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Opinions of Thursday, 22 September 2011

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

There Are No Tribes In Ghana!!!

By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo



We begin this essay by reaffirming our previous assertion that there are no tribes in Ghana. The phenomenon of language differences has no name in ancient or modern linguistics. Therefore the tagging of the various language groups as tribes is a clear misnomer which borders on the offensive. To illustrate the point, let us do what lawyers do best by using the simple analytical format called Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion (i.e. IRAC). The ISSUES at stake are:



1. Is there something called a Ghanaian tribe?



2. Can the various language groups in Ghana be designated as tribes?



In considering the first issue ( i.e. Is there something called a Ghanaian tribe?) we adopt the definition of an avowed adversary and a minion of the political myth – a fictional character called Kwame who made a truncated reference to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary under my article titled, “ Nkrumah, African Unity and Democracy II”. It turned out that the full unedited definition of "tribe" by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary is as follows: 1. (sometimes offensive) (in developing countries) a group of people of the same race, and with the same customs, language, religion, etc, living in a particular area and often led by a chief, e.g. tribes living in remote areas of the Amazonian rainforest. 2. (usually disapproving) a group or class of people, especially of one profession, e.g. He had a sudden outburst against the whole tribe of actors. 3. (biology) a group of related animals or plantsa tribe of cats. 4. (informal or humorous) a large number of people, e.g. One or two of the grandchildren will be there, but not the whole tribe.



Note that the use of "tribe" to refer to any group of humans is generally offensive, disapproving, humorous or implicative of primitiveness. As scholars, we are all guilty of using a term which is etymologically flawed to describe ourselves, and to denigrate each other based on a grossly illiterate referent. But let us stretch our imagination a bit and do the unthinkable by APPLICATION of the elements of tribe to the whole Ghanaian nation. Let us say that we Ghanaians could be regarded as one tribe.



Are we of the same custom?



Are we of the same race? Probably, if we consider all those European and people of different races who have opted to join our nation as Black in spirit. Do we have the same customs? Probably yes, insofar as our laws are the same and goes against the grain of any unlawful rituals and deviant ceremonies. Are we united by the same language? Probably yes, as long as we have the English language as the official language. Do we have the same religion? Probably yes, as long as a majority of Ghanaians believe in one god or another. Do we live in a particular area? Probably yes, as long as we are bounded by a legitimate boundary. We are also led by a chief (called President), and live in a relatively remote area, somewhat removed from the real world of global progress and intellectual discernment. Finally, we are a large group of people who the rest of the world presume to be rather backward (read primitive).



Thus, the CONCLUSION is that we are or might be one tribe called Ghanaians. From the above, the derogatory nature of the tag of “tribe” is still pretty much contrived as well as insulting if applied to the generality of Ghanaians. But the term becomes even worse as its meaning is contracted to describe groups that are predominantly defined by a common language:



ISSUE II: Can the various language groups be designated as tribes?



RULE: The full unedited definition of "tribe" by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary is as follows:



1. (sometimes offensive) (in developing countries) a group of people of the same race, and with the same customs, language, religion, etc, living in a particular area and often led by a chief, e.g. tribes living in remote areas of the Amazonian rainforest. 2. (usually disapproving) a group or class of people, especially of one profession, e.g. He had a sudden outburst against the whole tribe of actors. 3. (biology) a group of related animals or plantsa tribe of cats. 4. (informal or humorous) a large number of people, e.g. One or two of the grandchildren will be there, but not the whole tribe.



APPLICATION: Is there any language group in Ghana that is of a different race other than the typical Ghanaian? No. We are all Black. Is there any group with one custom? No. Custom is mostly restricted to the rural areas. Urbanites within the group follow their own predilections and are more prone to follow Western elitist customs. Is there any group that speaks only one language and whose tongue is so incomprehensible as to be understood by only the members of the group? Probably, but as linguists will tell you, describing the commonality of language is not that simple since there exists a sliding scale of differences by dint of education, profession and other social class distinctions. Besides, every individual is defined by his own unique language form called idiolect. Is there any language group with the same religion in Ghana? We need not contemplate religion because it is never the same with any group in Ghana. Each of us believe in God differently or else believe in no god……….



Is there any language group led by a single chief? No. There is no language group led by a single chief, and even if there is, the function of the traditional chief is totally irrelevant to the day to day lives of the people. The chiefs are totally powerless, since they are subject to the laws of the Republic. There are no tribal chieftains in the real sense of the word. Is there any language group that lives in the same area? No. No language group lives in the same area. All are capable of moving freely about and people of the same language often do.



CONCLUSION: Thus, there are no tribes in Ghana. There might be a tribe called Ghanaians, but no one can tag us as such without insulting our civilization. And the description of a people with the same language as tribe is flawed ab initio. There is no single word in the English language that exclusively describes people who speak the same language. Therefore our status as Asantes, Gas, Ewes, Dagombas, Frafras, Gurusis, etc is nondescript and unknown to the outside world. Indeed, those who have applied for jobs outside the country will tell you that there is no space on any forms wherever for any description based on language differences, and where employers ask you to put down a language you speak other than English, you are not likely to find any Ghanaian language included in the list. If at all, your language is likely to fall under the general rubric of “African Languages”. This is how insignificant your language is, and if that is what defines you, you are nonexistent. Thus your pride and superiority, based on the uniqueness of your language is completely idiotic, unrecognizable by those who matter most in the affairs of the world. In short, the basis for your superiority has no designation in modern intellectual thought.



Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Juris Doctor, lives in Austin, Texas. You can email him at sarfoadjei@yahoo.com