoonish portrait of delusion and deliberate self-deception. The play warned of the consequences when a society loses its moral compass.

Against the background of these perceptions, the three principal founders had every reason to be proud of their achievement. For one thing, in the tight colonial world they inhabited, they had been accorded the rare honour of a royal visit. The heir to the throne, Edward, the Prince of Wales was himself present to bestow his name on the institution. The three men, Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, a brigadier in the British Army and Governor of the Gold Coast (1919-1927),   Dr. James Kwegyir Aggrey, a native of the Gold Coast, born in Anomabu and educated as a cleric in America, and the Reverend Alexander G. Fraser, a Scotsman and professional educationist were loyal to the crown. They belonged to the liberal and progressive wings of European politics and fervently believed that the key to African emancipation was education. The institution they created was designed to justify their hopes and ambitions. They saw the visit as the ultimate endorsement of their enlightened beliefs. They gave birth to a school, and let loose ideas that would lead in three short decades to the end of British rule in the Gold Coast.

The school was created to challenge the existing racial conventions and to instill pride in the nations’s putative leaders. Its motto, designed by Dr. Aggrey and displayed boldly on a heraldic shield, was composed of black and white piano keys. Its message declared that all races are equal and as necessary for civilized harmony as the black and white keys on the piano. At a time when aristocratic and middle-class women in Britain were barred from parliament and other bastions of authority and privilege, the school admitted children of both sexes and educated them together and equally. In 1924, when African culture was regarded by many Europeans as backward and retrogressive, a Department of Anthropology was established on the campus. It was headed by R.S. Rattray, a noted anthropologist. He was given the responsibility and the means to research Asante culture and to make his conclusions available to the government for policy guidance. Rattray employed his students as research assistants and undertook field research in the towns and villages around Achimota and beyond. These communities contained demobilized former soldiers from all over the country. The results were published and used to teach local history. The exercise demonstrated the lie that Africans lacked a history.

Continue reading “ACHIMOTA AND ITS IMPACT ON THE CREATIVE ARTS”

Race Equality and the Black Experience in 2017 – the current debate

Ade-house of commons

Was at the House of Commons yesterday to take part in this debate.  this is my presentation.

Inequality remains a problem in the United Kingdom, especially for black people.

There is a still a penalty for being black, there is a penalty in stop and search, in health, in education, in the criminal justice system and in dealing with people with learning difficulties, there is an ethnic pay penalty and a penalty in doing business.

 

The government needs to tackle inequality!  This country will not be a better place when inequality is still glaring, and our younger people are not getting the jobs that they are ordinarily qualified for even when they go on to higher education.  Without true equality, the country will be unstable in a way that will affect community integration and social cohesion.

 

A more equal society will put the country back in better balance and will promote the equity that breeds more prosperity and the environment that engenders prosperity and the contribution to the wealth creation effort and more fairness in the distribution of wealth in this first world country.

 

We have certainly come a long way from those days of open discrimination, but there is still urgent work to be done by black people to keep up with the protest and campaign against racial discrimination.

 

We need to push for positive action now that our proportion of the population is growing.  It is no longer less than the 1% that it was in the 1970s when we pushed for the Race Relations Act 1976 to be passed.

Over the past 40 years, a lot of work has been done but we cannot afford to be complacent now that there are over 2 million black people and in some local area almost 50% of residents.

 

The black population is expected to reach over 10% of the working population in the next 10 years and yet black people continue to be discriminated against in workforce.  This is the time when the government must lead the way in implementing targets for the recruitment and progression of black people in their employment.  The question that needs asking is why were those targets that were promised in the Home Office stopped?  Were those targets dropped after an evaluation or was race no longer the flavour of the month. My answer is that let us bring the targets back; the targets may look symbolic but they may yet prove effective for the benefit of the black population, because other departments and other establishments may just follow that desirable example!!

Continue reading “Race Equality and the Black Experience in 2017 – the current debate”

Another note on Atsiiimota the excellent school of our time!

Another note on Atsiiimota the excellent school of our time!

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Ade Sawyerr at Remembrance Service in London – 5th November 2017

Some 51 years ago, I entered Atsiiimota School, the Grey City on the Outlaws Hill, as a fresh-faced ’Nino’ boy.  In those days this great school was in my mind was situated miles away from Ga as we knew it then, bordering on the fringes of the city of Accra.

Tales were told of this strange and forlorn place, home to wandering spirits; a place where none dared to mention a name for fear of the named person being confronted by the mysterious spirits – jemanwojii – that roamed about. It was said that many slaves were kept hidden away from the authorities after the abolition of the slave trade. A place that could only be referred to as Atsiiimota – This was part of the folklore that gave rise to one of the most difficult riddles, – “Afoo taatso shi mifo ni miko” which translated means “no one cuts the root of the sponge tree but I have done so and taken it away”. The response was Atsiiimota Odonkofoi or in English Atsiiimota, a place of slaves.

The only other time that i had been to the school was when I attended the selection interview which was conducted by the then headmaster Mr Chapman Nyaho. I could hardly contain my excitement when I received my letter of admission; the school year had changed from January to September and I had done only 2 terms in Class 6.  On 23 September 1960, about a month short of my 10th birthday, I arrived in a taxi accompanied by a cousin, Kate Majorla Sawyerr, who was also in the school, with my trunk and Chop Box which I could barely balance on my head.   I was assigned to Guggisberg House where I was fortunate to have two older cousins, Ate Ofosu-Amaah  and King Ghartey Mould and a couple of classmates from Experimental School, Teddy Konu and the late Ekow Awoonor,  help settle me in.  And so it was that I was ‘protected’ from the usual bullying that was  meted out to all new students –Ninos.

My pocket money for the ten-week term was ten shillings, one shilling a week which I gave to the Housemaster Mr Pratt at the beginning of the term. From the one shilling, I could feast on ‘dotch’ from Mrs Angbah, buy treats from Mr Doe’s Coke shop or sometimes from the Cadbury House Coke shop and still have change, which sometimes I took to the post office down the road from Gberg House.

Atsiiiimota instilled in me the belief that l could succeed in anything I wanted to, as long as I did not break any rules. But!  There were about 10 school rules which had to be adhered to and I broke as many of them as I could get away with. My favourite school rule was the tenth one – Every breach of common sense is a breach of school rules. I caused an eleventh rule to be introduced; no cropping of hair right down to the skull.  This, however, was not entirely my fault but morebecause my hair at that time grew at a fast rate and I had many a budding barber try to experiment with my hair which always went wrong.

The structured, regimented day began with the sound of the Rising Bell 5:30am followed by morning trotting before bath time. Students then had to make their beds, complete their chores in time for inspection by the Dormitory Monitor, some quiet time before finally setting off for morning service at the Aggrey Chapel, Oh, I forget that we had morning milk too. There were a couple of lessons before breakfast and more lessons mid-morning after snack time and still more lessons leading up to lunchtime.

After the afternoon siesta, there was games or groundwork depending on the season and then back to the bathroom, evening duties, dining hall again prep and then soaking – light or heavy – common room and then lights out.  we were fed so much that not only did I put on weight but I found myself growing much taller than the less than 4.10″ that I was before I entered the school

This regime was only varied in the week by the early morning work at the school farm to care for the animals.  The weekends were less structured but we had to clean up the house for inspection ever so often and for a notorious boy like me included many doses of punishment: project, fatigue, and detention and the very many table clearing duties that I was I think unfairly apportioned and  once a term we went on exeats – a trip outside the school.

Continue reading “Another note on Atsiiimota the excellent school of our time!”

The UGCC was a colossal failure – Ekow Nelson

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I  am struggling to see what is being celebrated here. The UGCC was formed in Aug 1947. Nkrumah joined as SG four months later. As a colonial office dispatch observed, prior  to Nkrumah’s arrival in December of that year the movement’s main supporters were “in the large coastal towns of Accra, Saltpond, Cape Cost, Sekondi and Kibi the home of Dr Danquah”. Aiken Watson of the eponymously named commission he chaired conceded that the UGCC did not get down to business until Nkrumah arrived.

The post war austerity boycotts and exservicemen changed the course of history. The infamous shooting of ex servicemen who sought only to present a petition to the Governor’s office did not include UGCC officers or members. While Nkrumah and Dr Danquah had met members of the legion the day before to help with drafts, the UGCC was not involved in the march and in fact disavowed the riots that broke out following the unlawful murders of three ex-service  men; they blamed it all on Nkrumah. William Ofori Atta and Obetsebi Lamptey ransacked his apartments looking for incriminating material to use against him.

But it WAS precisely these riots that led to the arrest of key UGCC officers (earning them the dubious sobriquet of the Big Six) and the establishment of the Watson Commission which recommended the appointment of a Constitutional Committee to draft a new constitution to pave the way to self government.

The Coussey Committee included UGCC officers who repudiated the riots that created the circumstances for their membership and many sections of society except Nkrumah (blamed for the riots that led to the Committee’s establishment) and Trades Unionists. Even with the scales tipped in their favour, the UGCC managed to botch the elections organised under the auspices of the constitution they drafted and gerrymandered rules they defined and lost in a landslide to the CPP. And with that, they passed on to Nkrumah, who they excluded from the Committee, the mantle of carrying through the programme for self government. That was momentous! It is probably THE day worth celebrating : when Dr.  Danquah’s command of Gold Coast politics ended and Nkrumah’s took off.

So what exactly are we celebrating? What was the singular contribution of the UGCC to an independence struggle they did not trigger? The 1951 constitution? which prominent members among them  (Ofori Atta and Dr Danquah included) and Nkrumah described as “bogus and fraudulent”?

The UGCC were not the handmaidens of our independence. They had no role in the events that caused the British to initiate the process of self-government with the establishment of the Coussey Committee – Nii Kwabena Bone, his boycotters and the ex service men did.

They could not win the first All-African general elections whose rules they wrote and they ceased to exist after the 1951 elections and reconstituted themselves into various opposition parties whose raison d’être was to stop Nkrumah from leading Ghana to independence.

This is a celebration of a party with no singular political achievement or historical contribution!

Here is the crux: There is a dangerous historical conflation here; of projecting Dr Danquah and the UGCC as one. Dr. Danquah’s contribution to the anticolonial struggle is immense and it predated the UGCC by more than a decade. An intellectual colossus of all time, he paved the way for Nkrumah and those that came later. But Dr Danquah’s achievements are not the same as those of the UGCC. In fact by the time of the establishment of the UGCC Dr. Danquah had peaked. His best and most productive years were prior to that.

I have no qualms about celebrating Dr Danquah’s contribution. It has meaning. The celebration of the non-performing UGCC with no singular political achievement makes no historical sense. To the extent that the UGCC achieved anything it was their  invitation of Nkrumah to head the party’s secretariat which together with the boycotts and riots altered our history. But that too was Dr Danquah’s (and Ako Adjei’s) achievement – perhaps his final and crowing glory.

In battle, business and in politics, sometimes the best  and most transformative decisions are in the choice of personnel. The choice of Nkrumah was the finest decision Dr Danquah made – it gave finality to his life’s work.