Saturday, May 19, 2007
DON’T BOTHER THE FROG
Without Ghana’s wildlife, our culture would grind to a halt. Well, almost. Many people may not realize how heavily we rely on wildlife for our cultural and traditional observances and rituals.
With a depleted wildlife, a good number of our festivals would die, chieftaincy would lose its allure and awe and our nation would lose her cultural identity. Take an example. When a chief is installed in southern Ghana, we refer to the ceremony as enstoolment.
In the larger, northern half of Ghana comprising three regions, when a chief is installed, the ceremony is referred, to as enskinment. The royal personage is placed on well-preserved animal skins as the main activity of the investiture and these skins offer him his official seating throughout his reign.
It makes sense therefore to speculate healthily that when there are so skins available how would our chiefs be made?
Southern Ghana would not be left alone if there happens to be a dearth of animal skins. Our heritage of skins is our culture, woven around our kings, and Ghanaians are so proud to show ore culture off to their foreign visitors.
For an Akan chief, from below the paramount level all the way up to a king of the stature of the Asantehene, every ceremony, will not be authentic without the use of wildlife products.
The headband of an Akan chief or king, called “abotire”, is more often than not made of the cured skin of some animal species, covered in rich fabric and studded with gold ornaments. When the king dresses in black, the skullcap he wears is made from the treated skin of elephant.
The royal sandals of our chief are made of the hide of animals, and also studded with gold ornaments. The same goes for the charms and amulets that our chiefs wear in profusion from the writs to the upper arms.
When a chief walks in procession, a lot of wildlife products are in evidence. The “mpintin” drums ensemble that follows him are made of gourds and covered entirely with the skin of a leopard, while the “ekyem”, traditional war shields are hard-cured skins of the buffalo.
Everybody might have seen the royal horns the “mmenson” are used to proclaim the greatness of the chief and they are made from the horns of the buffalo.
The most important state sword in Asante is the “mpomponsuo”. is permanently sheathed in leopard skin and stands out as different from all other state swords of Asante, with its huge gold ornament of a coiled snake.
When the chief sits in state, the fans that are used for airing him made from ostrich feathers and sometimes those of the peacock. If you look more closely in the procession of any paramount chief, you will unmistakable find the cured tail of an elephant, used as a fly whisk.
Our ancestors were wise enough to ensure the sustainability of wild resources for the use of future generations. In the past, the future generations. In the past, the killing of wildlife was always for specific purposes, and a hunter killed only what he immediately needed for his family. In the past, there was therefore, very little trade in meat from wildlife.
Wildlife still remains the major source of protein for Ghanaians, but given our present rate of wildlife destruction through illegal hunting and illegal hunting and illegal trade in animal products it is worth warning that a time may come very soon when we would actually see certain animals only in the zoo, on television or in pictures found in books.
Already, some wildlife in Ghana have come close to extinction and these include lions, leopards, chimpanzees, the aardvark and the tree hyrax to mention a few.
Every year when May is approaching with the spectacular Aboakyer barehanded-hunting festival, the royals of Winneba actually send a delegation of the wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission to obtain a hunting permit for two bush bucks that are expected to be caught by the Asafo warrior companies.
About a decade ago when there was no catch because of incessant bush fires and resultant habitat loss for the bush bucks, many Ghanaians were both embarrassed and quite distraught, especially the Effutu people. Why?
They knew from the “no catch that a whole year of poor farm harvests and poor fish landings lay in store for them. During this festival, it is staunchly believed that when one Asafo company comes first with a catch of a healthy bush buck, it presaged a new year of food abundance.
If on the other hand the other company brings in the first catch, it foretold a year of good fish harvests from the sea. This has been the belief from time immemorial, and the Effutus dread years when there might be no cached and pray fervently against such an occurrence.
It is therefore a really difficult task to try to divorce our national wildlife management, and it is a matter of pride to state that our chiefs are very much attuned to the issue of wildlife conservation.
Our wildlife is our cultural heritage that we must protect and hand down to subsequent generations of Ghanaians. If you were to visit any of our markets and entered the section for traditional medicines, you will not fine just tree barks and leaves and roots.
You will also find on display various animal products including skins, cured heads of snakes and other animals, feathers, and the dried wings of various birds. These are all used in curative rituals to differentiate the African traditional practice from the western type.
In the fist part of this article published last Saturday, the writer, JACOB OTI AWERE, painted an unusual scenario which suggested that without wildlife Ghana’s culture would grind to a halt. He continues.
IN Asante and Africa at large, medicine men approach illness differently with the premise that every physical ailment may have a spiritual dimension. Exploring spiritual diagnostics requires the use of potent animal parts to reach proper diagnosis and cure. And it works.
Talking of medicine of the traditional type, several small animals are also used for medicinal purposes. For example the queen termite whose world is the anthill is very often sought and used to cure various sicknesses including mumps.
The chameleon is used for several ritual sand curative medicines for various ailments. In some places in the Upper West, some anthills are beaten as drums to make music for visitors to dace.
In the Upper East Region is the sacred crocodile pond. These crocs are said to have led the people from a terrible drought to the water at their present place and prosperity. Now too, the crocodiles are bringing in great revenues from both local and international tourists.
We have always lived with our superstitions, as all other peoples have too. Superstitions are kept to remind peoples of very significant historical events, and also to place an injunction on certain activities, especially children and the youth. For several superstitious reasons therefore, the owl is held in awe by everybody, and people would run away if an owl approached them. But on no account would they wish to kill one.
The crow is held in a similar superstion, and people leave them alone. The vulture also enjoys protection from superstition. When we were kids we held a strong belief that if a person bothers a frog or toad and the creature jumped at the person, there would be an inshment. Since no boy wished to become a girl and vice versa, we left the amphibians alone.
Our wildlife also represents very important cultural symbols. On the farms, Akans listen to the great turaco to tell time! The flight of certain birds remains a tell-tale sign of rains.
Our proverbs are replete with animal references. If a person seems to be dangerously overstraining himself with work, or unnecessarily attempting an impossible task, he may be told that “aserewa mo tamkesie an etue no hwe” If a small bird dares to wear an overweight girdle, it topples him down.
A conservation-biased proverb among so many of this type is this: “Whenever you sit to eat the hand of a monkey, just pause to examine your own hand first”.
Wildlife has moulded our thinking, our diction and our attitudes as well as our lifestyles. Wildlife offers us most of our symbolisms. For example a stool carved with the middle portion in the representation of an elephant or leopard is often exclusively reserved for the use of a respected tribal overlord.
In the case of the Asantes, the elephant stool represents the mighty leadership role of the king, as expressed in the proverb: “If you follow the elephant, the dew on the path will never wet you”. In the case of the leopard, it represents the predatory and resilient spirit of the king.
Manifestations of wildlife in our culture are so profuse that if they were to be all removed from our universe, what we would be a culture with neither a soul nor a life and flesh. Our traditionalists will tell you how very important animals, birds, insects and reptiles are to living human beings.
Besides all the foregoing, the old folks will point out to you that we are still alive and have survived as a nation because of our respect for certain animals or birds or reptiles that we consider as sacred to our existence on earth. These are our totems, and it varies form one creature to another as you move around Ghana or Africa for that matter.
A totem is an animal, bird, reptile or other creature that a person, a family, group or tribe holds as very sacred and must protect from danger at all times. If modern Ghanaians were to embrace totemism, which is not a religion, all or most of our wildlife would be better protected.
Daily Graphic - Saturday, May 19, 2007 Page: 21