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Rev. Peter Addo.

Peter Addo

The Rev Peter Addo debuted as poet and storyteller in the 1957 symposium, Voices of Ghana. He was a College Professor of Religion and Science. He is also a preacher, folklorist and biologist. His works have been published widely in Africa and the US. In 1956, his Ga language play was produced on Radio Ghana. His works include an anthology of Poems, Talking Drums, [1999], and two collections of African Folktales, Ghana Folktales, [1968] and How the Spider Became Bald, [1993]. His numerous writings have appeared in several countries and languages and his stories have appeared in US and Philippines textbooks. Addo, a retired United Methodist Minister and College Chaplain, now devotes his time to visiting schools and colleges for readings and talks. He is inspired by Kwame Nkrumah.

 A Folktale from Ghana

Most of the people who lived in my village when I was growing up were divided, generally speaking, into three categories. We were either farmers, fishermen, or goldsmiths. According to how far one lived from the coast, the fishermen usually lived in the villages along the coast and the farmers occupied the inland villages.

One could always tell an adult's occupation by knowing when that person was not working. According to the tradition of the elders, it was taboo for fishermen to fish on Tuesdays, and for farmers to go to the farm on Fridays. This system made it easy for families to get together with one another.

The rainy season was the life blood of our community, because all the activities necessary for survival depended on the rains. When the rains were late, the crops suffered, and when the rains refused to come, there was famine and total disaster. It was therefore expedient and prudent for families to have extra food in storage and available for the lean times.

Since there was no refrigeration, most foods were prepared for storage simply by drying or smoking. Fishermen exchanged their catch for crops from the farmers in a simple barter system. This system worked well unless one of the partners got greedy or dishonest, then all hell broke loose and the system would break down.

These processes had kept the Ga people honest and trustworthy for many generations, to the extent that the integrity of a Ga had become legendary. This was true, according to my grandparents, until the Ga people met the Europeans on their beaches over two hundred years ago. The cultural exchange and contact challenged and modified some of our traditional ways and values.

A notable quality among the Ga people I grew up with was their pride, their self reliance and their willingness to share what they had, and a commitment to the wholeness, integrity, and welfare of all. It was said that a Ga would give you the clothes off his back if he found out that you needed it. People looked out for each other and were willing to share whatever they had. Not just neighbors, but even strangers were welcomed like family.

Among the Ga people it was said that there were no orphans nor strangers. No children were ever rejected and the whole village was responsible for all young people. It took the whole village to raise a child and every grown woman was called a Mother and every grown man was called a Father. Gas lived like one big extended family. Children had no cousins; all cousins were brothers and sisters, and the young men and young women were uncles and aunts to all children.

All the people shared their wealth and all the villagers came to each others' aid to fish and to farm. When there was a task to be done, all the people came together to help and when one saw something to be done one went ahead and took care of it without any questions being asked.

Mutual respect, care, concern, and reciprocity were the major traditional characteristics of our community. As long as there was food, no one had to go hungry. However, even in such a community as ours, there occasionally appeared a selfish individual who, because of selfishness and egoism, did not live or abide by tradition.

My mother told me the story of such an individual. She began her story with the popular saying: if you don't like Kwe's mother, don't eat her food...

One fine Tuesday, a fisherman called Abokobi visited his relations in our village. The walk from the coast to the village took some time, and when he arrived at the village, there was no one at home. All the villagers were in the fields preparing for the planting season. Generally the Ga people planted their staple foods such as cassava, yams of all kind, peanuts (groundnuts), okra, all sorts of hot peppers (Gas love hot peppers), spices, beans, and corn (maize) to mention just a few. There were peppers, yams and cassava drying outside on raised platforms when Akokobi arrived. These were some of the ingredients used for the daily meal. After days of thorough drying all these ingredients were ground on a grinding stone and then stored for use in the daily preparation of food. It was very important for the drying process to be carefully monitored. On the Accra Plains, the clouds could quickly became dark without warning, and soon after the rains would come.

On this fine Tuesday, when it started raining Abokobi retreated into the house and waited for his relatives to return from the fields. He got hungry but did not find anything in the house to eat. He looked outside and saw the cassava being dried but did not have the common decency to bring them in from the rain.

Soon the relatives arrived and after the traditional exchange of greetings and news the family asked Abokobi if he brought the drying cassava in from the rain.

He had the audacity to attempt to defend his lack of concern and selfishness by reminding his relatives that he was a fisherman and not a farmer. The family asked him to hold on to that thought and they went inside and got some cassava flour from their stock and prepared their midday meal and ate the meal without inviting Abokobi to join, as tradition demanded.

Angrily Abokobi got up to go without saying a word. As he left, the Matron of the family was heard saying to him, "Abokobi, now when you return home do not forget to tell the whole story. The fact that we did not invite you to eat as is our tradition is only one part of the story."

And so it has been since that fine Tuesday so long ago. When one is asked to tell the whole story, it means to tell the whole truth, for the Ga people strongly believe that "the truth does not need any embellishment; it can stand all on its own".

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