Thursday, October 28, 2010

42. The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi

Title: The Blinkards, A Comedy and The Anglo-Fanti - A Short Story
Author: Kobina Sekyi
Genre: Play/Short Story
Pages: 256
Publishers: Heinemann/Readwide
ISBN: 978-0-435-92784-4
Year of Publication: 1974 (this edition, 1997)
Country: Gold Coast (Now Ghana)

Setting: This book contains two stories: The Blinkards - a play and The Anglo-Fanti - a short story. Though the stories are from two different genres, one theme thread through them: the effect of absolute cultural osmosis or better still the consequences of swallowing an alien culture without much scrutiny, as happened in occupied countries popularly referred to by the occupiers as colonies (colonies of what? Ants? Bees?) Both stories took place in Cape Coast and the setting is very significant to the story. Apart from the author being a Fanti and hailing from Cape Coast, Cape Coast was the first point of introduction to colonial rule. As a seaport city, it was the first town that was first brought under colonial rule; hence there are numerous Castles and Forts scattered in Cape Coast and surrounding towns like Elimina and Anomabo. However, the inhabitants of this great city, which was the first capital of Ghana before it was moved to Accra in 1877, became anglicised to such an extent that even now a Fanti cannot speak a sentence without less than four English words. They anglicised their local names into English such that you can hear Koomson, Blankson, Menson etc. Some have all foreign names without a local name. Yes, it is that serious. And it is this that Kobina Sekyi, who was also known as William Essuman-Gwira Sekyi was speaking against. Here, it would serve a good purpose if one realises that the play was first performed somewhere around 1915 whereas The Anglo Fanti short story was first published in the West Africa magazine in 1918.

To understand why Kobina Sekyi, who himself was from the elite who were eagerly morphing into caricatures of hybrids, turned around to criticize the status quo, which in the beginning of the nineteenth century marked the borderline between civilisation and bushmen up to today, one needs to read about his biography. 

Kobina Sekyi
Biography of Kobina Sekyi: Kobina Sekyi, the grandson of Chief Kofi Sekyi, was born in 1892 at Cape Coast (locally known as Oguaa). As a highly educated member of his society, he was brought up to believe that European culture was superior to African culture. He attended Mfantsipim Boys' School (the oldest senior secondary school in Ghana) and went on to study English Literature at the University of London. However, a fellow student (Nigerian) persuaded him to give up English Literature in favour of Philosophy. 

Sekyi returned to England in 1915 to study law. On the voyage out his boat, the SS Falaba, was torpedoed by a German U-boat and some lives were lost. Sekyi managed to get to a lifeboat, at which point a European shouted at him that he should get out of the boat, as a black man had no right to be alive when whites were drowning. It was this incident that had a profound effect on him, confirming his rejection of European pretensions to superiority. In 1918, Sekyi qualified as a barrister, and was awarded an MA in philosophy.

The Blinkards
The Blinkards is a satirical play written in English and interspersed with Fanti (all the Fantis have been translated on the left hand side of the page or the even-numbered pages). It tells of the consequences of blindly mimicking the European culture. 

Mrs. Borɔfosεm (someone who exhibits too much European tendencies in his/her actions) eats only European foods, though we know that at several points in time she yearns for locally prepared food such as roasted plantain. She goes everywhere in a frock, boots with an umbrella and a lorgnette. Though she speaks bad English, she does so with a forced English accent. As a wife to Mr. Borɔfosεm, she forces him to behave as an Europeanised man: smoking cigar, eschewing local foods and dresses. 

Mr. Tsiba (a cocoa farmer) brought her daughter to Mrs. Borɔfosεm to train so that her daughter would become just like her and this Mrs. Borɔfosεm did with eagerness, instilling in her 'proper' English mannerism. Later, Miss Tsiba met a young man, who to attract her attention as an Europeanised man, had also gone to work with Mr. Onyimdze - a lawyer who avoided anything European except those that are germane to the execution of his profession such as the wearing of black gowns and white curled wigs.

As the play goes on we find that the two (the young man Okadu and Miss Tsiba) finally met at a garden party thrown by Mrs. Borɔfosεm and there and then got engaged in manner of one they had read from an English novel (without the presence of any family member). Mrs Borɔfosεm told Mr Tsiba that her daughter was about to marry and that he, Mr. Tsiba, had to buy the clothes for the impending wedding. He got furious but calmed down when he was told that it was the ways of the Europeans for the bridegroom's father to purchase the clothes for the bride and bridegroom. When Na Sompa (wife to Mr. Tsiba) heard the news she got furious and insulted Okadu. It was in the middle of one of such vituperations that she got a heart-attack and died. Nana Katawerwa, hearing that her daughter (Na Sompa) was dead and her granddaughter was marrying without following tradition stormed the chapel and disrupted the whole program.

Nana Katawerwa refused to let Miss Tsiba into her 'husband's' house. Later Miss Tsiba was to marry another man through the traditional mode. This infuriated Okadu, who got grandmother and granddaughter arrested. The case went to court and Nana Katawerwa and her daughter won under the exposition of the Native Law.

The story is deep and borders on several aspects of our lives. It is a pity that the situation still pertains today. People cannot speak their local language properly and yet would do everything to show that they can speak English including faking the voice. It is easier to see people in three piece suits walking under the scorching sun. Still the borderline between enlightenment and colloquialism is measured by how much one has adopted Christian and European values. But there is hope: gradually people are changing, people are finding their roots... it is a slow process now but it would work out. It is the language that is becoming a problem. There is a former presidential candidate who changed his name from Joseph Houston-Yorke (yes he is a Fanti) to his local name. 

The Anglo-Fanti Short Story
Like The Blinkards, this story concerns blind assimilation of European culture. It's about a boy who was brought up to become an aficionado of European mannerisms, while shunning African culture. Following this path and learning very hard he got a scholarship to London where he studied Law. Whilst there he realised that London was not all that they say it is. There are classes and divisions and the people they imitated are on the lower scale of their social ladder. He also recognises, that no matter what he did he was described as a savage especially when people began asking whether he wore clothes or not (and they do now ask Naipaul!).
"It does not take him long to find out that he is regarded as a savage, even by the starving unemployable who asks him for alms. Amusing questions are often put to him as to whether he wore clothes before he came to England; whether it was safe for white men to go to his country since the climate was unsuitable to civilised people; whether wild animals wandered at large in the streets of his native town." (page 230)
However, there were many Africans who also came to a similar disillusionment when they saw England with their own eyes; yet these group began to accept these disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisation. 
"... but if his friends, even those who had been similarly disillusioned, have begun to accept certain disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisaiton, and instead of arguing from the unpleasantness of such incidents to the inherent unwholesomeness of that to which they are incidental, they conclude somewhat perversely that whoever cannot explain cannot explain away such unpleasantness is not civilised. " (page 231)
Time came for Kwesi Onyidzin (Kwesi without a name) - known as Edward Cudjoe -  to come to Gold Coast and to Cape Coast. His family were all expecting him to behave like an European man. So when he set down to work and began wearing native dresses and eat native foods they became disappointed in him. Some even considered him mad. Others made it their duty to show him the way. After he was virtually thrust into marriage, it became his wife's pursuit to force her husband to behave like an European. Later, she resorted to the cooking of European foods and throwing of garden parties. Working harder and ever harder to avoid these incidents, Kwesi Onyidzin broke down.

The issue of cultural invasion is one that has taken the world by storm especially in these days of globalisation. Should there be a universal earth culture? and who would determine what should be in such a culture? or each country should keep its culture? Are other cultures at a threat from European culture? These are questions we need to ask. Culture is something you are born into. It grows with you. Yet people who were born outside of it like VS Naipaul and other aliens who spend a day or two in ones country, only to label their culture as backward, are either insane or mentally distabilised. To me such behaviours and thoughts are infantile and express nothing save folly. Ignorance is no sin yet ignorance expressed in hatred or bad language is stupidity.

This story is purely narrative with no dialogue in it. If you love a narrative novel I recommend this to you. If you are a staunch believer of the communalism rather than individualism, I recommend it to you. If you believe in selective cultural absorption, incising certain unproductive parts of culture and replacing it with tested ones not just dumping the whole into the society, I recommend this to you.

ImageNations Rating: 5.0 out 6.0

46 comments:

  1. The Blinkards and the Anglo-Fante is certainly an awesome book that throws more light on the attachment of the African to all things English. I think we have the same situation in our day, with the shift tilting toward all things American. By all means learn from others but the base must come from within. Everyone must read this book written long ago for enlightenment!

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  2. Yes... I agree with you. Now there is the Americanisation of the African. Everyone must read. An interesting comedy of the African hybrid

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  3. This is a well digested review.Thankfully... a friend lend me hers just yesterday. I'm hoping to read some time later but don't know exactly when... Great review!

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  4. that's great. If you could read Fanti (I read Akuapem but I tried) you would find it even more interesting. The translation isn't the best.

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  5. Sounds like a really great book. And especially pertinent now with the US trying to push their dominant culture all over the world. People say it is good to have books written about countries even by outsiders, but if those books are written by outsiders then it is no good thing at all. Culture needs to be maintained, and I'm glad to hear that people there are starting to more and more.

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  6. @Amy I can't agree with you more. A friend of mine (Henry Ajumeze - a Poet) - in a discussion about globalisation - said that globalisation is about what you take to the table and not what you only take from it. And I couldn't say more. However, most African countries and other European countries are now seriously clamouring for American culture. First it was the Europeanisation and now it is Americanisation. The problem is whereas the problem in Europe may not be that pronounced, in Africa it is. For instance, in Ghana people prefer to learn English than their local language. Some individuals would happily tell you that I speak no local language and that to some represent intelligence. It is only through government intervention that the wearing of dresses made from cloth has become fashionable when the National Friday Wear was launched to promote the textile industries. And it is the Christianisation of the country that is to blame. People now regard anything about the culture as obsolete, archaic and reserved for the bushmen. Not for the intelligentsia. I cry when I see them.

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  7. I would say that I can't even imagine... but it is, one could argue, worse here. The Native Americans are on reserves, rarely seen, expected to act a certain way (we romanticize them in film), and many don't learn their local languages or culture.

    In African countries the combination of Islam and Christianity have certainly done much to push traditional religions away and make them seem like less than they are. It's sad to think that people wouldn't want to learn their local languages. I don't know how we can make globalization be more about respecting who we all are and diversity and be less about making everyone the same.

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  8. Can you imagine a world where everybody is the same and no one differs? Where the book you read is only about yourself and no one else because like kittens we are all the same: colour, language, culture, religion, belief etc? It would be a boring world.

    In movies if you want to portray evil, portray it through the African way of life and religion. It seems that has become the mantra for these producers.

    I guess the problem is everywhere. People trying to be another and not respecting themselves. There is beauty in diversity. As for the Islamisation and Christianisation, the least said the better.

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  9. Sounds like a fascinating take on a very culturally relevant subject. His personal story is quite something as well. Cultural imperialism is in many ways a more insidious thing than the economic kind.

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  10. Yes! People always try to speak against economic imperialism but few talk about cultural imposition. Yet, what do we see... countries decide what other countries to do. Sometimes they are linked through aid.

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  11. You are right - there is beauty in diversity and I hope that we all realize that before globalization has changed too much.

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  12. The Blinkards is a good book. clearly satirizes fantis during the colonial era. i think the main theme of the play is learning to appreciate your culture and sticking to it no matter what.

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  13. i believe now it is clear that what the white brought to us time ago was barbarian now as we can understand the motive behind their doings.xzybit kings college kumasi

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  14. @Ramzy... sure. it is left for us to decide what we want.

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  15. I think we ghanaians like the british fashion and that not good. We have to cheerish the afican value.

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  16. @Jackie... is it only Ghanaians? I believe it is an African 'thing'. We need to cherish what we have else we would be lost in all these globalisation thing.

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  17. Maxwell Odoi-Yeboah20 February 2011 at 14:15

    Great review you have here. Blinkards is certainly a classic, in my view. I think it should be taught in every educational instituition in Ghana and Africa because its has a lot to teach this generation.

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  18. It is a Classic. If it isn't then I do not know what a classic is. In fact the Anglo-Fante short story was published in the 1918. I agree it must be taught in all schools at all levels including non-formal education. If possible to all politicians too.

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  19. 'The Blinkards' is a very good book and classic. i am really glad it's now a book for the senior high school students.I believe that students and other people that read it would learn a lot from it,because we Ghanaians have got a beautiful and interesting tradition.

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  20. @Maame Yaa thanks for this piece of news. I didn't know it is now a reading text in our schools and that's where it must begin. the change.

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  21. Great review.As Ghanaians we look at ourselves in the mirror and we don't like the fact that we were born Ghanaians. We then start copying the western way of life which is sad. Growing up, i must confess i nearly ended up westernized but i found my roots and i love it. It is good to be Ghanaian. We must go back to our roots before we end up like "Archibald".

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  22. i really like the book after reading all my literature drama books i saw that the blinkards was the best.the book brings out how best our culture is and how we should respect and love our culture.<>

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  23. for the sake of we students why wont you give us roles,characters and their personality as in a literary work. we students are finding these things very difficult.

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    1. Hi Wendolen20 I'm not a literature student. What I do here is for fun and to let others know these books exist, are interesting and worth investigating/reading. A detailed analyses of character roles and characters are the responsibilities of literature students like yourself.

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  24. thanks for your work,but do you have the full video of the play?

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  25. This book is realy the boom! It reveals all the "faketies " of African die-hard persion for the English way of life. I do ask my self this question, WHY IS IT THAT, THE WHITES NEVER TRY TO COPY OUR OWN CULTURE ,BUT WE AFRICANS TENDS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THIERS?
    Its soon melancholic!

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    1. This is a question difficult to answer. Perhaps there are those who on the low scale being learnt but largely, we are the borrowers.

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  26. its really sad that our forefathers really copied blindly.the story is completely satirical

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    1. Are you sure we aren't ourselves currently copying them left right and centre? Look at us.

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  27. thanks for all ur ideas, bt for me, i think ghanaians ave abandon their culture, n they adopt other people culture. that is shameful to africans. why...

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  28. i can read it over and over again.we are only blind imitators and not ready to use especially,made in ghana products. but i just like'u are unladylike'

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  29. we are just blind imitators at least we can copy the good side.ican read it over and over again without getting tired.

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  30. pls give me the vivid account on hw mr okadu woe miss tsiba

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    1. I'm not a literature tutor. I read for fun and I don't think you expect me to have the story in my head in that detail.

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    2. I think the Ghanaian has lost his sense of identity. though this book was written in the early 19th century, issues raised still prevail in the 21st century Ghana. My friends always seem surprise when i mention konkonte as my favorite food. they cant understand why a uni graduate will list konkonte as a favorite. Apparently what they expected is pizza or pasta or fried rice.. It's a real pity.KUDOS I LOVE YOUR REVIEW. Maybe you should read BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK by FRANTZ FANON and you will enjoy it

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  31. Conflict of culture. The Africans has been tought to unlearn their own culture and embrace the western one. What we are made to belive is that, ours is babaric, savage, ancient and backward. The need a change of orientation, we need to put ourself on the right track because, in the next 20 years, our cuture will be only in the history texbooks.

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  32. Tis a pity that when the West So much held us in captivity of the mind, our fathers were not at all rising to the challenges. It is now that we are waking up to see that we as Africans have culture, language, government that are unique to us as Africans and we do not want the West to take us for animals. The question is, in one way or the other, we are still enslaved by the West since our economy is determined and dictated by their wants and wishes. Let us stop consuming foreign things and learn to make and appreciate what is ours. The Blinkards is a PIECE!

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  33. as Africans we should not copy Foreign mannerisms but rather stick and beleave
    in our culture

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  34. As Africans we do not have to copy foreign mannerisms but rather stick and beleave in our culture

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  35. As African we should not behave as if we are European

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