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Opinions of Sunday, 5 April 2009

Columnist: Asante, Kofi

Leave Our Lands Alone!!!

Tutuola’s palm wine drinkard, his conundrum and lessons in our politics

The great Nigerian folklorist, Amos Tutuola, is most famous for his celebrated work, The Palm wine Drinkard and His Dead Palm wine Tapster in Dead’s Town, in which the Palm wine Drinkard undertook a journey to the Dead’s Town to bring back his Palmwine Tapster to continue the work he was doing for him. On his way from Dead’s Town, the Palm wine Drinkard whiled away time in the court of a certain town, and was one day unexpectedly called upon to deliver judgment upon a couple of cases that had baffled all the legal minds in the town. I’ll also (humbly) call upon my readers to deliver their verdict on experiences we’ve had in this dear nation of ours. But let me not get ahead of myself, for we need to first hear the problem of our poor Palmwine Drinkard. The case went thus:

In that town, there lived the laziest cocoon who ever crawled upon the face of a leaf! In fact, he doesn’t know what work is, for he’s never ever worked. He made his living by borrowing money (and so, let’s call him Borrower), which he never paid back. About a year ago, he went to his friend (let’s simply call him Friend) to borrow some money, let’s say about ¢2,000. Without hesitation, Friend, true to his nature, lent him ¢2000. After a year, Friend went to claim his money, but Borrower refused to pay back. He told him that all his life, he’s subsisted by borrowing money and not paying it back, and he wasn’t prepared to start paying back any debt. Friend promised him that sooner or later, Borrower will be forced to ‘vomit’ the money.

Friend went to Debt Collector and commissioned him to retrieve his money. He was an excellent Debt Collector with a proven track record. He promptly went to Borrower and demanded repayment. Borrower told him that he had no other work than to borrow money and that since he was born, he’d never repaid a loan. Debt Collector looked at him and shook his head, smiled and said, you lie bad! Now, as this was going on, some man, lets call him Onlooker, passing by and seeing what was happening, stopped to watch, for he was immensely excited by the spectacle and wanted to see how it would end.

In the course of the argument with Debt Collector, Borrower realised that Debt Collector was bent on getting back the debt money. So what did he do? He pulled out a knife and drove it into his own stomach; he fell down and died instantly and went to Asamando. Debt Collector felt cheated. He’d never failed retrieving a debt and the death and departure of Borrower was going to stain his impeccable cv. He instantly decided to follower Borrower to Asamando to retrieve the money. So he picked up the bloodstained the knife and stabbed his stomach, dying instantly and also going to Asamando. Onlooker had gotten so engrossed in the whole argument. When the two men had both stabbed themselves and gone to Asamando, he stood for some time, still interested in knowing how the whole dispute will end. So he also reached for the knife and lodged it in his stomach, and also went to Asamando.

The legal brains in the courts were unable to decide who was guilty on the bloodshed, which had happened just that morning. Upon our Palm wine Drinkard fell the heavy task of determining who the guilty party was. What he had to determine was whether the fault was Friend’s, who gave the loan in the first place; or whether Onlooker should be blamed for looking on and not doing anything; or whether, even if Onlooker could have done something, it would have amounted to much, since both Debt Collector and Borrower were sticking stubbornly to their positions, and were even prepared to continue their fight in Asamando. By the end of the book, neither the Palm wine Drinkard nor Tutuola himself had found an answer to the conundrum, and they made an appeal to all who can to help solve it. I’m quite sure we have more than enough wise women and men in Ghana to help us solve this puzzle.

In the past few weeks, controversy surrounding the office complex of ex-president Kuffuor has attracted intense controversy. Just when Ghanaians thought they’d had enough of political bickering and government was making frantic efforts to get an amicable settlement of the deadlock, we were terribly shocked by the incitement of ethnic tensions to bar the former president from use of the office. Fortunately, the Ga Mantse came out strongly with the point that the group wasn’t representative of the Ga people and that he has absolute trust in the presidency to affective deal with the return of Ga lands; but not before other groups had suddenly sprung from various quarters of the country claiming, quite foolishly, that they wanted no ‘foreigner’ on their soils and that resources from their area should only be used to develop that area.

It’s very natural for us to vent all our spleen on the politicians for creating the conditions for (and indeed, sometimes actively inciting) ethnic sentiments. But like the Palm wine Drinkard’s puzzle, aren’t there other equally culpable actors? The journalists who report, distort, and amplify such stories; the civil society groups (whatever that means) who keep silent until things get out of hand; the very people engaging in these dreadful actions etc etc etc.

I’m quite confident that the government, together with all the other political parties will be committed to easing the tensions that were raised recently. But, although we all feel quite smug in the idea that we’re a special people with a God-given peace which can’t be broken, we need to remember that we’re still battling scattered incidents of chieftaincy disputes. The sporadic conflicts in the north should also serve as sensitive reminders to us of the frailty of peace.

It’s quite a shame that we allow ethnicity (tribalism) to divide us. According to Peter Ekeh, another prominent Nigerian writer (of theory, not fiction), tribalism in Africa emerged as a result of the failure of state to protect citizens from the ravages of the slave trade, as a result of which families banded together in order to be their own protection. After just celebrating 52 years of nationhood, I would want to believe that we’ve got a state absolutely able to come to the defence of it’s citizens, so the resort to ethnic sentiments in our political and socioeconomic lives isn’t just sad, but also a great shame on the progress we’ve made so far. It’s also a great show of hypocrisy on the part of all of us; for how many of us haven’t gone after, and indeed have, sweethearts of other ethnicities!

Well, as I said in the beginning, the Palm wine Drinkard had to solve two puzzles; we can save the second puzzle for another day. For now, I call upon the wise women and men of this great nation to offer solutions of the ethnic divisions we have on our hands.

Kofi, affectionately called Mpakoo (if you speak Ga), or Agya Koo (if you speak Akan)

The writer is a graduate of Hampstead Academy Formerly Hampstead Preparatory School

Korle Gonno mpakoo@yahoo.com