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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta

Inscriptions on Vehicles – Funny and Thought-provoking

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Aburokyire Driver: Inscriptions on Vehicles – Funny and Thought-provoking

After independence, it became common and easy for Ghanaians to own their own cars, buses and lorries. The days of driving for the colonial master were over and Ghanaians were full of optimism for the future. On most of these buses and lorries were inscriptions like: "Forward Ever, Backwards Never" (a slogan proclaimed by Dr. Nkrumah during the struggle for independence which also became part of the CPP battle song), "Ehan bi apue" (A light has appeared), "Fathia fata Nkrumah" (Fathia fits Nkrumah which also was the name of a popular cloth), G.H.A.N.A (God Has Appointed Nkrumah Already).

After the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah, the following inscriptions began to appear in front of lorries: "Nkrumah kwaseampani, danduruwaka sheege." (Nkrumah, a fool and a bastard. His mum's stinking ass-hole), "Fathia, ko wokurom" (Fathia go to your country), and many more profane ones which cannot be written in this article. This showed how short the memories of Ghanaians were at that time as we completely forgot about the good things Nkrumah did for Ghana but rather concentrated on his shortcomings.

After the 1966 coup, Ghana experienced coup after coup, rendering the country unhealthy for foreign investors. Ghana went through hardships, bribery, corruption and poor facilities in schools and in hospitals. This culminated into what became known during the PNDC era as "Rawlings chain," which appeared in front of some cars. During his first coming which overthrew a legitimate government, he could not find immediate antidote to the hunger which arose from bush fires resulting in low crop yields. The curvatures that appeared around the neck area due to hunger became known as Rawlings chain.

Many Ghanaians began to turn to God to provide for their needs when the going became tough. There was an increased number of Muslims and Christians throughout Ghana. This began to manifest in front of vehicles: "Onyame bekyere"(God will provide), “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). These slogans like many others which were already there, resurfaced. “Awurade huyen mmobo” (Lord have mercy on us), “Aka m'ani” (I am in trouble), “God is King”, “The road to Jesus”, “Hallowed be thy name” and many more. When all hope was lost, Ghanaians began to pray and trust the Lord to solve their problems for them.

When the going is good and many are able to afford new vehicles, the inscriptions on the vehicles denote happiness, satisfaction and contentment. Some of the inscriptions are: “Cash Man”, “Cool and Collected”, “Lover boy”, “Envy no man”, “Pe wodie” (Look for your own), “Otan nni aduro” (Hatred has no medicine), “Who Jah bless”, “Sea never dries”, “Ele Mawusi” (It is in the hands of God), and “I shall return”. The driver knows that since his bus or lorry is new, he will never be stuck on the way due to engine problem. He trusts his new vehicle. Most of these inscriptions can be found in a song which Nana Kwame Ampadu dedicated to the drivers of Ghana.

The inscriptions that are written on old cars are very interesting indeed. Some of them are: “W'ano pe asem” (You like gossipping), “Slow but sure”, “Poor no friend”, “Ebaahi” (It will be alright), “Fa w'ani hwe” (Just watch), “Monkey no fine”, “Ebaah Tsake” (Things will change), “Skin Pain” (a direct translation of Ahuoyaa), and “Dabi ebeye yie” (It will be good in the future)

When the inscription on the car reads:"Aburokyire driver", the driver may not necessarily have been to a Western country before, but probably he had obeyed traffic rules and had also driven carefully to avoid road accidents. He therefore likens his driving to drivers in the European countries where driving licenses are given under strict conditions and traffic rules are followed to the letter.

A driver was once arrested for illegally smuggling tons of cocoa through the border between Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. In front of his lorry was the inscription, "Honest Driver." How honest is this driver? These days there are more modern inscriptions which are even used by taxi drivers. Some of them are: “Psalm 23”, “Hearts, Arise and Shine”, “Fabulous, no size”, “Dzi wo fie asem” (Mind your own business). “Wonder Boy”, “Asoreba” (Church member) and many more.

There are also some inscriptions which are very funny. In a small town in Ghana, the chief was a womaniser and a dictator. He recruited people to collect levies from any driver entering the town. You paid the levy regardless of how many times you entered the town with passengers. A driver got furious and inscribed on the front of his bus: "The chief in this town is stupid." He was seen by some elders of the town who advised him to erase it immediately otherwise if the chief sees it he (the chief) will burn him alive. He erased it and wrote "STILL" in front of the bus. In effect he was implying that the chief was still stupid.

In another scenario in 1980, a driver who hated Rawlings for ordering the shooting of the senior Army officers in the former government, wrote in front of his lorry, "May God kill Rawlings". The police arrested him during a road-check and took him to the police station. He told the police that he had not finished the sentence when the paint got finished so he was on his way to buy more paint to complete it. Surprisingly the police allowed him to go and complete the sentence and come back to show it. He hurriedly went home and added, "enemies" to read: May God kill Rawlings' Enemies.

Another interesting thing is that sometimes both the driver and the artist are illiterate and they write grammar or spelling that is funny. The nice part is that, they don't know and they don't mind and the drivers drive away happily with inscriptions like: “Good Freind”; “No Miskate”; “Holly Ghoust”; “Blihgt Sky” (guess where that driver comes from) and many more funny ones. Then also, some of the artists are very gifted and write beautiful fonts but others also are very poor and put up art pieces that are eye sores.

It is important to know more about the philosophies behind some of these sayings. Ampadu says that some of these are words of wisdom, others are of hope, belief, expression of frustration, advice to others, etc. These drivers don't just write what they like. The words really mean something to them. Sometimes they emanate from some deep sub-consciouss desires. Something may have happened to the driver or car owner in the past that finds expression in the slogan on the vehicle. Sometimes through the efforts, seriousness and dedication of drivers, owners have been able to increase the fleet of buses they have. So when you see inscriptions like: “Honest labour”, “Ye obi die yie, na wode ako so” (If you approach somebody's work with seriousness, you will also succeed) you must think of what lies behind. Most of the writings we see are not just there but there is always a philosophy behind.

These writings or inscriptions have been the subjects of scholarly studies - essays and dissertations. This is all because they reveal something about us and our society/culture. They can tell us what we are. In the 70s, a German photographer came to Ghana and made a beautiful book about these writings. She took photos of these writings, wrote small poems about them and published them in a glossy book that sold for a lot of money in many European bookshops. Someone else also came to Ghana and made a glossy photo book of the artistic coffins, with shapes like fish, Mercedes Benz, canoe, cocoa pod etc. that are now common in Ghana. It is important that Ghanaians don't neglect the artistic and historic importance of these writings and begin to write books about them for posterity's sake. If the white man finds the writings funny, they mean something more serious to us. Ampadu says many drivers are even known by what is written on their vehicles. For instance, in the olden days somebody can go to the station saying he is going to take "Sea Never Dry" to his village or another can ask if "Wonder Boy" has already passed. He may have to go home and come back the following day if "Wonder Boy" has already gone by.

Dear reader, you may probably have seen more funny inscriptions like these or stories about such things. Do post your favourite vehicle inscriptions in the comment section.

Written by: Stephen Atta Owusu
Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads

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