NTOABOMA—Every evening, since I was little, my grandfather always engaged us on the ritual deipnosophies of Ntoaboma. One of these small talks may come to you as a big surprise, or perhaps not. Anyhow, let us digest one such conversation about Yaa Asantewaa and see where it leads.
Cocoa harvest season is over and my grandfather manages the long trip from Ntoaboma to Accra to pay the rest of the family a short visit. Short in Ntoaboma parlance is five weeks, actually! While in Accra, he makes certain observations. He accosts his eldest son, my uncle Kofi, about the changing face of Ntoaboma, accentuating the striking resemblance to Accra. More, he laments about the changing, or disappearance, of ritualistic spaces as a result of what he thinks is the Obroni cultural diffusion from Accra. All the while, my uncle Kofi, a working adult who sits in an air-conditioned office and sleeps in an air-conditioned bedroom, shakes his head.
Anyhow, my grandfather continues: “Have you realized that in Accra babies are not born in[to] the room, or house, that their great [great] grandmothers died in? Have you also realized that nowhere in the family compound house is the Amaga (the statuette of the family god among the Ga) or the Legba (among the Ewe) anywhere found? More, do you notice that the sacred grave of the great [great] grandmother is not situated in the middle of the compound house where, according to Ntoaboma sacred ritual practice, she must be entombed—where she occupies the deipnosophistic space of the family’s historico-spiritual memory—reminding everyone about who they were, what they are, and what they shall yet become?”
My uncle Kofi, because he holds a PhD in Economics from an American university, and because he works at the Cocoa Marketing Board, shakes his head and remarks, “Fa’ada! What difference does it make? What has Ntoaboma ritual done for you?” Obviously, “Fa’ada” is the educated Ntoaboma man’s way of calling his father, “Father!” My grandfather laughs and retorts, “Ah! You do not repair the crack in the ground with a needle. Mine is just an observation.”
It took me years to unravel the meaning behind what the old man actually said that day.
Why is the trinity of your cultural and spiritual existence—the birthplace, the family shrine and Great [Great] Grandmother’s tomb—now everywhere missing in Ntoaboma and beyond? To appreciate the significance of this waving away of ritual, we need to foremost understand what the rituals actually entail. First, the birthplace enshrines the sacred unity between life and death. Being born in the same room that Great [Great] Grandmother died in actually completes an old circle and begins a new circle of life. The spiritual manifestation of this closure and commencement in the life of the individual is immense. Second, the family shrine in the compound symbolizes the power of the laws of nature, the gods to which we must daily commune as we negotiate the circle in harmony with Mother Nature. And third, the humility of the tomb reminds us that back to Mother (Asaase Yaa, the Original Mother), we shall eventually return.
Imagine such cornerstone rituals of your existence, and you need to ask why such pillars of our collective lives are now everywhere absent? Have you asked? Or have you accepted the Mission School rite de passage—everything from your village is Satanic? The more educated than his ancestor, the Metha, never asks “why?” He is content with every change so long as he rises up to meet his colonial Gods. In fact, the first day the Metha saw a classroom built of concrete, he was handed a small book in which all laws, and in particular how to have sex and who to have sex with, were written. The day the Metha entered Mission School he knew more, much more, than the body of knowledge that his Ancestors had gathered over millennia. So the Metha shirks all collected wisdom.
Let us continue and see if the Metha is even aware of his folly.
The more educated than his Ancestors now lives in a self-contained house, whose compound, if there is any, is tarred completely with concrete. The backyard where, under the former strict ritual practice of compound homes, some cassava, some cocoyam (and nkontomire), some plantain, a palm tree and a mango tree once thrived but now no longer matter. However, the walking-dead Metha is now locked away from the living (away from his own kind), mincing around his meager restricted square-footage and swallowing with unconscious displeasure butter-fried frozen beef from a mall.
Let us examine what perturbation effects this new ritual has on him since he has refused, or rather has been unable to identify that it is a new disturbance—that is, we need to break up the new ritual of swallowing poisonous food at will into exact solvable parts and examine the resultant perturbation that is a direct consequence of his peculiar education and appetites.
The Metha eschews the idea of a birthplace at home in the great [great] grandmother’s room, attended to by real midwives and actual doctors, and opts for the regional hospital, in the same way he leaves his village for the concrete Mission School located in the regional capital. The more educated than his Ancestor does not understand that being born into Great [Great] Grandmother’s room at home is both a matter of spiritual edification and practical efficiency. He does not understand that building a regional hospital, where the doctors and nurses have no personal relations with the Mother in labor, or the child in distress, leaves the Mother and child to people who are not directly exposed to the actual cost of errors!
So, instead of spending his cocoa farmer’s money, which he did not earn himself, on consolidating the wisdom of the cocoa farmer and providing that grassroots training to the family experts who have skin in the game of child birth, he would rather herd his whole family—in fact the whole village—in sporadic dots of policy implementation to the regional hospital. As the real cocoa currency is siphoned out to maintain such bottomless pits, the sick, the dying and the poor, now innocent of the hubris, must farm more cocoa or seek galamsey-gold as they constantly attempt to have a few children in the fertility clinic far, far away, though not even enough children to replace the village.
The Metha then is unacquainted with the simple idea of maintaining the self-sufficiency of the village. With an Advanced Mission School education, his worth is no longer tied to the village but to the regional hospital. He accepts the unambiguous fact, without knowing, that his newfound European economics is a mechanism for looting the village for the benefit of the few in Accra, the regional capital. Still today, the Metha is oblivious to this neoliberal economics, not understanding that it was constructed in order to support this looting. In other words, the Metha does not know that he is a whore.
My grandfather once intercepted a speech by my uncle Kofi that, “the Asantehene and the Queenmother did not used to be whores, as in, they were not armchair warriors (not armchair experts); they were actual professionals. They took risks—more risks than the ordinary president of Ghana, who has no skin in the game to make Ghana the best and the most powerful nation in the world.” In fact, the president, i.e. the Metha, has more skin in the games that Britain and USAFRICOM play in Ghana than any interest in the old and new circles of his own village. The Chief Metha, for instance, is unaware that the Queenmother of Ejisu, back then, was more careful and more questioning about inorganic ideas since she was exposed to the direct cost of her own errors. Yaa Asantewaa did not ask for war unless she was ready to lead the nation into battle herself.
But never mind, the Metha defends the Chief Metha who sends his own children to school abroad, neither giving a damn about the state of education in his own village. The Metha praises the Chief Metha who enlists him to climb up a Trojan Horse (USAFRICOM), convinced that inside the horse lies his protection. The Metha, although he cannot afford it himself, defends the Chief Metha, when the chief spirits away to London to receive medical treatment for diabetes for drinking too much Fanta—not caring about how a member in his village might actually survive such a disease, especially since the only thing of note the chief has done for his village stands by the major dirt-road passing through it—the Fanta Store! Of course, the Metha does not think in circles, he thinks in spasmodic dots, where the inference does not entail such recursions.
The Metha is so insouciant that you will hear him—although his village is being looted in broad daylight—praise the merits of “free market capitalism,” attempting sheepishly to interpret and translate pagan ideas into his own perfect Holy Twi.
So goes the paralogism of the Metha, since he has no recollection of the circle that birthed him, he is unaware that his concrete house, his concrete compound, his air-conditioned office and his air-conditioned bedroom—paid for by my grandfather’s cocoa farm and devoid of a single palm tree, a single mango tree, a single pawpaw tree, some cassava, some cocoyam, some tomatoes—has broken the circle and reduced its parts to spasmodic irrecursive dots!
On one hand the Metha insists that we must produce more cocoa, more galamsey-gold, and on the other hand he is completely dumbfounded when he ends up with the gold to feed—to his Mission school neoliberal gods—but no water to drink, no land to grow crops and no food to eat. The Metha’s homunculus, the little pale catamite in his head who tells him to dig for gold, and consequently to not grow his own food, i.e. that cartesian soul of his colonial maker inside his head, or the infinite consciousness of his colonial god inserted into his head, and which occupies where his brain would otherwise be located, has him thinking rather in Brownian jumps.
For this reason alone, the Metha cannot understand that over his fitful dots, his mission school neoliberal colonial master has established a simple square! In that square, “your gold for my paper and that piece of paper for my potatoes, which by the way, you never needed;” or in completing this square, the Metha cannot realize that he had the gold and the master had nothing, and the master figured out a way to take the gold without actually doing anything—except to install, in addition to this, a homunculus in the Metha’s head! As a result, the Metha is oblivious to the wisdom of his own language, his own perfect Sacred Ewe, forgetting that his Ancestors warned about such Ayevu roundabout thinking—such cunning-dog sophistry. In the twenty-first century, the Metha is still unconcerned that his rivers (his drinking water and his source of food) are dirty polluted, the direct outcome of a new big country embracing the same capitalist culture he has been preaching to his villagers, but about which he never developed the awareness that the gold in his own land was actually the foundation of the industrial and financial capitalism he so loves.
Surely, the Metha has some feelings (if feeling that is) to be suddenly stupefied about the sad reality of his own foolishness, and wonders about what may have caused it. But since he has no brain for himself, he is unable to handle a real recursive iteration to unravel the deeper meanings of his own confusion. The perturbation persists without a viable solution. Helpless, he reaches out again to the mission school neoliberal colonizer for a solution to the problem while he sits and sips on bottled spring water from the Fanta Company from which he collects his weekly batch of drinks that he sells to his galamsey-gold mining villagers for the small margins he is accorded by Fanta Incorporated!
But “Fa’ada! What difference does it make? What has Ntoaboma ritual done…” for anyone? Granted, if Ntoaboma ritual has not brought to Ntoaboma the material consumption that is primitive accumulation, of which the Metha is ever so proud, which he’s wont to defend—by way of his Cocoa Marketing Board salary, his galamsey-gold profits and his Fanta Store—does it also follow that he must fix this “lack” with the queer machinations of a capitalism he cannot fully either grasp or emulate? Clearly, the Metha does not comprehend the fact that capitalists, like Fanta Incorporated, make profits because their costs are externalized and born by others with diabetes. He does not understand that in Ghana, River Pra, River Tano, our farmlands and the village have to pick up the tab produced by capitalist activity. The Metha does not understand that the measure known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is so flawed that the increased output costs more to produce than it is worth. The Metha is completely oblivious to how externalities relate to an “Empty World” and a “Full World”—but oh, he surrenders his labor to USAFRICOM to empty his continent through unending wars, without actually knowing why the wars never end!
The Metha does not know that such primitive activities—like asking for more and more cocoa, like begging for more and more galamsey-gold to pour into a thing like a V8 engine or to pour into a regional hospital at the expense of asking for a better great [great] grandmother’s room and at the cost of real food, not Fanta; like surrendering your real culture; like discarding away the real intelligence of the trinity and replacing it with centralization and primitive accumulation—are irreversible processes, i.e. for instance, when you become diabetic, you just cannot sew yourself back to normal with a needle. My uncle Kofi, a symbol of the Metha at his very best, obviously could not see through his “Fa’ada’s” wisdom: “You do not repair the crack in the ground with a needle.”
Whenever I am in doubt about the paralogism of the Metha, I take a cue from this short deipnosophy of Ntoaboma, which my grandfather presents, and I ask what Yaa Asantewaa would do? Would she ask for more galamsey-gold in return for pieces of paper? Would she live in a self-contained house, locked away in the evenings from her families, after returning from eight hours of work plus three hours in a motor? Would Yaa Asantewaa live in a concrete house—desperately in need of air—with a concrete compound? Would she trek to a regional hospital to give actual birth to a child in a clinic where she could not recognize the doctor or the nurse—professionals who do not bear the direct cost of any errors concerning labor? Would Yaa Asantewaa enroll at Cambridge after the war, or would she fly to London to receive medical treatment and would she look her own soldiers in the eye while she sold them Fanta? Whenever you are in doubt, ask what Yaa Asantewaa would actually think about the sophistry imposed on us by the homunculus inside the head of the more educated than his Ancestor (the Metha)!