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Opinions of Monday, 29 December 2008

Columnist: Awuyah, Kwame Adin

A Pig with a Lip Stick is still a Pig

Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe’s “Scholarship” on Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho: “A Pig with a Lip Stick is still a Pig” - so says President-elect Obama.

Professor Okoampa-Ahoofe’s spurious narrative on Ghanaweb (12/21/2008) is yet another example of his cultural war against Ewes. This submission is his latest act of sputtering. I will not take on every aspect of the essay since it is entirely built on sand. I will only address the part about the poetry of Professors Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho. I have to rein in the temptation to launch a vociferous counterattack. Instead, I must temper my response with moderation in deference to Ghanaweb’s general readership. As a seasoned professor, Okoampa-Ahoofe is aware that he could present his argument about Awoonor and Anyidoho at a gathering of African literary critics where he might garner critical attention.

I will not make much issue of the reference to Robert Fraser. (According to Okoampa-Ahoofe, “the British scholar and literary critic, Robert Fraser, [makes] observation[s] regarding the poetry of the two leading neo-oral Ewe practitioners of the trade, namely, Professors Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho” Ghana web, 12/21/2009). Okoampa-Ahoofe does not provide the context of referencing Fraser’s work. But if the source is Fraser’s West African Poetry, I must state that this collection is sweeping, quaint, and not tangential since it does not represent the complex and dramatic poetic traditions across West Africa. It is pretentious for any scholar to attempt to deal with the poetic traditions of a region of over 150 million people who produce poetry in multiple languages and diverse modes.

For starters, the segment about Awoonor and Anyidoho seems to be non sequitur. Even a cursory reading of Okoampa-Ahoofe’s essay shows its transparent flaws. It is fraught with a careless and weak argument. Actually, Okoampa-Ahoofe makes the same specious remarks in his previous essay, “Kofi Awoonor: “Tribal” Neo-Oralist”, which appeared in 8.2 Nassau Review, 2001, an in-house publication of Nassau Community College, where Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe is currently teaching. I should note that almost all of Okoampa-Ahoofe’s works have appeared by electronic publications, or in Nassau Review, which is not a blind, peer reviewed, and refereed publication. However, I am not going to hit him below the belt.

In the essay, “Kofi Awoonor: ‘Tribal’ Neo-Oralist”, Okoampa-Ahoofe argues that “Awoonor is primarily a poet of his Ewe ethnicity” as if writing out of his indigenous cultural roots by itself limits Awoonor’s poetic essence. Interestingly, Okoampa-Ahoofe supports his contention with Adrian Roscoe, a neo-colonialist scholar (Mother is Gold, 1971). It is amusing that he would cite Roscoe, a prominent western critic of African literature, who believes the British Empire still holds sway over the former colonies. Perhaps Okoampa-Ahoofe might not have read Ayi Kwei Armah’s famous essay (“Larsony: Fiction as Criticism of Fiction.” First World, 1977) about Roscoe and Charles Larson. Armah merely glimpsed at these colonialist scholars of African literature. But even a glance from Armah can be devastating. According to Armah, Larson and Roscoe are “larsonists”, the standard bearers of Eurocentric criticism of African writing. Thus, Okoampa-Ahoofe’s work is outdated and lacking in relevance when he advances Roscoe as the authorizing voice behind his (Okoampa-Ahoofe’s) criticism of Awoonor’s poetry. The fact is Roscoe and others can only be seen in the rear view of African history. Most African literary critics have moved on and you would hardly find any worthy African scholar who would cite Roscoe.

Here are excerpts from Okoampa-Ahoofe’s narrative on Awoonor and Anyidoho:

“According to Mr. Fraser, both Awoonor and Anyidoho write with such a parochial literary canvass that it is almost as if these poets want their readers believe that the geopolitical landscape of Ghana were too large to be organically articulated in their several volumes of poetry. In other words, according to Mr. Fraser, the Volta Ewe and their strip-mall of a province exclusively constitutes the entire worldview of these otherwise fairly fine poets” (Ghanaweb, 12/21/09).

It is apparent here that Fraser has become a substitute voice for Okoampa-Ahoofe. The crux of Okoampa-Ahoofe’s argument is that the local context makes a writer provincial. Going by that standard, we would dismiss the works of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Pope, Yeats, Achebe, Ngugi, Lamming, etc. Indeed, there would hardly be any writer left on the list of world literature. The epic poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad, celebrate Greek heroism and yet these works have wide global appeal. Well known Greek dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides produce their dramatic works out of the religious and political contexts of Athens and Mycenae. It is not possible to appreciate Yeats’ work separate from the Dublin/Irish landscape. Sundiata, Epic of Old Mali, and Gassire’s Lute are oral narratives about ancient Mali and Old Ghana, respectively. Mwindo Epic also deals with the heroic traditions of the local Banyanga people of Kivu province, which is around the border of Rwanda and Congo Republic. Soyinka’s Yoruba tradition is the wellspring for his creative works. The Yoruba god, Ogun, is an enigmatic force in Soyinka’s theater. Things Fall Apart is in its 50th year. Achebe’s Umuofia, in Eastern Nigeria, is the local context to appreciate the experience of Okonkwo, the vibrant protagonist of Achebe’s novel.

To paraphrase Goethe, artists reach into the earth they walk on and scoop the earth with their hands. That piece of earth is the subject of their writing. Nadine Gordimer (South African writer) also expressed the same sentiments about her own writing. It is a way of writing from within, inside. Kofi Awoonr and Kofi Anyidoho have drawn on metaphors and philosophies from their Ewe root. They have woven these ingredients into rich tapestries, which are acclaimed artistic works. Awoonor and Anyidoho are major Ghanaian and African writers, because of drawing from their Ewe cultural roots.

Historicist and other cultural critics recognize the contexts of an artistic product. Awoonor and Anyidoho have made important contributions to Ewe, Ghanaian and African literatures. They have tapped into their indigenous root and have found gems to share with the world. Awoonor’s “halo” or song of abuse, and song of sorrow, extend the dimensions of those genres in world literature. Anyidoho’s poetry is a realization of the vibrancy of the spoken word and a journey into the collective memory. Ancestrallogic and Caribbeanblues and Until The Morning After, respectively, by Anyidoho and Awoonor, result from the grafting of Ewe sensibilities onto other realities. Anyidoho’s Praise Song for The Land is a celebration of the oral heritage of Ewe people.

Previously, I wrote a rejoinder to Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe’s call for civil war in Ghana. I have also responded to his outlandish claims about President Nkrumah. I have refrained from engaging Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe since I need every moment to attend to my professional and family obligations. It is impossible to engage Okoampa-Ahoofe constantly since that would only reveal my own inadequacy. The learned professor is a prolific writer, a mainstay on Ghanaweb, and Lord of the web.

It appears Okoampa-Ahoofe thrives through notoriety. There is not much to find in his drivel and tired prose. Often he launches into pompous language and obscurantism to mask his lack of substance. However, once you peel away his grandiloquent language, you would discover a man who is consumed by tribal hate. Prof. Okoampa-Ahoofe’s verbal padding is merely a ruse to hide his intent of waging a cultural war against Ewe citizens of Ghana. It is precisely because of these reasons I must write a rejoinder. Let there be no doubt, Ewes are an integral part of the Ghanaian family. They share a common destiny with Asantes, Fantes, Gas, Hausa, Dagombas, Frafras, Akyems, Akwapims, Adangbes, etc.

As a sort of coda to this essay, I wish to state that Okoampa-Ahoofe’s bombastic language sags his narrative and burdens his argument. Regardless of the high flown language, a poorly composed essay remains a sub-standard work. By analogy, a pig with adornments, fineries, and make-up is still a pig.

Prof. Kwame Adin Awuyah, PhD