Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Sense of Savannah Tales from a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana by Kofi Akpabli

A new, witty, travelogue by CNN/Multichoice African Journalist for Arts and Culture, Kofi Akpabli, is about to be launched. The launch date is Wednesday March 30, 2011. Writing in his very usual manner, Kofi warns at the back of the book
Caution: For fear of emitting loud, embarrassing laughs do not read this book in public.
Again, I quote what led to the writing of this book. From the back cover:
When Kofi Akpabli was posted to the northern border town of Paga to do his national service he thought it was just going to be another 'national suffering.' But when he encountered love at first sight with the landscape and the people, he was soon to realise that something close to destiny tied him to the place. The author was welcomed to a world refreshingly different from the back streets of Accra and Cape Coast. He discovered the smell of dawadawa, the taste of pito, and the mystery of border towns. Over a period of seven years, Kofi criss-crossed the Upper East, Upper West and the Northern Regions. His real life adventures have been published in a cross-section of Ghanaian newspapers. By popular requests, here comes A Sense of Savannah, a witty collection of travel tales that best express the character of Ghana's savannah setting.
 A synopsis:

Way West to Wechiau
Kofi Akpabli
This is the hard core, nature lover’s dream expedition.  The object of chase is the hippopotamus, the largest mammal on land after the elephant. The vehicle to accomplish the mission is a narrow, 15 foot canoe dug out of mahogany. A river safari on the Black Volta, provides an unforgettable experience. Find out what happens at the moment of truth when the beast rears its ugly head.

Plus, there is more in this idyllic setting nestled between Ghana, Burkina Faso and La Cote D’ivoire. Also, learn about the Lobis who used to pierce the lips of their women. But that was then. Today, of course, a young Lobi lady would rather have her lips greased with designer lip shine.

Plus, do you know that there are people in Ghana who still spend cowries as a currency? A stroll at Hamile market stumbles across a Forex Bureau where you are asked if you want cedis or cowries. How does it play out when the ‘Chancellor’ of this Forex Bureau also sells cola nuts?

A Market Day in Navrongo
Ordinarily, a market day is a normal activity. But when it is also the platform for marriage, naming and other social ceremonies, then it becomes one big communal celebration. The Navrongo market day occurs every fourth day. But do not despair if you don’t have a calendar to keep up. When in the morning you see a young man pull a herd of goats, followed by an old man with a guinea fowl tucked under his armpit, next rides a boy in a donkey cart who overtakes a woman carrying a pan of shea butter… 

This discourse takes readers through what happens on a typical market day in Navrongo. But in the heat, and noise and spirited interactions, a place such as the Navrongo Police Station is not spared the action. The peace post receives a fair amount of the market share, as it were…

Christmas in Hamile
Hamile, the north westernmost part of Ghana might not be your ideal travel address for Christmas. However, when this destination was put to the Yuletide test, the result is an unforgettable experience that Accra may never provide. Here, a greeting such as ‘‘Barika da Christmas’’ is not a cultural shock but an admission of a shared heritage.

In Hamile, the pito drinking session is a kingly treat as the lady servers actually bow to present you with your calabashful. Also, experience a free sample of the Christmas atmosphere in Nandom, Larwa and Wa. Check all this out, and you would wonder why some people spend all their Christmas in the city.

A Savannah Valentine
Over the last decade, the media and an aggressive market place have made Valentines’ day a big social deal in Ghanaian society ‘‘Love is Contagious’’, says  the words of a song, and Tamale, has also been caught up in the Valentine web. This narrative captures how the foremost Northern Ghana city celebrated one such event.

This article is a running commentary on what went on where from midday until… well, Valentine expired. Faced with an influx of young lovers all dressed up in red, how does a poor, old Hausa kooko seller assess the event? And, oh, after all was said and done, what happened to the narrator himself in Room No. 26, Hamdalla Guest House on Valentine midnight?

Bawku the Beautiful
Frankly, the first word that comes to mind when Bawku is mentioned should not be conflict. This is one area in Ghana that nature has actually spoilt with beauty. For characterisation, Bawku possesses the indifference of New York, the business savvy of Kumasi and the live-and-let-live-in-spite-of-ethnic-diversity of Nima.  If you are wondering just how special Bawku can be then ask yourself this: how many places in Ghana share boundaries with two different countries?

From the moment the author arrived in town, with the instinct of a thirsty stranger, one interesting encounter led to another. Take the Yarigungu area which is enclosed by a lovely chain of hills. This stretch of highland is actually known as Agol, the protector god. His wife, the river goddess Agolok flows below. The children of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Agol’ are the blessed, little crocodiles in the river. And of course, they all live happily together ever after.....

Bolga to Kumasi by GPRTU
Gateway. That is the one word that underscores the importance of Kumasi to northern Ghana. As the nearest big city, it means more in several respects than Accra. Even for those hustlers who have the capital as the final destination, Kumasi is where to transit, learn the ropes and earn the passage.
A journey from Bolgatanga to Kumasi on a GPRTU bus, turns out to be a very important teaching experience. For example, if one wants to quantify the volume of akpeteshie that is quaffed in the Upper East Region, the best place to begin the survey would be the GPRTU Kumasi station at Bolgatanga. But the lessons are not limited to research. A course in long suffering also gets some credit hours. What other choice is there when one is trapped on a rickety bus, in an all night long journey and the co-passengers profile includes the following: a blind professional beggar with white cane and boy guide, some quarrelsome kayayes, a barber with scissors on the ready and a khebab seller travelling with his iron grill. Final lesson: sometimes, drama travels on wheels.

The Sirigu Success Story
What could make United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan leave his heavy UN schedules in New York to come all the way to Sirigu to interact with local women weaving baskets? ‘‘Inpiration’’ is not a bad guess. Sirigu used to be a poverty stricken savannah community until a retired old teacher, Madam Melanie Kasise found her long forgotten undergrad long essay among her old stuff. Her project work was on reviving the dying wall art of Sirigu. She brought out the book, dusted it and said ‘‘no’’ to a boring retirement life. Madam Kasise has never looked back since. She mobilised local women and now her Sirigu Women Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) has 300 young and old members. 

 SWOPA also aims at providing simple but quality tourist services. The compound houses a museum, workshop, restaurant and a traditionally styled four-room guesthouse. Today, SWOPA has become the centre of community life. At night, secondary school chaps visit to study under solar light. At dawn, children come to draw water from the borehole. And during the day, this same place is overrun by mothers who have all come to assert their craftwomanship.

A Pilgrimage to Paga
Perhaps, no area has more relics and landmarks related to the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade than the northern regions of Ghana. Historians tell us that the bulk of the slaves were caught from the area. The border town of Paga Nania has a former slave camp that continues to attract all levels of interest. The Paga-Nania Slave Camp is sited on a huge area of rock known as Pinkworo ‘‘the Rocks of Fear.’’ With thick vegetation cover, the spot proved an ideal hideout.

The horrific event of the slave trade took a new meaning the day a group of 14 African-Americans arrived at Paga to re-discover home. Ever the true Ghanaians, the people and their chiefs, slaughtered a sheep, poured libation and served a delicious dish of hot African dance. What happened when an inexplicable spirit drew the African-Americans to the floor to do the Nagla dance? Talk about soul music.

Kumasi to Bolga (State of Emergency)
Some adventures never seem to leave you alone. A return trip from Kumasi to the north turns out not only more dramatic but reveals further insight into the people and systems that run our society. And then what happens when due to a security alert the journey is interrupted and the ‘‘son of man’’ has to spend the night on the hard, cold street and among very strange strangers? Another lesson: at the height of the helplessness of the human situation, comfort comes from the most unlikely places. This time, from the radio set of a tea drinking, Bin Laden apparelled gang. Ever heard of Wangara lullaby?
Drop me at Abavana Junction
This is an up close encounter with a man who helped Nkrumah to administer newly independent Ghana. The popular Abavana Junction at Kotobabi in Accra is named after L.R. Abavana (Esq.), but the interaction took place in Navrongo where he hails from. Coming shortly before the 82 year old passed away, the interview touched on his service to the nation as Minister holding a total of five portfolios.

An athlete in his days and a tennis freak, our hero was actually nicknamed ‘‘Lightening.’’  He reminisced the doubles he played alongside Kwame Nkrumah against Kojo Botsio and Gbedemah.  Find out the particular joke President  Nkrumah used to play on this humble man each time he bumped into him on the corridors of flagstaff house where they both shared an office. Hint: it begins with Nkrumah sniffing Abavana’s pocket.
I would be interviewing the author and reviewing the book on this platform, so keep visiting. Note that the book would be launched on Wednesday March 30, 2011. Visit Kofi's personal website here. Read his funny, rib-breaking, award-winning article on soup titled The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana knowing that there is more in the book.


  1. The Northern part of Ghana is my favourite place in Ghana. It's natural, beautiful and full of the most hospitable people in Ghana. I lived in Tamale and Bolga. They were my favourite towns. Happy memories :)

    On a seperate note, Nana you should join us in the "literature" forum now and again :)

  2. @Nii... My work has taken me to all parts of the country (I mean regions). And it is interesting to know how the people are happy. We have a certain perception about the people. I don't want to talk about the terms or those adjectives especially when it comes to AID.

  3. Not yet heard anything about this writer. Probably, would have to look out for this book.

  4. this is Kofi's first book, if i'm right and it's non-fiction. It promises to be dummy. I just saw copies at the Mall. You would love him.

  5. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It sounds like a great book to read to get more information on the country as well as for the stories it contains.

  6. Is he bringing his book to Amazon, I like his style.

    BTW, could you help? I'm launching my second book next week, and need some support. Please check my blog for details.

  7. @Amy, yes. and his style is filled with humour. He also brings to us a part of Ghana that we always see with some kind of prejudicial mind.

  8. @MW I don't know if it would be available on amazon but I pray he does.

    Why not? I would check your blog for details.


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