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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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Nigerian
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‘Even before Christianity came, we believed in one almighty God. Some people could use objects to represent Him but we never ascribed supernatural powers to mortal men! It is like the Corinthians who were worshiping an unknown God until Paul showed them the true God. I realized that Mr. Dokosi was so Christianity-inclined that he regarded it inappropriate to talk about traditional rituals or to ascribe them to his people. So I gave up on that topic and shifted to another

 

On The Way To Aburi: A Journey To The Ghanaian Countryside

We set out on Kumasi expressway from Accra township at about half past ten in the morning after a long and winding drive through the narrow streets of the central market area of Mokola, a busy business district where almost anything under the sun is sold. The human traffic on the street far overwhelmed the cars for which it is meant. Car horns blared almost continuously from impatient drivers and an insult flew from the driver’s window every now and then either against a fellow driver or the trespassing traders. Mokola reminds one of Broad Street in Lagos Island or of the former days of Oshodi when the Motorway was converted into a huge market square where traders either hawked their goods or spread them on the floor while chanting their marketing jingles.

 

I remarked to my guide that there is a place called Mokola in Ibadan Nigeria. She smiled and told me jocularly that everything ‘you people have in Nigeria, we have it in Ghana’ but then added seriously that indeed some tribes in Ghana bear common ancestry with some Nigerian Tribes. She said she is from the Ga tribe whose ancestors are believed to have descended from the Yoruba of Ile Ife. This, she said, accounts for the similarity in culture and language between the Ga and the Yoruba.

At  Mokola, she beckoned unto some young Hausa men. ‘They are Nigerians. They can change your Money for you’ She said. The guy bent over the window and asked in pidgin ‘how many you want’. 20 million the girl responded. I corrected her, ‘no it’s 20 thousand’. She smiled. That’s how we used to call it before we knocked out the zeros. I understood. I got GHC2000 for my NGN20,000.

We passed near the slum bank of the Kovey River. A thick odiferous breeze swashed through the car window as I lowered the window glass. It was stench from the heavily polluted river. My guide explained that that the river is associated with a goddess.  If two people have a row and one justifiably curses the other, invoking the goddess of river Kovey, the cursed will die once he comes in contact with the waters of the river and his/her corpse will never be found. The heavily silted river has become a receptacle for municipal wastes which biodegrade and give off the offensive stench.

At the Total petrol station, we bought Petrol at the rate of GHC1.7, the equivalent of NGN170. The station attendant put an extra 5cedi (N500) worth of petrol in our tank as a tip! I was amazed. It is normal here for some attendants to dole out little favors to motorists for their patronage. She explained.  Wonders, I murmured to myself, shall never end. Out of embarrassment I resisted the urge to tell her that back home in Nigeria, the attendant would make sure you are shortchanged in both the liters and the money. She had already made a comment to the effect that Ghanaians in Accra didn’t know crime until the northerners and the Nigerians came calling and I did not want to reinforce that perception.

We headed for the countryside, cruising at 80miles per hour. The road is good. I noticed that most roads I passed on were either very good or very bad. It would appear there is a culture of ‘no-half-measures’ here.

The scenery of the countryside is breathtaking. The undulating hills and lush vegetation combine to give an exotic feel of nature’s harmony. The only place I had being in Nigeria that rivals the beauty of this countryside  is the mountainous range in Obudu  and Utanga in northern Cross Rriver State.

We had passed through a Toll Gate where a fee of one (1) Cedi was collected and a ticket issued to us. We headed North West towards Nsawam, a rusty town buried among the hills, about 38 kilometers in the Central Region of Ghana. Flagged down by the police at a check point, we slowed down and cleared to the road side. I noticed that there was no road block but vehicles stopped without coercion and the point was manned by only two policemen donning AK47 assault rifles. It was then I noticed that my guide was not on her seat belt. I was on mine. I murmured ‘a gosh-what-a-mess’, to which the gum- chewing lady carelessly shrugged off. ‘Don’t panic stranger, I can handle them. I don’t even have a license’.

‘I arrest you for violating the seatbelt rule young lady’. The stern looking police officer barked. He had tribal marks like that of a Hausa man. His name was Daudou (not real name) and I guessed he could be from Northern Ghana. To this, my guide simply smiled and opened the car door to alight. I did the same but walked into the nearby bush to empty my bladder. As I turned back to return to the road, I saw my guide petting one of the Police officers, the more aggressive one, on the shoulder and cheeks. The second one approached me, coming so close and almost blocking my way. He spoke in a local dialect, I feigned no faint understanding. ‘May you speak in English sir?’ I said. He nodded in a way to indicate he had confirmed something to be true. The lady had told them that they should not embarrass her before her fiancé who is a stranger from Nigeria. 

So you want to maprry her? I nodded in affirmative while saying yeah at the same time. It was a risky gamble had my answer contradicted whatever the lady had told them. My intuition told me however that the man wouldn’t ask me that question if the lady did not hint so. I was right.

‘You will pay seven cows and seven cartons of beer for her dowry’, the officer continued but now in a friendlier mood. ‘Yeah’ I said, ‘she is even worth far more than that’.  The man smiled. I could sense I had just given myself away. With that disclosure, he estimated my worth and would demand something from me. He did. ‘How e go be for us now?’  He asked in pidgin with an unmistakable money-demanding gesture. I am used to this sort of demand anyway, I said to myself; the difference only lied in the phrase used. Whereas my Nigerian Police would say ‘wetin you carry’ or ‘go and see my oga for there’ they still meant the same thing.  I also noticed that there was no police vehicle nearby and no senior officer by the side. The implication is that these policemen had no means to run away should they do anything illegal unlike the case in Nigeria, where they could get away in their patrol vans if they commit an offence against a citizen.

I dipped my hand in my pocket and came out with a note of Ghanaian currency which I handed over to him without even looking at the denomination because I knew it could not be more than 20cedis which was the highest denomination I had on me, and he squeezed it in his hand quickly, beaming a smile. It was only after we got moving again that I did a mental audit of my wallet and realized I had given away 10cedis the equivalent of one thousand Naira to the officer! I was sad but amused at the same time at my ignorance. I reckoned that was one tip too large for a Ghanaian Policeman on the road considering that a Nigerian Police officer would be very happy with even N200. I needed to learn very fast how think in Naira while spending in Cedis to avoid such a mistake again.`

‘Now what was that?’ I asked my guide as we got back into the car. ‘You pet and play with Policemen on the road?’ ‘I can do that but you don’t try it’. She said.’ ‘Why?’  I asked. ‘I am a lady. Here in Ghana, It’s a ladies world! We are the stronger sex! Men respect us more than they do fellowmen’. That was the reason my company choose me to drive you for this trip. If I were a fellow man like them, they would lock me up. ‘And what would happen to me?’ I asked. ‘You will find your level’. She said almost carelessly as she hit the throttle and zoomed into the highway.

At Nsawam we turned right and headed northwards into the Nsawam-Aburi Road, a narrow but fairly motorable winding road almost covered by over lapping trees from both sides of the road. I had the feeling I was on the road between Akure and Ondo Town in Nigeria. The striking similarity in the scenery of these two roads was amazing. ‘I have been to this place before’. I told my guide. She looked at me in amazement and asked ‘when was that?’ ‘In my dream’. I said. ‘I have always dreamt of coming to the Ghanian countryside and here I am. Dreams do come true after all’. She laughed. ‘You must be a very funny person’.

‘You are married back in Nigeria right?’ Alexis my guide had a rather odd way of asking irrelevant questions at unexpected times. ‘Yes of course.’ I answered almost immediately. ‘Why the curiosity?’ ‘ ‘For this journey, you are going to maintain your status as my fiancé. The villagers will trust you more when they know you are  a suitor who wants to know more about your potential bride’s culture than a Nigerian spy poking his nose around.’ Alexis explained effortlessly. I looked at her a second time. She probably was more intelligent than I estimated at the beginning.

‘We have a deal, but on one condition’. I said. She pushed her hair off her right ear, guiding them gracefully to her shoulder and tilting her hair in a gesture of curiosity for my condition. ‘What’s the condition?’ “You will half your fee. That should compensate me for the honor I will be doing you by posing as your suitor’. ‘Haaaaaa, that’s Nigerian sense. You are like the Ashanti People. They like many too mach’. She said in a rich Ghanaian accent.

At Obodan, a small settlement of about hundred households, we stopped by the road side where some women and children were hounded over a pile of cassava tubers about 2ft high each of them with a knife. They were pealing the tubers and dropping them into a basin filled with water. Two little boys of about three years old stood right inside the bowl and they were jumping up and down, one leg at a time. ‘They are washing the cassava’. Explained Mrs. FiiFi, a middle- aged woman who seemed like she had some education. She could communicate but in not too good English.

‘Where do they get the cassava from?’ I asked. ‘From the farm up there, near the mountain’ she explained through my interpreter. I squatted among them and asked one of the girls of about 10years old to lend me her knife. I picked one tuber of cassava and began to peal very professionally. They looked on with excitement and admiration. They marveled at how well fast and well I peeled the cassava. What they did not know was that I had lived a greater part of my early life on cassava.

Sitting there with those villagers exhumed memories of my childhood. My mother had conscripted my elder brother and I very early into the family economic team. We tilled the farmland, fetched firewood, together with mother. We planted cassava, rice, yams, corn and groundnuts. We were actively involved in the harvesting and processing of these crops. We peeled and grated cassava to make garri. School vacation time was not play time for us. It was the beginning of hard labour to earn money for our school fees. We would work well into the night grating garri manually. Occasionally a slip of the hand on the grater led to a deep cut in the lower palm or the fingers. Oooosh!. You would shout; but the work must continue. When this happened we would use the grated cassava as to stop the bleeding. A little ball of the cassava pulp was pressed firmly against the wound for about two minutes and the blood ceased but not the pain.

I looked at the village women and then at my palm. The scars of those grater wounds were still distinct. A little tear dropped by the corner of my eye. Resisting the urge to break down and weep was not easy but I brushed off the tear and smiled. The women had no idea why a tear drop escaped my eyes but I guessed they must have assumed that it was because I pitied their onerous task. I saw my childhood in those to kids jumping up and down in the cassava basin.

Next to the shack under which these women were peeling the cassava, was a Zink structure housing the grinding mill. From the wash basin, the cassava is transferred to the grinding mill where it is ground into a pulp. The pulp is then put into polyethylene sacks and placed on the ground to drain.  Dozens of these sacks lay by the road side while a thick starchy leachate flowing from the sacks formed a long trail of starch caked on mud and infested with algae and fungi turning it into dark green carpet along the side of the road.

The dried pulp undergoes some fermentation over a period of about three to four days before it is removed for sale to buyers who take it to the townships. ‘What do you do with the pulp?’ I asked. Speaking through my guide, Mrs.Fiifi explained: ‘We cook and pound it with Plantation or cocoyam. The paste is eaten with choice soup, like Banku.’ Banku is a popular soup in Ghana almost an equivalent of the popular Delta State Banga Soup, but it is more watery.  

I posed for some snapshots with them and then we said bye. They waved heartily as we returned to the car. I had a feeling that I would come back again, but when, I could not tell.

As we drove down from Obodan to Ogbodani, we spotted a newly built police station and an equally new Presbyterian church. ‘They were not here four years ago’. My guide offered, pointing to some other buildings along the road. ‘I was here four years ago to shoot a movie. We camped at a school building down the corner. I took mental note of the ‘four years’. That is enough time for government in Ghana to make some difference in the life of these villagers but too short for my home state government to show her presence in my ward.

We reached Ogbodani at about one-o-clock in the afternoon. My guide decided to stop when she spotted a group of elderly men sitting under a tree in the middle of a compound by the road side. All the four men were draped in a black traditional Ghanian dress. A thick hand-woven cotton cloth, wrapped around the body and strewn across one shoulder, leaving the other exposed. An elderly woman and a younger one holding a baby also sat among them. They were drinking a faint brown liquid in a bottle, I suspected to be local gin. They had just finished a burial service for a popular truck driver in the village who died in an accident. Mr. Eric Owusu a.k.a ‘K ’, a 49 year old member of the Obodan district of the Presbyterian Church, left behind 6 children and 4 grand children. The mourners all wore black because the deceased was considered a young man. When an elderly person dies, they would conduct the funeral wearing white.

 My guide approached them and greeted them in their local dialect, bending one knee in respect. She beckoned on me to greet them in like manner. I found their manner of greeting elders much similar to my people, the Tiv of Benue State Nigeria. When an elder wishes to shake hands with a younger person, the younger is expected to put his left hand on the right hand as a sign of respect before shakinghands with the elder while bending slightly to show reverence.

I followed my guide’s guidance and greeted them respectfully. She spoke to them in their language, explaining my mission. The look on their faces was that of excitement and hospitality. I felt at ease. They offered me a bench and I sat down facing them, completing the circle.

‘You are welcome my son’; Elder Esimama threw the floor open. He was the eldest among them; a retired police officer, he could speak clean English, save for the rich Ghanaian accent. I cashed in immediately and began to ask them questions about just everything I could think of.

I started with the funeral. I asked if the funeral had a traditional ritual associated with the ceremony. One of the other elders (Elder Dakosi) answered almost immediately but was something in his tone showed that he was  a bit surprised at my suggestion. ‘We are Christians!’ He said. ’As you can see the funeral service was held at the ‘Presby’(that’s the way they refer to the Presbyterian Church), handing over to me the funeral programme with the picture of the deceased on it.

‘So you have no way to ascertain who in the community is responsible for his death?’ I asked.

 ‘Ahhhhh. No!’ he exclaimed. Death is natural from God. We do not believe in fetish things. Though the animists do practice rituals of some sort, but not for us Christians. Like in this case he died in an accident. Anybody can be involved in an accident. Therefore we do not apportion blame. We give it to God.’

I continued to probe further;’ I mean before the advent of Christianity, what was the practice?’.

‘Even before Christianity came, we believed in one almighty God. Some people could use objects to represent Him but we never ascribed supernatural powers to mortal men! It is like the Corinthians who were worshiping an unknown God until Paul showed them the true God. I realized that Mr. Dokosi was so Christianity-inclined that he regarded it inappropriate to talk about traditional rituals or to ascribe them to his people. So I gave up on that topic and shifted to another

‘How is your community Chief selected? I asked.....

To be continued.

 

 

 


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