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Opinions of Saturday, 15 October 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

A stranger called Zingaro

…and blackmailing the president for a fair wage

By George Sydney Abugri

There is apparently more to the meteorological complications of climate change than the attendant extreme conditions of heat and cold and drought and floods, Jomo: Imagine great and mighty torrents suddenly cascading from the heavens over Accra and Kumasi in the middle of October and wreaking havoc on property, but never mind, for we have a more urgent task at hand:

Lend your imagination free rein with paint and brush to paint this picture, Jomo: It is one of a busty, full-bodied female with a shock of blond hair and in tight jeans rolled back to the knee from the heel, cowboy riding boots, tight-fitting designer blouse and sunglasses resting on her hair above the forehead:

Female rock star, right? Dead wrong. A university professor of anthropology! She had been invited by our faculty to deliver a lecture on research methodologies. For most students attending the lecture but especially those of us from Africa, this strapping young woman whose very body language seemed to create a magnetic field of sexual impulses around her, could not be a university professor.

I recall her making some introductory remarks about her upbringing in an English upper class family, some of the contradictions of British society, her school years, how the late Princess Diana allegedly made far from good “O Level” grades and how as a female, conducting yourself in a certain manner in some cultures tended to give some males the impression that you were ready “to drop your pants at the drop of a hat.”

Two students seated in the front row who were close friends, a young lad from Oxford and a young Scotsman, kept chatting while she was giving the introduction to her lecture. They apparently also made some lewd and sexist comments about her which she overheard.

She hit the roof and flew off the handle in one single stroke of righteous indignation, giving them a harsh dressing down and screaming at them to shut up or leave the lecture room. There was some murmuring all around and then a hush…

When she had recomposed herself and launched into her lecture, it turned out to be an expanded extract of a research study she had undertaken into the life of the Gypsies, along with an explanation of the design of the research methodology she employed in the study. Since she lived in Gypsy communities in the course of the study, hers was a fascinating revelation of the life of one of the most curious human races in all of creation, delivered by a most illuminating intellectual mind deceptively imprisoned in the body of a wild and bubbling sex pot… The Gypsies are non-Europeans so the mystery is how they have come to be so widely dispersed throughout Eastern Europe and the rest of the world. They are found in Greece, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Turkey, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Poland, Spain, North and South America and Australia. Perceived as mysterious wanderers, thieves and lazy people lacking in any form of social etiquette and manners, they are associated with prostitution, drug trafficking, disease and petty crime. If it helps matters, they are fantastic musicians as well!

It was initially claimed by scholars that the Gypsies who are bitterly hated through out Europe, originated from Egypt but it has now been established with evidence that they came from Northern India.

Substitute West Africa for Europe, the drought-stricken Sahel for Northern India and Fulani for Gypsies and you will appreciate why we Ghanaians need our anthropologists to help us understand a phenomenon that threatens security in our sub-region: The decades old and unending influx of Fulani into Ghana with nomadic habits more dangerous and deadly than anyone could ever attribute to the Gypsies.

That they have frequently been in the news for committing such crimes as cattle rustling, robbery, murder and rape and that their cattle keep rampaging across farmlands and forests destroying crops and vegetation have done little to endear them to the people of our republic.

By the way, of all the names for the Gypsies, the Italian version sounds the most musical-“Zingaro” {plural, “Zingari}. Unlike the relatively more peaceful Zingari of Europe, the activities of our own version of the Zinagari, apart from threatening the security of West Africa also have the potential to cause diplomatic friction between territorial neighbours in the region.

President John Mills and visiting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged in Accra last week, the gravity of the ever growing security threat from the activities of Fulani and the need for the enforcement of the laws regulating cross-border movement in the region.

To be able to contain the Fulani menace, it is necessary to first understand them from an anthropological perspective: Who are the Fulani? They are dispersed as far afield as Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Cameroun, the Gambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Chad and Ghana but where do they really originate from?. How come there is such a sharp and contradictory contrast in the perceived profile of the Fulani, one image of him being that of a shot-gun armed rural nomad trekking through the bush driving cattle and the other that of a more sophisticated Fulani who wields sophisticated and deadly weapons such as AK47 rifles and takes part in robberies in cities?

The Hausas lend us a clue: They make specific references to “Fulani biroro” {cattle- driving Fulani} and “Fulani gida” {urban Fulani}.

All people above 60 years who grew up in villages around Bawku in the Upper East Region will tell you that they became aware of the Fulani the moment they progressed from crawling around on fours to walking. Most of us unfortunately, neglected to ask our parents now long gone, where the fair skinned and slender Fulani came from to settle in our village.

The Fulani’s lived close to cattle kraals on the outskirts of our village of Zawse. They raised their own cattle and the cattle of village farmers who in turn, permitted them to keep all the milk from the cows. On “market days”, you would meet a long line of Fulani women carrying milk in huge gourds to Bawku town for sale.

It was a very serious taboo for any native to marry or engage in any sexual relationship with a Fulani.

While the taboos of my village made it impossible for the Fulani to integrate culturally and socially into our community, the case appears to have been different with other communities especially in Southern Ghana resulting in cases like the Agogo crisis.

The people of Agogo where many Fulani have settled with some claiming to be “Ghanaian Fulani” what ever that means are up in arms against the Fulani and the area has become a symbol of the worsening relationship between Ghanaian communities and the Fulani.

A foot note to this yarn is that you have been able to receive this letter only because I am the only labourer left standing in Ghana with my working accoutrements on the ever ready, Jomo.

Everyone else in our might republic is on strike demanding decent hikes in wages and unpaid emoluments: Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and teachers. I might add that prison inmates are demanding milk in their tea and toasted bread as well.

It is a sensitive issue in the case of the doctors. Many are asking how on earth physicians could abandon their patients to die in the name of crusading for a fair wage.

President Mills says the previous government initiated the project to migrate public sector wages to a single spine structure to enhance fairness and equity in public sector wages without providing the funding needed for the success of the project.

His political opponents appear far from impressed and insist that he take responsibility the problems facing the implementation of the project. All are curious to see how the latest round of strikes works out! Website: www.sydneyabugri.com Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com.