What To Do With A Tribalist
May 25, 2011 § 3 Comments
I’m not sure when this trend began, but some Ghanaians have taken to blaming other ethnic groups for either their own personal failures or whatever ills befall the country. It’s usually directed at Ewes who have the Volta Region as their ancestral home. Ewes (or Ayigbe) can also be found in Togo, Benin, and even Nigeria. Before I came back to Ghana, I saw this growing trend on some blogs where certain (and always anonymous) characters would join conversations and resort to blaming Ewes for this and that, and sometimes they go as far as threatening violence, but it’s often the same end: demand for Ewes to go back to Togo. This usually reminded me of conservatives in the U.S. passing blame for everything they can imagine on Hispanics, and often demanding Mexicans go home, even when it’s obvious they’re completely clueless about the ethnicity of whoever their anger is directed. During a heated college class debate about the Hamdan case several years back, I watched a student with Swiss-German ancestry lose his cool and demand another student leave the country if he didn’t like what the government was doing. “If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico!” He melted right back into his seat after the student reminded him that his American Indian family had been in South Dakota long before the Mayflower arrived.
I’ve heard a few more taunts of Ewes since my arrival, and each time I meet with one of those ghostly looks when I remind these people that, I too, am Ewe. Half of my family is Ewe even though I identify with my father’s lineage, which is Akuapem. Early last week, I rode a tro-tro to Circle from Madina. It was no different from all the others. I was tired, the traffic barely moved, and I found myself being the only person sweating profusely. On this ride, however, a man had a portable radio and was tuned into a discussion about the increasing food and fuel prices. This guy decided he knew what was wrong and felt we all needed to hear his answers. It was NDC. It was the Chinese buying up everything. It was Rawlings’ cronies. Then it was the greedy Gãs (Gã is “gun” without the ‘n’). I started growing annoyed. Most people have the strength to ignore nonsense. With me, if it gets too much, I’ll say something, and I’m never diplomatic about what I say.
He then dove into Ewes. No one spoke much. Most of the passengers ignored him. A few asked him to be quiet if he was done. But I’d had enough. Akans have a phrase: na ma’akuma aba. I was angry and wasn’t going to let him get the last word. In fact, I like to dress down people like him whenever I get the chance. Sorry, this is how my maker made me. Me so, me dina me di baa wiase ni. So I asked in my shaky Twi:
Me: So where are you from?
Me: Which one?
Man: Kumasi. Near Kumasi in the Asante Region.
Me: Ahh. So are you new here?
Man: Yes, oohh. Accra is hard. I wish to go back when I get 4 million ((or 400ghc). Lots of people still use the old currency when referring to money values.) The Ewes own and run everything. People like us can’t get anything.
Me: Yeah… it’s too bad. With heroes like Yaa Asantewaa and Prempeh on money, and we still get nothing (I was goading him along.)
Man: You took the words right out of my mouth! If only they’ll all go back to where they belong, we can have our country.
My heart was pounding rapidly by now. First Gãs, then Ewes, and this guy didn’t know when or how to shut up. When I get angry, my heart races and I speak so fast that I fumble and stammer.
Me: Do you like the national anthem?
Me: What about Yen Ara Asase ni?
Man: Of course! They’re our songs (grinning).
Me: You know, the national anthem was written by Philip Gbeho. Gbeho! That’s right, an Ewe! Yen Ara was by Ephraim Amu. Guess what? He’s Ewe, too! Ayigbe people wrote those songs. The heroes you worship… Yaa Asantewaa was stupid enough to let the English pass a note to Accra for troops to come up and rescue them from her capture. And that Prempeh, they captured and shipped him to Seychelles. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?! Yes, I saw his cell at El Mina Castle. Oh, and your people came from the Ivory Coast, not from a hole in the Earth! We all came from somewhere else. Another thing, Yen Ara was first written in Ayigbe, not Twi! And even the Twi version is Akuapem Twi not Asante Twi. He was teaching in Akuapem when he wrote the Twi version. So not only was “our” precious song written by those Ewes, it’s not even written in your Asante dialect! Your heroes are Ayigbe. Next time you hear those songs, I want that empty head of yours to always remember those Ayigbe people wrote those songs! Uh huh, it hurts doesn’t it?! Now turn around and look forward and shut your mouth!
My silent choir then joined in with their chorus, but I was too heated to notice or care. The driver was from Yendi; the mate was Krobo. There was a Bono, an Ewe, a Dangbe, and a Gã in the tro-tro. They all asked him if they, too, should leave as they teased him like only Ghanaians can.
Fun fact: the earliest settlers in modern day Ghana were those belonging to the Guan family group comprising of a few different but related ethnic groups. They came down from the Sahel region and modern day Mali through the Burkina Faso 3000 years ago. Many settled in the north, some in central Ghana, and a few came as far as the coast with others settling in the Akuapem mountain range. The ones who settled in mountains got together with Ewes, Gãs, and Fantes fleeing conflict on the coast, and Krobo, Larteh and Akans to make up Akuapem: Akua= community/village; Apem= one thousand, where they all settled, integrated, and adopted the Akuapem Twi dialect. So, can I claim ownership of Ghana since my people have been here the better part of the last 3000 years? Just kiddin’!