BY HENRY AMO MENSAH
Whether the first traveller comes by the Nsawam-Suhum road or through the Akuapim hills, what strikes him or her is the awesome Obuotabiri mountain.
It is legendary. Its origin predates the town it protects. Legend has it that when the first inhabitants of the town arrived from Ashanti in 1875 it was there. It is the home of the gods of this town. It is inhabited by dwarfs. It is the soul of the new Juaben traditional area. All the townsfolk hail this great mountain: OBUOTABIRI - the rock of Tabiri.
"We respect the mountain and so we offer annual sacrifices of sheep to it", says Nana Ntara, a sub chief of the New Juaben traditional area.
The town this mountain protects is Koforidua. Oral tradition has it that Koforidua, my town, owes its name to a man- Kofi Ofori who had built his hut under a huge mahogany tree. This tree provided shelter for weary farmers who were returning from their farms after a hard days work. Overtime it became common for the farmers to say that they were going to rest under Kofi Oforis tree. In Twi, the local language, tree is "dua". An amalgamation of Kofi Oforis and tree therefore, becomes "Koforidua." Mylene Remy wrote of the origins of Koforidua in GHANA TODAY that when the people of Koforidua broke away from the Ashantis they "founded a new state here at the junction of the basins of the Densu and the Pawn-pawn".
Koforidua is unique in several ways. It has one roundabout. It has one traffic light. It has one central library and it is the only capital of the eastern region of Ghana. Its youth affectionately calls it "Koftown".
Apart from the imposing mountain that follows its inhabitants everywhere, what also strikes the tourist on his maiden visit to Koforidua is its sun-baked corrugated iron roofs - roofing sheets that have been at the mercy of the sun and rain for as long as they have been on top of the houses they cover. Some of these houses are dilapidated. For example, the houses at "Betom" and "Srodae"- two of the most famous suburbs. In contrast are "Atechem and "Adweso" with their plush houses, inhabited, obviously, by the top echelon of "Koftown".
Talking of houses brings to mind two buildings with bizarre inscriptions on their front. One of the inscription says, "Me da Obroni Ase" translated in English to mean "I thank the white man." The other reads, "Also Bungalow". One wonders if its owner wrote this out of envy because this building is close to houses that are officially referred to as bungalows. Bizarre arent they?P>The towns centre always bubbles with activity. There is the Koforidua central market; the main taxi and lorry station; and the major cinema hall in the town-Reo. Several book shops line the streets. Most Koforidua residents are traders who have travelled from Akyem, Asante and Kwahu to do business in this town. These traders constitute a motley crowd with women forming the majority..These ladies have been known for their beauty since the beginning of time. The youth in the town and indeed visitors affectionately call them "Koforidua Flowers." One can also find the offices of radio in the centre of the town. This radio station takes its name after the city of Zurich in Switzerland where its owner is said to have worked with radio Zurich. It broadcasts programmes in English and Twi, the local language and it also rebroadcasts some BBC and Duetse Welle programmes.
Koforidua is home to many basic schools such as Madonna and Nana Kwaku Boateng Experimental (my school). It also has some very good secondary schools including Sectech, Njuasco and Pojos.
Travellers will find top-quality hotels in the town. There is the all famous Hotel Eredec and Koforidua Motel where tourists from anywhere in the world will find comfortable accommodation. The town prides in its sports heroes. Sunday Ibrahim, one time African footballer of the year, started his soccer career here. Osei Kofi, the "wizard dribbler", the first Ghanaian footballer to have been invited to Germany to play professional soccer also acquired his legendary skills from this town. The first Ghanaian Commonwealth Bantamweight champion, Sulley Shittu, learned the basic rudiments of boxing in the town's community centre.
From any part of the town, the St George's Catholic Church, one of the Oldest churches in the town, can be sighted. It is always very white and has two large crucifixes embossed on its front. This church houses a siren that used to remind the townsfolk of the ticking away of time. Those were the days when the town really seethed with action. I am told the siren has not sounded for many years. Close to the Catholic Church is the Chief's palace-the home of Dasebere Oti Boateng, the Paramount chief. It sits at the foot of the Obuotabiri Mountains. Oti Boateng's enstoolment a few years ago has seen some remarkable developments in the town. One such development is the institution of the ''Akwantu Kesie'' festival.
Says the Ntarahene ''the festival was instituted three years ago to commemorate the great journey of our ancestors from Old Juaben to our present abode and to remind the present generation of our history''. Nana Oti Boateng has also recently began a renovation of his palace to give it a modern look.
A tributary of the Densu River also flows on the outskirts of the town. In the past it flowed carelessly and was at the mercy of the vagaries of nature. Modern technology, however, has made it possible for the river to be captured into a dam. The townsfolk sing well of this river when it is filled to the brim. Indeed, it water the land and fertilises the soil. It also provides drinking water for the people of Koforidua and its environs. When it dries up, however, the whole of Koforidua faces severe water shortage. These periods of perennial water shortage are hard times for the people, especially its womenfolk who have to travel long distances in search of water for their families. It is, however, play time for the young who just luxuriate in carrying buckets looking for water they never find.
In the ''good old days'' Obuotabiri became the people's saviour. It gave them water.
Because of its lush vegetation and giant mahogany trees, the mountains harbored a perpetual spring year round.
Now the mountain has lost some of its greenery. Local farmers till the land. Patches of cleared land can be seen from afar. The carefully arranged rocks like slates in a cupboard are now visible even from a long distance. In the past it was hidden from human view-the eyes of mortals.
On a morning after a heavy downpour, however, the mountain for a moment recaptures its lost greenery. As the dancing mountain is swallowed up in the morning's mist as it rises to the heavens the silvery wavering ray of the morning's sun curves and meanders its way through the clouds and lights up the whole mountain and nature is simply at its exuberance.
Some lovers of nature on seeing this legendary mountain today, would moan in a Romantic despondency:
How green was this mountain
Once upon a time
We no longer see