THE ‘APOTOYEWA’ AND BIBLE COLLISIONS
By Kwesi Hayford
The ‘‘Today show’’ produced in New York everyday of the week between the hours of seven and ten, and beamed to other parts of the world, is cash cow for the National Broadcasting Corporation, the NBC. At least six times in a year it goes on the road, bringing its viewers the sights and sound of American cities and exotic locations in other parts of the world.
Somewhere in the early nineties, the shows then principal co-host, a black American suggested the show should be produced in Africa as it really is but help Americans overcome their enormous prejudices of the continent and its people. The heartstoppingly Victoria Falls was chosen as the location for the week’s production. Although this choice of venue, by virtue of its proximity, gave the southern and eastern countries in Africa an unfair advantage over those in the west and north, Ghana and Nigeria were represented.
There is something about these two countries, so difficult to place your hand on, that the producer of that show would have been out of his mind not to include them in the production. All in all the week’s production was overwhelming success. Too bad that it did not come on under Nkrumah or Kufuor, the two men under whose presidencies this country has received top billings overseas.
At week’s end atleast a quarter of Americans knew that Africa went beyond the jungles, the drums and the “dashikis”. The smudge, for those of us Africans who made a point of seeing every bit of the show and were feeling so chuffed up we were walking on the streets of America as if we owned, came the day before the production ended.
Gene Shallit, the Show’s Chief Cultural correspondent, an ace by any yardstick, using film clips, went into an elaborate discussion of what one might consider an African conundrum. The first clip showed the late Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya demolishing the argument that the whole concept of God was brought to the African by the white man. “ All the British did,” he tells a cheering crowd, “ was teach us to close our eyes when we pray, and while we had our eyes shut they stole all our lands.
The second clip, evidently retrieve from a film archives, shows an Anglican choir, mostly British, scantily mixed with Ugandan converts to Christianity. To express their deep gratitude to God for being delivered from their primitive African beliefs, the Ugandan try to out-sing the British. In the attempts they get preposterous with their leather for heaven virtuosity. Gene Shalitt, a Jew, is embarrassed by the Ugandans: And it is very easy to understand his embarrassment.
How, he asks without saying so in so many words, does one explain the fact that in India, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, from all former British territories, the Indians, Malays, Singaporeans and the Hong Kongnese stoutly defended and stuck with Islam and Hindu, but African feels he has to apologize for his indigenous religious beliefs. What Mr. Shallit did not know was that even for African Christians watching the Show, the legitimate issue he raised- this stark confrontation between the intellect and the emotion- was an agonizing one.
More so because American racism is unsurpassed in one respect. It propels Africans living there, whether they like it or not, to develop a pride and an awareness in themselves that they would never, ever have developed had they spent their entire lives at home. It exhorts them to symbolisms that are often meaningless but necessary; and the symbol for Ghanaians living in American at that time was the “apotoyewa”.
To establish your Ghanaian or African pride you talked unceasingly about how you use an “apotoyewa”, or you brought the apotoyewa to the table. Now a white man had seen past our faces into our thoughts and we were not exactly thrilled by it. Never again, I prayed, that we would have this public reminder of who we had become.
In 2006, BrownUniversity, one of America’s seats of higher learning, marked its 238 commencement. As part of the celebration, the university held an inter-denominational service at the FirstBaptistChurch in Providence, Rhode Island, the home of the University. Inter-denomination services usually comprise Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but Brown went a step farther. A first, I should say. By asking its Chairman of the Scholl of African and Brazilian Studies, Professor Anani Dziedzienyo, to pour a libation in the middle of the church service, the university was formally giving recognition to Animism, the solemn and sacred communion between the living and the dead.
I was agitated by this. Here we were seeing a white man, the same one who brought Africans the bible, saying it is all the same God, the difference is approach. Yet I cannot at family gathering in my own country, ask for libations to be poured to my ancestral gods and sprits on my behalf without those who perceive themselves as having fallen from Jacob’s ladder unto Abraham’s bosom and therefore assured of a place in God’s kingdom, trying to give grief about it.
I had prayed not to have another white man see past my face into my thoughts, and until the publication this year of Piers Brendon’s excellent. The decline and fall of the British Empire: 1781 to 1997, I got my wish. Brendon, a Cambridge University Professor and a journalist, hates what he calls the two evils, Colonialism and Slavery, brands the latter as a grotesque parody of imperial enterprise.
Here I suspend my own views in order to bow to a review of the book by the Financial Times….”Carrying trading goods from Bristol and Liverpool to the Gold Coast (yes, our Gold Coast), then slaves to Jamaica and Barbados, and finally sugar, coffee, cotton and rum to the home stretch back to Britain, a loop of supply and demand.”
Like Gene Shalitt, Piers Brendon is stumped, in his case by the surprising number of older Africans, West Indians and Asians who are nostalgic of the glories of imperial Britain. More problematic for Brendon is how Africans, dismissed by the British as an more inferior race, subjected to the worst forms of indignities can, after all they went through, flap the Anglophile flag.
You do Shalitt and Brendon an injustice if you think their preoccupations are poking fun at our “Aborofesem.” A subject I am so browned off by that I wouldn’t mope over it for a second. Why should I, when the evidence of things seen in every country once occupied or colonized by foreign maters is that they impose something of themselves on the country or on its people. That the English language is influenced to some extent by Latin attests to that fact. Since every Ghanaian has in one way or the other an “Aborofosem,” I would be careful about pointing fingers.
Shalitt and Brendon, the latter more so than the former, got you to examine an area you’d rather not: What has almost become a Ghanaian predilection; getting easily charmed by things foreign that was quickly lose ourselves in them, in time retaining little or nothing of the indigenous. And often doing so, all by ourselves without any help from anyone. Lets look at notable examples.
As notorious as “Wofa ne no” (the British) are in moulding everyone who crosses his path into a carbon copy of himself, he did not interfere with Hinduism, Buddhism or Animisim. The argument can be made that he kept his hands off because he was in Africa and Asia just for what he could get. But another argument can be made that having gained masterly in colonialism, “Wofa ne no” had learnt that there are some indigenous institutions of a colonized people that were so much a part their identify that you strike against them at your own peril.
Under the British, Ghanaians had a growing respect for Animism, against which Christianity only quarrel with it was over pantheism. Animism’s store for philosophic thinking is unequalled. Its list of strictures is more than that of Christianity. Now look at what we have done to our indigenous religious beliefs since our slide, voluntarily, I should add, into the “give me the old time religion” of American fundamentalism. It is neo-colonialism, just as Nkrumah warned; an enslaved of our minds. We make believe that the bible is written in stone while Animism is the most primitive thing we have ever been subjected to.
As if this is not bad enough, let us take a look at another cultural heritage we are busy destroying with vengeance, our languages. What is it that is so objectionable about Akan, Ga, Ewe, Dagbani and Nzema that now even the poorest of the poor would cough up the money to send their children to schools where speaking English is allowed, Ghanaian languages forbidden. There are Ghanaian language. I have little trouble with that. Your child doesn’t understand a local language? I don’t understand English.
But that is not the issue. The more important issue is that because most of the teachers at such schools are poorly fed in intonation and pronunciation, these boys and girls often sound pitiful when they speak is the same “pupopo” the rest of us speak. Like the rest of us they struggle with “oh this thing” because the vocabulary is not there. Did anybody tell these parents that the pot of gold we are all looking for is hidden in the complexities of the English language?
It frightens me to think that fifty years from now we would have created two societies in which one speaks only English, looks down on the other with “what kind of animal is that,” describes those who cannot understand him as bush. It frightens me to think that fifty years from now people who still believe in Animism may be burnt on stakes for their beliefs. What next? Dishwasher white? A process through which we wash our skins three times a day to remove the stains of black, so we can look white?
The Ghanaian Times page 7 Saturday, November 29, 2008