of peculiar flowers/like sound of laughter/fluid in words you could spell/only after lettering down/libations on territories/virgin with mystic bites/of your footsteps/creating gardens/of hope beyond tales

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shade-Less Arty business soars

Our shores become studio and stage. Young reggae artists hit their hearts away to the waves; they make music― melodious or discordant. A guitar in their arms or a drum in between their thighs and you shall taste their talent!

In a like manner the Oxford Street in Osu often is a spring of aesthetic pleasure. Paintings, beads, fabric, and various wooden and leather handmade African crafts create a colorful on-foot-collage as Hawker-Artists follow pedestrians around.

Some writers resort to self publishing to keep their creative energies going. Similarly, these hawker-artists build up ‘mobile art galleries’ on the street. They grow in numbers each day and one wonders about what keeps them coming. Chances are they are tired of sitting quietly at secluded Arts Centers hoping that the next day would be a better market day. As an alternative, they get on the street and pray to the traffic jam god to grant them, in return for their striking handiwork, our attention and cash.

Considered a total nuisance by some road users; Hawker-artists do not know how to stop at a “thank you but no”. They pester you, often generous at storytelling; the origin, value and use of their artifacts are relayed even before one asks for prizes. Most of the time, the hawkers are the artists themselves and prospective buyers are free to ask questions from what their inspiration was to how they decide a name for a craft. The best part in this street business is that there are no fixed prizes. So, If you are a collector, you will be able to fetch a good number of rare and exotic items depending on your bargaining charm.

New ‘mobile art galleries’ emerge on our streets at every glance; the operatives, artifacts and designs are very similar. While they do not overlap completely they do have a lot in common. This may be because most of their designs are from the same source; indigenous symbols like the Adinkra and of course, Mother Nature. Adinkra symbols are appreciated both for their aesthetic and communicative worth. The use of these symbols dates back to our ancestors and their wide variety continues to be a source of inspiration for visual creative expressions and fashion.

A Ghanaian hawker-artist will earn your respect and admiration not only for their craft but by their customer relation skills and the marvelous solidarity that exists amongst them. An artist would, on impulse, vouch for the quality and authenticity of the wares of another street-artist or may even run to fetch from a fellow hawker-artist if a customer wants an item they do not have. Think of it this way: instead of competing, their want to create fresher items is bigger. So it becomes a communal responsibility to get rid of old works.

Para-artists hawkers, as I call them, share the street-office with hawker-artists. This group usually sells recorded or printed forms of artistic expressions: music and film CD’s, books (mainly children’s literature and short fiction) and posters. Ghana has an amazing poster culture. All major (inter/)national events, disasters, celebrations, breaking news are captured on poster and ready for sale minutes after they happen. It is a running joke that to watch a Ghanaian movie for free, one must only pay attention the promotion poster. There is a comic twist to Ghana’s poster culture. Not everything you see on a poster must be taken seriously. Some posters usually have pictorial exaggerations and very ‘absorbing’ comments. Sometimes they address current political issues or merely go on fabricating stories. Watching posters is a good way to relax in traffic if I be asked. Just make sure you don’t hit the bumper of the vehicle ahead of you if you are the driver.

The creative energy and persuasive force of our artists is crucial to the survival and expansion of our indigenous Arts symbols and designs. While massive Art Galleries are built to target high profile individuals and tourists, hawker-artists target the common people. Their “mobile galleries” become a significant show room for contemporary Art. They keep us in touch with our roots. They lighten the traffic stress. These street-artists defy the popular notion that African crafts are mainly targeted at tourists. How many tourists are there in our hot Accra traffic? It is nonetheless true that their wares among other popular souvenir like the kente cloth, African masks, drums, miniature xylophones, African fashion designs, and wood carvings are counted among the topmost tourist attractions. Our hawker-artists preserve in their striking artifacts non-verbal illustrations of proverbs and maxims. The philosophy, history, education and cultural values of our people is portrayed in their handiworks. Their works is guard against historical erosion and cultural oblivion. Their unrelenting spirits offer the much needed education about who we are, and where we have come from, yet who takes care of these stewards?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When men bite dogs

The line is sometimes difficult to draw; high mysteries and concocted protective devices. My grandmother calls last Tuesday with news about being sued by the palace court. Her offence is keeping a dog in a village which forbids entry of dogs. Granny was fined 200 cedis and two sheep. My want for reason is discontent with a less perceptive response as: “dogs are a taboo here”. Why are dogs a taboo? Why should my lonely grandmother be fined for wanting some company as all humans do?

For the same reason mosquitoes nets were made, taboos are essentially protective devices. I would learn that this provocative taboo against keeping dogs as pets is not exclusive to Maabang, my village in Ashanti region. Our dear canine friends managed to get themselves in trouble also in many other communities across the central region. What did dogs ever do? A taboo, in its pompous free-floating capacity, may be useful for as long as it doesn’t get eroded by pointlessness. Let the palace elders in my village stick to their story of high mystery on the adversity dogs will bring to Maabang if allowed to live there. My research holds much comprehensible findings; not that I love taboos less but I love reason more.

Today’s dogs are paying for a spate ill-health of their ancestry. Rabies, a rather nasty disease, hit many communities in Ghana in the early days. This taboo, needless as it is today, saved lives yesteryear. Although unfair to my grandmother’s rabies-free dog as it is to groom jilted because his family has a history of poor mental health, people can be excused for panicking. I admire my ancestors for their astuteness in managing the outbreak and their inclination to prevent such future crises. Yet the time to let go a taboo is when it is bankrupt of reason for present justification. I trust health professionals and veterinary officers in Ghana to handle any case of rabies.

Why do Krobos not eat snail? I wonder. Our customs, believes and traditional practices make us, I know this. Upholding culture and traditional systems is essential to our continuity. Yet, it amazes me how our generation finds it easier to cling to what is petty like taboos against fluffy dogs whereas we watch our heroes, artists, festivals, songs and names and dance disappear. We are clearly unwilling to invest our time, energy and perhaps money when it comes to planning the festivals that tell our story, celebrating heroes who prepared the way, teaching indigenous songs that will uplift us and cross checking the right spelling of royal names. We are busy, we are modern, we are too advanced to pay attention to the core of our being. There is however time to propagate ethnocentrism, to discard indigenous dishes like “mpohonomu”, “apiti”, “akankye”, “adibiankyinwom”, “tumbani” and “mpotompoto”.

Perhaps it is time we employ taboos to meet challenges of our current social setup. Let us make "new taboos” against leaving elderly persons to be partly submerged in loneliness and partly in boredom. Let us make "new taboos" against forgetting our arts, our artists and our culture. We can use damage from offenders to build “canopy art centers” in communities. We must create space in the Arts for our elderly. My grandmother always has a new story. Why are we not encouraging the elderly to draw, play an instrument, write poetry and just tells stories as they wait around with nothing to do? Should it not be our business spending time with our grandparents so to enrich our life experience with whichever tales are yet to be shared? Should it be part of our school curriculum that we gather stories from time before us?

Four questions pretending to be two: what can arts do for our senior citizens and what can our senior citizens do for the arts? And beyond relevance of taboos and letting lonely grannies keep fluffy dog, what makes a people and what does not?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wants on a Tuesday morning

I want music in a language I don't understand.
I want the possibilities in mystery.
I want the freedom in uncertainty
I want pieces of my forgotten self
I want meaningless laughter
I want nothing

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Homophobia: Our ancestors knew better!

The tired excuse for homophobia in Ghana is that homosexuality is against our culture, and it’s a new thing young people are copying from the west. An “evil new thing” that ought to be condemned! People go ahead to emphasize how our ancestors punished any individual who had shown the slightest sexual interest in a person of the same sex by death or banishment. Is that so?

Openness to discussion and knowledge sharing on our individual sexual journeys, our sexual evolution and the truth on the stands of our ancestors on sexual preferences has been clamored by cultural and religious spasms from people who have obviously not taken the time to learn from our ancestors by the language they handed down to us on the matter of sex and sexuality.

Such words as Homosexual, Lesbian and Heterosexual do not exist in our indigenous languages. (e.g. Twi, Ga, Ewe, etc...) Why are these words missing in our indigenous vocabulary? One’s sexual preference was obviously not a thing our ancestors found a need to tag.

A sex offender on the other hand, example the rapist is “monaatofo” and the pedophile/child molester is “awengaa” in twi, which is by the way my mother tongue. Let me again point out, sex offenders and sexual offences have specific tags, rightful derogatory in our various indigenous Ghanaian languages. Here is my question; did our ancestor consider homosexuality an offence as today’s Africa wants us to believe?

The emphasis is on the fact that a word will arise when the concept or thing is deemed necessary to name in a community or when the community finds a concept or thing unacceptable. I wondered what my ancestors called homosexuality and so I kept in search for a word.

It shouldn’t be necessary that we find equivalent words for homosexuality or heterosexuality in our indigenous vocabulary. As old as homosexuality is our ancestors obviously didn’t think a person’s sexual preference formed any basis to be identified by, most of all to be discriminated against.

Contrary to what people would like us to believe today, homosexuality has long existed, it is no “new evil thing”. Ancient African Arts has shown women touching each other and men kissing. If there are no tags for homosexuality in our indigenous Ghanaian languages, it because there are also no tags for people based of their taste for food for instance. Since when did people get tags for their preference in anything for that matter? You can tell me when this started if you know but I know my ancestors did not find the need to name people based on ‘how they want it’. Don’t you dare blame your pointless fears, insecurity and cruelty on the ancestors!