Feature Article of Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Columnist: Ojewska, Natalia
Faa Naa is a small island that belongs to Accra’s district, though; it is not marked out on the map. No public transport reaches this place, because there is simply no road. In order to find Faa Naa it is necessary to get directions from the local people who know of its existence. Mysterious and secretive legends are circulating about a community, which is living in complete isolation from all civilization. It is said, that giving birth and deaths are prohibited to take place within the community.
New settlements, same old poverty
While driving a cab through wild dirt roads leading directly to the shore, we passed a settlement of small brick houses, surrounded by a wall of huge palms, making an impression of a cozy and aesthetic place. The blue color of the sky, green plants and white sand beach created that illusion. Between the buildings were huge puddles, littered up foundations; apparently new homes were to be built on them some day.
This build-up area officially belongs to a chief, who has divided it into plots, bought by people who cannot afford to live closer to downtown Accra. More than half of these houses were unfinished and uninhabited due to a very prosaic reason: the lack of funding and infrastructure. The settlement consists of neither roads nor drainages and is getting flooded regularly during the rainy season by even the shortest precipitation. Due to these conditions, the belongings of the inhabitants are limited only to necessities, such as pots, bowls, and simple beds. The town does not have a school or health center and as such is not adapted for permanent livability and development.
One of the signs indicating that people were living there was a pile of trash covering makeshift roads. Our cab got stuck in one of those patches. A proof of how challenging living there is was a view of a white bull, wasted, with an empty look in its eyes laying on the dried soil.
Faa Naa - Behind the end of the road
The cab driver brought us to the farthest place that he could reach while driving through meadows and sand. We continued the rest of the route on foot walking along the shore. Suddenly, the narrow coastline separated the ocean by a small lake. On the shore I saw a row of cabins. The myth of a settlement living isolated from the civilization has suddenly become a reality in font of me. A closed community that made a living by fishing inhabited this little Island. There is no electricity or sanitation in Faa Naa, newspapers does not even reach this place. It seems as though time has stopped here. This place is surrounded by a remarkable aura of silence and calmness. Running children are smiling, yet lacking the typical happiness of children’s racket and light-heartedness. They run and play somehow silently. Adults sit around tables not speaking and if they do, it is so faint you can hardly hear a sound. Longer observation created the impression, that these people were frozen in motion.
The reason for leading this life trapped in simple routines and according to set patterns is the lack of external stimulus reaching the settlement. In Faa Naa every day, week and year is the same, filled with the same procedures, like: bringing the drinking water from a place about one hour away or just cooking. The most important part of the day is to pull out the fishing net from the ocean. This is the only moment when the entire village wakes up from its freeze, as if an unknown strength and energy has suddenly surged them up towards the beach in order to pull out the basic source of their existence: fish. Their faces are showing emotions, children are jumping loud for joy around the fishing net. As soon as the fish is transported, the silence sneaks back into every hide-out of Faa Naa.
Keeping old beliefs and traditions
The inhabitants, similar to the majority of Ghanaians, are very communicative and friendly, as I had experienced it, striking up a conversation with an older man. A smile lit up his face and I got the feeling that talking about the village was pleasurable for him. I learnt from him that the rumors around the island regarding the strict taboo of giving birth and dying are most certainly true and maintained. The break of one of those bans will cause the imposing of sanctions on the perpetrator or his/her family. The man could not explain to me as to how far back this taboo is rooted or what is the source of that “tradition”. All he could tell me was that it has been passed from generation to generation; and that there is no connection to any religious rituals. It is certain that the inhabitants put a lot of effort to prevent childbirth within the settlement. Pregnant women are taken to a hospital about an hour distance by canoe. Such journey is particularly hazardous when the woman is already going into labor. Nonetheless, considering how poor and primitive the village’s resources are, the birth taboo can be a blessing for a pregnant woman and her unborn child, because it is an assurance that she will be receiving professional medical care.
Faa Naa – A gilded cage
The man had also told me that the inhabitants are not committed to spending their entire life in the village. Nonetheless, leaving the settlement and setting off to another world is mostly an unreal dream. I have realized it while chatting with the son of the man I had met. To my first question, how he likes his life on the island, he responded with a quiet but a certain voice that he would like to leave that settlement. He goes to school and needs over one hour to get there with a canoe. He is 20 years old and in four years should be in the last class of high school. Not because he is less intelligent than other teenagers his age, but because he has neither suitable conditions to learn nor parents who would motivate him. He invited me to his house. Within the space of around 30m² I saw two cabins surrounded by a reed fence. His “room” was approximately 4m² in size. The wooden bed alone, which was a simple bamboo matt, was taking up half of the space. Under the bed, I noticed elegant black shoes. On the other side of the cabin was a wooden shelf fitted onto a reed wall, an onion, a piece of soap, hairbrush and a metal bowl. In the middle of the cabin’s floor, which was simply sand, laid a stack of clothes, from under he had pulled out two books - his only belongings. He was not able to tell me what kind of profession he is dreaming of pursuing. He felt that his dream to escape from Faa Naa is unrealistic, so he stopped planning. Resignation had slowly overwhelmed him. The ticket to another world is to have a family living somewhere in a “city” that could help or to have money. The boy does not have either of those. Fate made him spend his whole life in this beautiful place under the clear blue sky, while imprisoning him in a “golden cage”. The boy will probably share the fate of his father and grandfather. His desire for change will most probably fade away someday. Perhaps he will bring his son to the first lesson at the school, once he becomes a father. Then he will return to Fa Naa to catch fish. Like his father today, he will be not able to recognize neither the dreaming eyes of his son nor his sadness. The next generation will make a circle around that Forgotten Land, where a laugh of happy people is not heard.
Although the old generation of the inhabitants consider themselves happy arguing that fishing is better than stealing, their children feel constraint and imprisoned. Decision of leaving the community is strongly connected with having new perspectives to survive the life in Accra. These perspectives are simply occupations, like baker or hairdresser, allowing to work in the city. Settlements like Faa Naa have very limited access to education and their inhabitants mostly achieve to finish only the primary school. Therefore, if communities like Faa Naa do not receive any assistance and integration to civilization, the fate of their inhabitants will never change.
Natalia Ojewska is a freelance writer covering international stories that matter. She is a young, ambitious journalist writer, particularly interested in covering stories from countries developing their stability after national and international political or military conflicts. It is the social aspect of any given story that drives her to present it in the most transparent way and let the World know about it. Natalia earned her (BA) Communication Science degree from the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany in 2010. Since graduation, she has proactively gained journalist work experience in diverse media outlets in Germany and Africa including: Radio M 94,5, Focus TV, Focus Online, Janus TV, ProSieben and Hanns Seidel Foundation. View her portfolio at http://nataliaojewska.com.