Thursday, November 17, 2011

119. Tickling the Ghanaian - Encounters with Contemporary Culture by Kofi Akpabli

Title: Tickling the Ghanaian - Encounters with Contemporary Culture
Author: Kofi Akpabli
Genre: Non-Fiction/Contemporary Culture
Publishers: TREC
Pages: 142
Year of First Publication: 2011
Country: Ghana


Kofi Akpabli is a creative writer I have come to admire. His is a journalism completely circumscribed by the field of Creative Writing. His style, of combining keen observation, difficult questions and mirthful writing, makes him unique in this expansive field of words, sentences and descriptions; a field where most practitioners resort to sensationalism, outright lies, and trivialisation, stretching an already suspicious occupation to its negative extremum, to grab people's attention and glean some fame for themselves. Such is the shitload on discerning ears that some, having exceeded their elastic limit, have tuned out from radio, permanently. To such individuals, Akpabli's writing has come as a relief. For having gone through the proverbial mill, Kofi Akpabli's method is refined. His dedication to his craft has been appreciated by winning, on two consecutive occasions, the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist for Arts and Culture - the first person to do so. 

Whereas Akpabli's first book A Sense of Savannah grew from his travels - mostly through northern Ghana - Tickling the Ghanaian is a compilation of thirteen published articles including The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana and What is Right with Akpeteshie, which won him the 2010 and 2011 awards respectively.

From How Cloths tickle the Ghanaian to This is the Way we say Goodbye, Kofi presents in this book articles which take an infinite look at the multi-dimensionalities of contemporary Ghanaian culture; contemporary, in that some of what is discussed are leftovers from colonisation - those that we imbibed, localised and refused to grant independence to or decolonise both at the peak of our furor and euphoria for independence. With themes on Christmas reminiscences, the vanishing taste of food, food shunned and loved, fashion, drinks, funerals and bargaining, Kofi takes us on a tour of Ghana's cultural idiosyncrasies. He looks at every topic exhaustively.

The book opens with How Cloths tickle the Ghanaian. Here the history, types, functions and sources of cloths and how certain kinds of cloths, especially those coming from Holland (like Vlisco/Dumas) have come to signify class and status in the society are detailedly discussed. Whether discussing the childhood uses of cloths, its social (among the citizenry) and traditional (between the citizenry and the chieftain) status, its use in traditional dances, like agbadza, or any of its numerous uses, Kofi weaves wit, knowledge, and love into each line providing the reader with a sense of satisfaction that only comes from reading a well-researched piece. In one of such various functions of the cloth among the Ewes (these are group of people to be found mainly in the Volta Region of Ghana and spreads through Togo and parts of Benin) Kofi writes
Among the Ewe people, the sleeping cloth is so important that it has a personality of its own. It even has a name, Zavor. Zavor simply means "night cloth" and it is the closest companion one could ever have in life. 
Over time, Zavor adopts one's personality. Indeed, few items hoard specimen of an individual's DNA like the night cloth) come on, what with all those body fluids). Among the boarding school boys and bachelors, Zavor has a special reputation for smelling bad. [18] 
In Ghanaman and the Rastaman the writer writes from experience when he had locks. He talks of how he was consistently thought to be a user of hemp and how people preferred to address him as belonging to the Rastafarian faith. The Serious Business of Soup in Ghana compares what Ghanaians refer to as soup and what is described as Soup in Europe and America. How soup could be drunk in a cup; how it could contain sugar and alcohol; how soup could be pepper-less, still bothers me. In this humorous description of Soup, Kofi writes
What is soup? Philosophically, soup is what makes the Ghanaian say "I haven't eaten all day" simply because all he or she has had did not contain a soup item. Soup is what makes people look forward to going home after a long day's work. Again, soup is what gingers up nostalgia for homely, far away places. Finally, soup (especially, when taken hot) is what helps critical minds to form opinion on serious issues. [32]
What more could one ask for? Yet, Kofi provided a detailed write-up on all the types and functions of soup interspersing it with titillating soup stories.

In The Rise of the Schnapps, Kofi investigates how this Dutch drink has risen to occupy a position that used to be the preserve of the local gin, akpeteshie; today at no traditional ceremony, be it naming ceremony, festivals, or engagement, can one not find Schnapps. Between Tinapa and Boflot - where did the old Taste go questions whether foods are losing their cherished tastes especially comparing old brands with the current bland brands.

Other issues investigated include the art of bargaining, which is a psychological warfare that could be studied under Game Theory. Here each player anticipates the other's move before he plays or makes his move.  Nash equilibrium is reached when both parties are satisfied with the outcome of their final moves, else there is no trade: the buyer getting value for his money and the seller too. Unlike in shopping malls,boutiques and other places where prices are fixed, the majority of trade in Ghana is governed by this art. Those who are well versed in this art always come out satisfied. This is discussed under the chapter heading Dongomi and Albarika - The Ghanaian Art of Bargaining. Here it is only right that I quote from Kofi's repertoire of humorous, yet truthful lines:
The Ghanaian's bargaining habit is also expressed at fetish consultations. Usually when a priest mentions the items needed to perform a ritual it is considered spiritually critical. Therefore, folks  do not subject it to common market-place negotiation.
However, there are times when the items demanded are simply impossible. For instance, a gourd, half-filled with the very first collection of late season rain, the egg shells of a maiden vulture and the midnight droppings of a pregnant elephant.
Because of the difficulty in obtaining these items, clients would manage a bargain of sort: "Errm, Mighty One, we have heard but; can you plead with your Honourable Deities to quantify everything in monetary terms?" [66]
The remaining topics include Things we do for Rings; The Truth about Fufu; Ghana vrs Naija - rubbing shoulders with a Giant; Batakari has spoken; Why Kokonte is facing the Wall; What is Right with Akpeteshie; and This is the way we say Goodbye. 

In What is Right with Akpeteshie, Kofi discusses the functions and origins of this local gin that has devastated so many homes and yet is one of the hottest commodities on the market. Though its effects - when taken in excess - are known, demand is high even if it has fallen from grace. People would love to hide or pretend to be not taking it. But it is the drink that has the heaviest repertoire of aliases. Whenever you hear blue kiosk you know there is a reference to this drink. Our reaction to this drink is similar to that of a local food kokonte which the author also discussed. But in Why Kokonte is facing the Wall, the author pointed out our hypocrisy with this food; a food that virtually saved Ghanaians from the massive famine the raged the country in the early 1980s, a food one would eat and sweat in a corner of his home but would swear he has never seen it before.

In the last title the author discusses how Ghanaians cherish funerals and how people go to all lengths to give their departed ones (loved or not) a befitting burial. It has become an industry on its own with different shapes and styles of coffin.

Throughout the book, Kofi treats the reader to insightful information and even when he seems not to be saying that 'let's be careful' he says it in a subtle way without sounding preachy and presenting the facts from both sides does the trick for him. With this style and delivery Kofi is set to go farther with his works.

This book is highly recommended. The reader is bound to learn a lot about Ghanaians, an aspect which would not be found in any text book about Ghana nor taught in any place of learning: higher or lower. What is in this book are the things that make Ghana, Ghana; the things that people associate with. In brief, this provides a sort of informal history of events and things of Ghana.

ASIDE: This book is similar in some thin respect to the one I am currently reading - Imported Ghanaian. What differs most is the approach, so that whereas Kofi looks at the more positive side, bringing out the fun and showing us we aren't that bad, the author of the current book takes a vitriolic take on Ghanaians and their behaviours.
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About the author: Read about Kofi Akpabli here

9 comments:

  1. I have a copy; now I have to get my act together and actually read it!

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  2. This sounds like a really interesting read Nana, and one that perhaps would also be great for non-Ghanaians? Great review, sounds like a book I would enjoy!

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  3. @Amy, this is a good book for all: Ghanaians and Non-Ghanaians.

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  4. Nana, this sounds like just what we need in Ghana; critical cultural essays. The titles are delicious. I need to get my hands on the book. Thanks for the review.

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  5. @Kinna, I agree. We need to document our culture in a way we understand it providing a critical analyses of it. It is only there and then we could make the necessary behavioural changes needed to move into the 21st Century. It is also then that the issue of Sankofa would have meaning.

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  6. This writer does sound like one i would like to read. thanks for edging me on.

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  7. You'll love him if you love humour. His is a different variety of Sydney Abugri (of Letter from Jomo in the Daily Graphic)

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  8. Really really interesting. Looks like one of the books you will be inspiring me to read. Thanks for sharing

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