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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Columnist: Aidoo, Kobina

Characteristics of Banku

Before the …itis, there was adidas, also known as di na da(eat and sleep). The experts define it as the state of man immediatelyfollowing the consumption of heavy starchy food, whereby the individual loses motivationfor all activities except sleep (preferably under a tree with the wind blowing).This state is most violently precipitated after the consumption of Ghana’sversion of the omnipresent African starch ball—banku.

It is in such condition that I found myself 9 hours agoafter the consumption of banku, with tilapia and shito. My brother argues thatbanku as well as the other dense starch balls (pap, eba, tuo, akpleh, fufu,ugali, etc.) rob about 2 percentage points from our GDP growth every year, becausethey require so much of our mental and physical energy to digest, therebyleaving the Ghanaian worker with lower productivity than, say, his Swedishcounterpart. Maybe.

But I came to praise banku, not to bury it. Because 9 hoursafter my meal, not a single other calorie has touched my lips, and I feel fine. Wow.

My friend Sarah says the calories they feed us here in America—icecream, soda, etc.—are empty calories. They titillate the throat and make youfat but don’t fill you up, so you eat more and more and get fatter and fatter.Banku, on the other hand, is not that shallow. Banku gives you calories you canfeel in your stomach—oh, it titillates the throat too, thank you very much. Almost makes one think we should probably be droppingballs of banku to people stranded after earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. But, ofcourse, the poor disoriented victims could mistake the banku for grenades andrun away.

It would not be the first time people have mistaken bankufor ammunition. Back in the revolutionary days of J.J. Rawlings, there was suchan incident on the Accra-Winneba road. For the benefit of the unfermented amongstyou, Winneba (also known as Simpa or Windy Bay) is the town most associatedwith banku. You may not know this because the natives of Winneba still callbanku by its technical names: mbor, etsiw or O’benku. I’ve heard the Ga’s werethe ones who first called it banku. Too bad they never learned how to knead itproperly with the fingers rather than the palm. How rude!

Long before products like ‘Neat Banku’ came to market, thepeople of Winneba were at the forefront of the fight to prevent theintroduction of banku machines. In the opinion of the banku purists, machinescould destroy the dish’s bankusity. Some of the old folks say that the scent thatfills your house after the second day of fermentation of the corn is the signof the banku-to-be acquiring the characteristics of banku. Sorry Unilever, youcan’t duplicate that in a lab. In fact, so prevalent is banku, sorry, etsiw inWinneba life that a particularly dumb child is sometimes referred to as mbor;thus, one could construct a sentence such as “abofra yi, oyeh mbor paaaaa!”(this child has the characteristics of banku paaaaa!)

Anyway, back to my story….so in the days of revo,Windybayrians (citizens of Winneba) living in Accra would import etsiw into thebig city. On a trip from Winneba to Accra on a Benz bus, one middle-aged mancomplained of screeching hunger and begged his fellow passengers for a bite ofbanku. They all claimed to be banklueless. Our man was deeply hurt because heknew there was no way a bus from Winneba to Accra did not have a ball—more likely,balls—of banku on board. Also in thedays of the revo, the soldiers would stop and search cars randomly. Halfway toAccra, this bus appeared to have been so stopped. It turned out it was actuallynot quite so random. They soldier men said they had intelligence that there wasammunition on the bus, so all should empty their bags. When the passengersstarted emptying their bags, come and see banku! At which time the hungry, now angry,man said, “Eeeeeeeei! Winneba people are wicked. You all told me you had nobanku. I didn’t know that banku was ammunition.” To this day, some of the peoplewho remember this story still refer to banku as ammunition.

But banku has also played a role in peacekeeping. You probablylearned in primary school that Dr. Alex Quaison-Sackey was the first African tobe president of the UN General Assembly. True. The late diplomat was also aproud son of Winneba, so he acquired the sour taste very early. He wentstraight from breast to banku, so to speak, and never let go! So close was AmbassadorQuaison-Sackey’s relationship for banku that while his banku was beingprepared, he had a habit of rubbing his fingers and palm as if already eating abanku. It’s not clear if this motion was a sign of anticipation, impatience orjust a warm-up before the big game. There is rumored to be a picture of himmaking the banku-kneading motion in the middle of a motion on the floor of the GAto end the Israeli-Arab conflict, so some have suggested it was his signal tohis old lady to start boiling the water.

Maybe we should give soldiers banku when they go to keep towar. I mean, a dozen balls of banku would take an infantry man through a world.The only problem is that adidas may set in just when we need them to fight, andwhen you feel adidas coming on, trust me, there’s no fighting it. Oh, well.

Kobina Aidoo, a proudson of Winneba, is a public policy analyst in Washington, DC.