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Opinions of Sunday, 2 September 2018

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

In defence of freedom of speech and expression

You can never deny free speech to the Ga man or woman.

If you try, you will probably hear about your mother.

On Wednesday evening, I went through La Maamli, in the company of my two sons.

One of my favourite haunts is the La Kpaa Tso? Shishi, the sacred foliage grove offices of the chief priest.

The occasion was the H?m?w? Sh?, that is, H?m?w? Wednesday.

It is the day appointed for the male and female elements of the deity to embrace at exactly midday thus symbolising that the fasting and abstinence of the people, and especially of the priests and priestesses have been accepted by the deities who arrived in town on Tuesday.

Lo and behold there he was, the La Kpaa Wul?m?; Nuumo Y?mo Obroni VII, Nii Kakada??, Kantankani Boafo.

We had a warm and happy embrace.

Yes, me. I embrace the Deity- both in flesh and in spirit.

‘I am using your medium to remind all priests and priestess of La to fast and avoid sex,’ Nuumo Yemo Obroni told Papa Israel in Ga on Radio Lat?nu when the Gb?mli Laa, the ban on drumming and noise making and call to piety was launched last year.

Nuumo Y?mo Obroni is learned. He grew up around Bunso Junction and Osiem in the Eastern Region where his ancestors had a farm.

He therefore also understands Akan culture and the concept of the deity in various other communities.

Last year, I was Nuumo Y?mo Obroni’s host in my capacity as station manager of Radio Lat?nu 96.1MHz…..even though I am not Ga; that is how inclusive and tolerant the Gas have always been.

On each occasion when he visited our studio, he prayed with a bottle of water we gave him and he ended, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

To lead the Ga people you better be tough, with a skin of Teflon. And though I was as station manager of a Ga radio station.

On one occasion, when I was cooling off somewhere, I heard La Kpaa Wul?m? on the station. It was not planned. I ordered the interview to end in five minutes. And it did.

Freedom of speech and expression all over the world has a lot of clawback clauses; you cannot simply shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded cinema hall.

And media managers better be tough, especially in areas where there are lots of cultural disputes.

One occasion when I was passing through the chief priest’s kp?k?a?? (to wit, his lair) in the company of my indefatigable news editor, we went to greet him.

‘You were the one,’ charged the Wul?m? at me. ‘You’re very lucky, I would have hit you on your head with my stick.’

We had a good laugh and went on to discuss a possible media production for TV.

Kpa is transliterated to mean covenant, as in Kpaam? Hee L?, to wit, The New Testament Bible.

Awula Naa Nii Amon, the Nubian Empress from B??te-We in Nungua, agrees.

She, however, adds her own phenomenological interpretation to say La is fire. La Kpaa will, therefore, mean ‘Fire covenant or fire cord (Kpaa),’ which lends itself further to arcane symbology.

My version is that it is a fire bond under the midday Sun.

This week’s traditional H?m?w? observances bring to mind the need to remind ourselves of our values, notable among which is freedom of speech.

From now until next week Friday and Saturday, the seventh and eight of September, the place to be is La or T?shi.

As part of the ban on drumming and noise making, there is no music played in La except the Kpa Lala, Amlakui Alala and Kpats?? Lala, pure vocals with virtually no musical instruments.

These are very well thought out group songs with lead vocalists, almost always male, with the group members breaking in with a chorus.

Is that Anunte FM…the “serial caller” to radio programmes? Anunte FM wears his Muslim cap and performs with the Amlakui to show that God is one and the same.

The songs of the Amlakui- male groups from La ?matii jras??, are chanted in praise of the deity during H?m?w? Sh?, the H?m?w? Wednesday, when the male and female elements of the deity embrace. They are required for the ceremony of the day to take place.

The T?shi Kpaa Lala is faster as it is rendered with quick, spirited, agile movements accompanied by the eight flags representing the clan houses.

There is also a ninth and independent group, under no clan house- Pot, or as Dr Oko Boye, the T?shi Lejokuku MP will say, P??tu?. If you will call it G8 plus Africa.

The themes of these songs are legion.

The essential point for media scholars and researchers, and researchers in law, is that during this period, accusations of libel and defamation are not entertained.

From the Radio Lat?nu studio, we once broadcast songs that cast innuendoes on, nay mentioned directly, a priestess who was thought to be a thief.

As you can guess, the true Ga mind is capable of entertaining an unfettered liberalism.

So when we got calls from some T?shi listeners, telling us that those songs ought to be played only in homes and drinking bars, but not on radio, we knew that those callers were misinformed.

There was a song composed by Koney Ray and his group, Mafia Wonders, in praise of Radio Lat?nu’s promotion of community development and libertarianism.

Make no mistake; to be station manager of Radio Lat?nu is an important community leadership role.

Even though last year, I left Lat?nu under controversial and as yet unresolved circumstances, so far I haven’t heard any ‘new release’ song about me.

Maybe one day, there will be one after the necessary now stalled investigation has been completed.

Songs are composed to castigate even chiefs and I’m nobody in terms of the traditional hierarchy.

The Ga people cherish their liberty, particularly freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of conscience.

On Wednesday, my boys and I saw three gays, one was in pink hot pants, for the American readers, I mean knickers. They walked about freely; nobody even paid them any attention.

Why?

Notwithstanding that it was the season for free speech and expression; gays have always been part of the traditional African culture contrary to the rants of the misinformed and plain bigots.

When I left the embrace of Nuumo Y?mo Obroni, around 8 PM, I saw that he returned to his usual self-composed effect, his black and white beard as terrifying as ever as he continued to offer supplications for the people to refrain from immorality.

Immorality here includes inviting someone’s wife or husband for shenanigans, stealing mobile phones or sexually assaulting the young girls who had flooded La Maamli from all over Accra.

People were just moving about, trying to see what others were coming to see.

You could go round the Maamli or enclave several times, just looking for people to embrace in the manner in which the priests and priestesses did.

It is called Shakam?, a gentle hug, not tight with any of the amorous intentions you may have harboured towards that man or lady.

Curiously, the mass movement was from left to right, with virtually no spacing, through the circular enclave of La Maamli.

Ironically, in a society that cherishes freedom of speech and expression, the National Communications Authority (NCA) has granted the same 96.1MHz, as the channel for two Ga community radio stations, Radio Lat?nu in La and Amani? FM in Laat?bi?k?shi.

If you work in the government ministries enclave and Jubilee House, the Ghanaian president’s office, just about two kilometres to the left of La and Lat?nu, you’ll get a poor reception and interference from these two Ga radio stations, both broadcasting on 96.1MHz.

Lat?nu broadcasts in pure Ga.

Community radio stations are given very severe restrictions on commercial activity by the NCA.

In order to survive, therefore, Amani? FM uses a multilingual approach to attract sponsorship, even though the Ga language dominates.

Is it fair that there are about a double dozen Twi speaking radio stations in Accra, but only one pure Ga station?

It is indeed a discriminatory abomination visited on the indigenes right here in the Ga heartland of Accra.

Talk about someone’s mother.

Obonu 96.5FM, the state broadcaster, despite their best efforts, broadcast in Ga, Krobo, Dangbe and English, and on important occasions, broadcast in other Ghanaian languages as well.

If you do cherish freedom of speech and expression then visit La and T?shi this week and next week up to Saturday.

But first, you must ensure that you have not been guilty of arbitrary and or capricious conduct in your home, office or social group.

Otherwise, you may well hear your person being roundly admonished in song.

And in the spirit of the season, you must be prepared to hear it- without taking offence.

Af? mi y? Ga means I was born in Accra. It is a way to stake your claim when you want to have your space to say exactly what is on your mind.

Aga mi y? f?; is an anagram of Af? mi y? Ga which means the third party you’re dealing with understands Ga very well so be careful not to scandalize him in your speech.

Email: ato@writersghana.com.