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Opinions of Saturday, 10 May 2008

Columnist: Albion, Kojo

'Our Ancestors' Concept of time

OUR ANCESTORS’ CONCEPT OF TIME.

A Diplomat recently remarked in Ghana, Sunyani, to be precise, that Ghanaians

have no respect for time. Boy was she right!! Even in the Diaspora, ask Africo to

come to a Party at 7pm and he/she will show up a few minutes after nine or 10pm.

No, apologies- just the norm because we expect people to show up when they

feel like it.

“What about Kojo and Esi’s Wedding?”

“Why should you ask?”

“Hmmmm!! The Pastor and the invited guests were at the Church a few minutes before the appointed time but the bride, the groom and the host of relatives showed up 30 minutes after the appointed time and they did not see anything wrong with.”

What about the time that we went to Kweku Mensah’s Outdooring Ceremony? Would you believe that Egya Obir, an Uncle who has lost everything African, asked that we proceed without the couple and the baby? We all laughed and explained to Uncle that we

Africans have time regardless of where we are unless we are put on Oyibo’s schedule. Africo will wait till the last minute but because he is going to clock in for money or he/she may get fired, he/she makes it on time albeit at the last minute. “Gyae! Obroni ni time a? You lie bad, you have to be punctual or you will be looking for another job.”

Why is that? Well, simply put, we have different concepts of time. Our ancestors taught us very well that we are not slaves to time because time is one of the things that we have that is free. To us, s3be, “time is not money.” “Different but not deficient?”

One ancestor left us this statement, “In the West, almost all of them have watches but they have no time, here, most of us do not have watches but we have time.” Our concept of time is not linear and so we take our time to do everything. Do you know how long it takes to prepare gari from cassava? What about fufu and palm nut soup? What about going from Kanshie (Accra) to Nungua by “Tro Tro?” Please factor in the traffic congestion and the waiting period for the Tro Tro to fill up.

According to Dr John S. Mbiti (African Religions and Philosophy)- “The question of time is of little or no academic concern to African peoples in their traditional life. For them, time is simply a composition of events which have occurred, those which are taking place now and those which are inevitably or immediately to occur.”

Prof Mbiti goes on to say that to most traditional Africans, events to take place in the future constitute no time; it may be “potential time” but not “actual time.” Actual time is therefore what is present and what is past. People look backwards and not on what have not taken place. Who knows what may happen in the future? You may not be alive.

Whenever our ancestors were going to have a gathering and they informed others about “the time (?)” for the event, Akan people and others will say that the event will take place on a given day at noon, morning, night or dawn. Usually a messenger may be sent to go and call the participants or “the Gong Gong Beater” (Town Crier) will be sent out to announce that the event is about to take place. Then also there is the “Talking Drum” that will be used to summon the crowd to the event in some places.

Many years ago, our ancestors used to tell time by looking at the movement of the sun and so how will their descendants change to watches (and linear time) so easily? Therein lies the problem. Even when Ghana used to have “Ghana Always” yes, Ghana Always- it was predictable that a flight was not going to take off on time. The only saving grace was that many passengers, who were not sure of boarding the plane regardless of reservations, did show up on time before their seats were given to other passengers who may have been bumped from a previous flight or since overbooking was always the norm, you can’t be sure. Therefore, you better show up early and wait for hours or sometimes days.

Our past is once again in conflict with our future. Although our ancestors did not let time be a stressor, that legacy of showing up whenever you feel like it, is not working today. Imagine going on a two weeks business trip and you unfortunately decided to fly with Ghana Always. You are going to claim a shipping container at Tema Harbor. You do the math. No businessman/woman will tolerate the rest of the story. To us, it is the norm and s3be, most of us refuse to accept it. Ghana Always will delay you for days and then the red tape at the Harbor will give you a headache for weeks. You may even return to your post overseas and not see to the delivery of the container yourself. Too bad! The delay at the Harbor is still going on. Thank God, Ghana Always is history. Whew!

Please in the 21st Century, time is money, especially when it comes to other people’s time. You may have time to pretend that you are serious or you may pretend that you are very busy when “the main thing is not the main thing;” regardless of the circumstance, please respect other people’s time. The main thing is to respect time yourself. Will you please, show up on time, stay your full working hours and no matter what, resist telling people to go and come back the next day or two? Can you imagine when you told the group from Cape Coast that Friday in July 2007 to go and come back to Tema on Monday knowing fully well that you will not be available on that day? Your ‘no show’ cost them time, money and serious aggravation.

No wonder!!!

I rest my case. Your witness.

Kojo Albion
Email: albion1215@hotmail.com