[Opinion] If You Speak my Language And You Step on my Toe
The controversy stirred by two books, History of Ghana, Textbook 3, and Golden English Base and authored by Badu Nkansah and Nelly Martison Anim, and Okyre Baafi Alexander respectively, cannot peter out soon. The more one tries to empty one’s memory of it, the more refreshing it becomes with the existing number of questions increasing.
A cousin rang me from Tema and requested for the books in Accra for archival purposes. I went to the book shops but did not get any. Vendors could not tell what accounted for the early shortage; either they deliberately withdrew them on orders or curious readers rushed for them.
Consequently, my analyses of them will be based on what has been in circulation in the media; new and old. From all indications, the authors did not conduct any research on the subject areas on Ewes before reinforcing the misleading labeling. They just sought to perpetuate the hearsay stereotypes. To write on a culture, one must conduct ethnography and make palpable references to authorities for data gathering. But characteristic of the books, the authors just wrote whatever they might have heard either in-jokes or arguments and described it as history.
Starting from my headline, I refer to what the authors described as a ‘song’: ‘A song that shows the Ewes identity.’ (Ewes or Ewes’ identity?). A few stanzas from the song say: ‘I am an Ewe. If you can speak my language and you step on my toe, I am not bothered. People say I am inward-looking but that is what they think. I am very good especially to my people’.
They did not tell us who composed the song, when and source. Granted without admitting that they spoke to some Ewes, the claim cannot be generalised to cover a whole ethnic group. This obviously fits into pigeonholing that has gone on untamed. They chose to write without seeking contrary views. Would you be surprised if they got rebuttal but chose to do otherwise?
They continued: ‘The Ewe people still live in villages and choose their chiefs by voting.’ They created the impression that only Volta Region has villages. In their eyes, Ho is a village. They failed to name any of the Ewe ‘villages’ where chiefs are elected, and who they are. I am surprised they used the word ‘chief’ for Ewe ‘villages’. What an irony!
The book went on: ‘The chief must never be seen drinking and must cover his head in public.’ (He must not drink what?) How many times did the authors see Togbe Afede, the Agbogbomefia of Asogli Traditional Area cover his head (with what?) at the National House of Chiefs’ meetings or Togbega Patamia Dzekle VII of Battor at the Volta Region House of Chiefs?
‘The traditional Ewe people’s religion is called voodoo. Voodoo followers believe that Mawu is their creator,’ they wrote, adding, ‘they also believe in other lower gods.’
First of all, if the book interprets voodoo to mean animism or Traditional African Religion, then, of course, it was wrong to have targeted Ewes only. Voodoo worship transcends ethnic boundaries in Ghana and even beyond.
If these books were really meant to be objective without deliberately offending the sensibilities of Ewes, then the authors ought to have admitted that Traditional African Religion predates colonialism and is practiced by all ethnic groups in the country.
Take, for instance, Antoa in Ashanti Region, Akonedi at Larteh, Tigari from the north, and Esio Koffi around Prestea. In the Nzemaland, we have Nana Borbo Ayisi, (Nzema Island), Nana Brawula at Victoria Park, and Nana Eluku Tayiba, both at Axim. Techiman-Buokyerewa, Nsuatre-buotwene (stone gods) and Apape. All are some of the gods found outside the Volta Region.
The African Faith is not exclusive to Ewes. Were the authors unaware of the numerous non-Ewe priests and priestesses who have been advertising the potency of their gods on the airwaves? It is strange how they projected Ewes as owners of all shrines in the country, if not to denigrate us as the only voodoo worshippers.
It is widely rumoured that human sacrifice and money rituals are practiced by some ethnic groups in the country. Much as there could be an iota of truth in these, they cannot be said to be authentic because there is no evidence of them. It will, therefore, be wrong for anyone to attempt to document them for schools. Is it not strange how these fascinating rumours were denied space in the so-called history book?
God as Mawu in Ewe
Just like Akans and Ga-Adangbes who call God Nyame and Mawu, respectively, so do Ewes refer to Him as Mawu. ‘Mawu’ is, therefore, not limited to the lexicon of voodoo worshipers. In acknowledging the supremacy of God, Ewes have names such as Mawunyega (God is the greatest), Mawufemor (God’s way), Mawudem (God has rescued me), Mawuena (God gives), Mawuko (only God), Mawusi (in the hands of God), Mawutor (God’s own), Mawuta (because of God), Mawudor (God’s work), Mawulorm (simply written and pronounced as ‘Elorm, meaning God loves me), Mawulawoe (God will pave way), Mawulolo (God is great) etc.
With these, how could anyone create the misconception that it is voodoo worshippers who call God ‘Mawu’? The deficiencies in the books are obvious. If we should allow sleeping dog to lie especially as Mrs Badu Nakansah is mourning the sad passing of her husband, the misinformation will stay and bearers of these uniquely lovely names will be associated with voodoo.
There is a group picture of young boys and girls sitting down in one of the books and adorned with big dangling bead necklaces. The book erroneously labelled them, thus: ‘women celebrating voodoo festival.’ One can clearly see boys in the picture, but the fact that the authors decided to describe them as women speaks volumes of the mentality being unleashed on our children. Traditional priests are noted for vigorous dancing. How can those children be voodoo celebrants dancing in those flying bead necklaces?
At the festivals of Hogbe celebrated by the people of Battor Traditional Area in the North Tongu District, Apenorto of Mepe, Tortsogbe of Sokpoe, Hogbetsotso of Anlo, Agadevi of Have etc, boys and girls are elegantly dressed in this fashion and sit in front of the chiefs. By this false portrayal, the book is telling the pupils that whenever they come across people dressed like this, even during the Ngmayem and Kloyosikplemi festivals of Krobos and Asafotufiame of Ada respectively, they must see them as voodoo practitioners.
Then under the heading: ‘The Ewe ethnic group,’ are pictures of two girls, one laughing and the other smiling. While one seems to be having a bright face, the other has broad nose and dark colour. Can these features be tribe specific? I tried in vain to identify anything peculiar about them as Ewes.
The framing reminds me of beautiful Rwanda where I spent nine months in 1995 and moved from Mulindi, Rukira, Rwantero, Nyaribuye, Kibungu to Majewa in Kigali and saw the debilitating effects of stereotyping that culminated in the genocide when one tribe was described as cockroaches.
Amazingly, Rwanda is monolithic; citizens speak one language, Kinyarwanda, besides French and English. They, however, have ethnic groups; Twa, Tutsi and Hutu. What distinguish individuals of these tribes are mere natural features; height, shape of nose, forehead, height etc. Things that man has no control over were principally used to attack one another, besides predominantly Hutu names; Habiyaremana (remember their president whose plane was downed?), Hachizimana, Nzeimana etc. which are about God.
I, therefore, became alarmed when I saw pictures of girls being depicted as Ewes when Ghana does not have distinct natural features. What did the book seek to achieve by labelling those pictures? Does it mean that all dark-skinned people are Ewes? Is it the hairdo, earing or eye colour? How can these features be unique to one ethnic group? But for tribal marks, there is no ethnic distinction among Ghanaians.
Origin of ‘Kete’
The most deceptive of all is the statement that Ewes copied the ‘kete’ (kente) weaving from Ashantis in slavery. I have never read from anywhere that Ewes have ever been taken slaves by Ashantis. Why did the writers not educate the children the very battle from which Ewes became slaves to Ashantis? They wrote ‘weaving’ cloth instead of ‘woven.’
I was watching TV in the 1990s when the then First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, after touring parts of the Volta Region, revealed that ‘kete’ originated from Kpetoe near Ho. Her disclosure did not go down well with some ppeople. Though no written account has come out yet to challenge her, the kinds of explanations being offered about the name, ‘kete,’ vis-à-vis weaving process (open and close), make a lot of sense that ‘kete’ truly originated from Kpetoe.
The problem of Ewes is that, the intellectuals from the region have not been able to document our history well enough. At a funeral at Leklebi-Duga, an Ewe scholar bemoaned the practice by some chiefs using non-Ewe titles, and the lack of distinction between paramount chiefs and the sub ones. He advised that ‘Torgbega’ and ‘Togbe’ be used for paramount and sub chiefs respectively. There have since been some positive developments, but who is documenting them? It is said that a hunting dog cannot be effective if its owner lacks the techniques. So, if the Ewe scholars fail to define themselves, others will define them. Use your education to emancipate your people.
Our scholars must write books and those that meet the standards must be taught at the appropriate levels. There have been agitations by Ga-Adangbes that the Ga Language is not being taught in schools within the region to their satisfaction. In one instance, they averred that Ga-Adangbe natives who had gone to learn Ga at the universities were being transferred outside the region. In late March, 2021, a Ga chief raised an identical issue, all of which ought to be addressed by the government.
Ewe books such as ‘Torko Atorlia’, ‘Agbezuge’, ‘Fia Tsatsa la’ ‘Hlorbiabia’, etc contain lessons on honesty, altruism, truthfulness, forgiveness, hard work, patriotism and other virtues that make citizens selflessly useful. There is a need to encourage the teaching and learning of not just Ewe but other languages in their respective regions. We must not allow the stoking of tribal sentiments which breed hatred and divisiveness. Ghana needs unity and peace for conducive atmosphere to enable the government to comfortably discharge its mandate to the citizenry.
EX WOI BRIGHT SEGBEFIA
PRO, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION, GHANA