You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2009 08 29Article 167760

Opinions of Saturday, 29 August 2009

Columnist: Dotse, A. Kobla

Rejoinder: Tribal-based Churches; Do we need them?

Religion, Politics and Ethnicity-2

The self-acclaimed Ewe-bashing Yaw Opare-Asamoa has once again ventured into a territory that he is not familiar with and has tried to spew his usual garbage (http://www.modernghana.com/news/233255/1/ewe-church.html). Yaw Opare-Asamoa made some interesting points, although with shallow historical facts. The half-baked historical references were made on pick-and-choose basis to support his diabolical plan rather than availing himself with readily accessible facts to educate him. To some of us, his article lacks historical and intellectual credence. It shows how some of these folks can go out shouting for the sole purpose of being heard. They have little knowledge on the History of the E. P. Church.

Most of the time, quarrels and serious conflicts are fueled by intended ignorance from such types as Yaw Opare-Asamoa. It should be noted that history plays an important role in the case we are dealing with. Yaw Opare-Asamoa seems to be oblivious of the history of the different religions in the world, including the multiple denominations of the Christian religion.

In this rejoinder, we will try not to descend into the dirty gutter with Yaw Opare-Asamoa. Instead, we would like to help rescue him from the gutter that he has descended into and try to clean the dirty hands and mind that he has been using to write these mischievous articles. Since Yaw Opare-Asamoa is our compatriot, we would like to assure him that Ewes have what it takes to even Love him and his cronies the more by providing the necessary resources and platform for the oneness that he has been crying for in his postings. Yaw Opare-Asamoa was previously educated on similar issues as published on GhanaWeb.com (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=164873).

When we first read the article, we were incensed by Yaw Opare-Asamoa's total ignorance and/or deliberate attempt to irritate Ewes once again. Our immediate reaction was to respond since one of us knows quite a bit about and have written brief articles previously on the history of the Ewe Presbyterian Church; having been brought up and schooled in the Church as the son and grandson of Presbyters (Hamemegawo) and Churchmothers (Hamedadawo); having travelled to Peki Blengo in 1947 as a member of the Keta E. P. Church Choir to celebrate the Centenary of the founding of the church; and also having attended Mawuli School, Ho, where one of us played the organ and the piano during church services.

First, let us take this opportunity to educate Yaw Opare-Asamoa on the true history of the evolution of the E. P. Church and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the two Presbyterian churches in present-day Ghana.

The most relevant document which would have educated Yaw Opare-Asamoa, if he had taken the trouble to conduct any research before writing his lame article, unless his sole purpose was to pick on Ewes is: "The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 150 Years of Evangelization and Development 1847-1997," Editor: Gilbert Ansre, Publisher: Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 1997, Ho, Ghana. This is a very useful and excellent little book (236 pages) that comprehensively summarized the religious, cultural, sociological, political and economic history and development of the E. P. Church as well as the Ewe people and their interactions with their neighbours, including the Akwamus and the Asantes. It also talked about the various religious beliefs and practices of the Ewes before the German Missionaries opened the first church at Peki in Krepiland in 1847.

Another good reference source that contains information on the history and development of the E. P. Church is the article titled "Christianity and the Ewe Nation: German Pietist Missionaries, Ewe Converts and the Politics of Culture" by Birgit Meyer (Research Centre Religion and Society, University of Amsterdam) published by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2002, Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 32, Fasc. 2, The Politics of Mission (May, 2002), pp. 167-199.

The missionary organization which began evangelization among the Ewes was called the North German Mission Society, because its origins were in northern Germany. According to "Ewe Mission Nutinya 1847 - 1936 by P. Wiegrabe" the organization of the North German Mission Society began in Hamburg and later moved to Bremen and became known as BREMEN MISSION. And because Hamburg and Bremen are in Northern Germany, it is also called Norddeutsche Missionsgesellshaft. It is one of the many societies formed in the early part of the 19th Century as inspired by the Pietist Movement and the Christian Awakening in the 17th and 18th Centuries. These movements were themselves the result of the Reformation which took place in the early 16th Century.

The Basel Missionary Society was founded in 1815. It opened a Missionary Training Center in Basel, Switzerland, and sent out its first missionaries to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1828 and settled at Christiansburg, about 100 miles from Cape Coast where they established a school at Osu.

In Germany, all Protestants Mission Societies (Lutheran and Reformed Protestants) had an open meeting on 10th June, 1835 at Stade and formed one North German Missionary Society on 11th April 1836. On 5th May 1847, Lorenz Wolf, Luer Bultman, James Graff and Karl Flato landed at Cape Coast in the Gold Coast to begin missionary work. After Bultman and Flato passed away, disappointed but not discouraged Wolf and Graff left Cape Coast for Christiansburg as guests of the Basel Missionaries. Upon consulting with the Basel Missionaries about untapped mission fields they were encouraged to turn to Eweland. At that time there were trade links between the Peki in Eweland and the people of Accra near Christiansborg where the Peki people bought European goods, including guns and ammunition.

The Norddeutsche Missionsgesellshaft after arriving in Blengo, the capital of Peki (Krepiland) on 14th November 1847 started the first Bremen Mission Church at the invitation of Kwadzo Dei II, Tutu Yao, the powerful king of Krepi, whose son Prince Nyangamatu, was a student in the Basel Mission School in Accra. From Peki, the Church expanded to the coastal town of Keta in 1853 and Anyako across the Keta Lagoon, in 1857 (see P. Wiegrabe). Thus, whilst the Basel Mission settled on the eastern part of the then Gold Coast west of the Volta River, the Bremen Mission first settled in Peki (Krepiland), Keta and Anyako (Anloland) which were also part of the Gold Coast east of the Volta River, and later into Togo.

During the barbarian War of 1869-1874, led by Adu Bofo, many northern and mid-Ewes were killed or made to flee. The Krepi States, under Chief Dompre and the Peki leader pooled their forces, defeated the Asante and the allied Akwamu with the help of the British, the Ga and Akim. The Krepis then retired to the top of the Gemi hill near Amedzorpe but, the Asantes were determined to continue the attack by attempting to climb the steep slope of the hill. Dompre’s men, fought back by rolling huge rocks down the hill and crushing the enemy, thus preventing them from reaching the top. After finding the war difficult to fight due to the terrain, lack of food and gun powder, Adu Bofo retired with his men in defeat! There is an Ewe song in honour of this victory that partly reads ''Matre Gemito ....., Maa.......Kpando, ......nge Kpalime, ...... shashasha!'' meaning ''I shall climb Mount Gemi, and see Kpando and also Kpalime. I shall see them clearly…,,"

Recently, we were reminded by Kofi Amenyo on GhanaWeb.com (2008-05-09) that at the Berlin Conference in 1884 when Africa was formally divided among the colonial powers, Germany obtained a piece of land between the French territory of Dahomey (now Republic of Benin) and the British territory of Gold Coast (now Republic of Ghana). Trans-Volta Togoland (TVT) was part of the larger German colony of Togo on the west coast of Africa that was taken over by the British, who controlled the Gold Coast nearby, and the French who had Dahomey on the other side during the First World War. After the war, the area was then partitioned between the British and French occupying powers on 27th December 1916 with the British taking 33,775 sq km of area stretching from Ho to almost near the border with the Upper Region. This land became known as British Togoland with the larger French occupied area (now Republic of Togo) known as French Togoland. On July 20, 1922, the League of Nations formally transferred control of British Togoland to the United Kingdom. The coastal parts of the present Volta Region, which were more homogeneously Ewe (mainly Anlo speaking) than the northern parts, had long been transferred to the British from the Danes after the Berlin Conference of 1844 and had never been under German administration. These coastal areas have always been part of the Gold Coast, now called the Republic of Ghana. These Ghanaians will therefore never vacate the land of Ghana as being trumpeted by those “faceless cyber Ewe-hating mud slingers!”

TVT became the Volta Region of Ghana after the plebiscite of Wednesday the 9th of May 1956, when the northern part of the region decided to join the Gold Coast. As we indicated earlier, the previous carving apportioned the Southern Volta, including Aflao, to the British colony prior to independence. The carving must have troubled the people of the area who suddenly saw themselves answering to a different colonial master in another language. Although Aflao, Keta, Anloga, etc. have never been part of the German colony, German influence in these areas was strong mainly because of German missionary activity. The influence is also strong because of the long standing trading links with their Ewe speaking brethren in the nearby German colony dating to pre-colonial days. Before the German Empire colonized what became Togoland, German explorers and missionaries were quite well established in what we call Eweland. In fact, it is well documented that the German Empire was at first reluctant to establish a colony in "Togo." Subsequently, missionaries from Northern Germany appealed to the Reich to secure the territory to allow them to continue their missionary work unhindered.

The Germans, after establishing themselves in the area, carried out missionary activities whereby bringing some form of schooling and literacy. Like many other Protestant missionary societies, they saw language studies as a necessary prerequisite for what it took to do their work properly. Hence, mastery of the Ewe language was considered the most important tool for achieving the goal of their mission. They developed the Ewe alphabet, wrote the Ewe Bible and used the language as the medium of instruction in their schools and churches. Standard Ewe, which is a unique achievement, was based on the coastal Anlo dialect with addition of elements from other dialects of the Ewe language. This written, grammaticised “Ewe language” is the language taught at school and church, and which every Ewe understands. The missionaries even taught the language to non-Ewe speaking minorities living in Eweland. These developments, among others, also brought other opportunities to the area.

It should be noted that the southern part of the German territory is called “Ewe-dukor” or Ewe-land, hence, the adoption of the name “Ewe” Church, just as the other mission in “Ghana” was named appropriately. In the same way as the missionaries turned different “dialects” into one “language”, and scattered “tribes” into one “people,” they wanted to turn the worship of local “idols” into the membership of the Protestant Ewe church because, according to the mission, the Ewe nation would find its ultimate expression in the Christian Ewe church. Participation in the Ewe church demanded that people supplement their local way of speaking with standard Ewe as it was defined and taught by the mission. So, if other Ewes were made to learn, speak and write standardized Anlo Ewe, why not other ethnic groups in Ghana? As indicated above, the fact that the word Ewe is attached to this church is just a historical fact, and as such our Brother Yaw Opare-Asamoa should exercise caution and restraint. There is nothing racial or ethnic to worry about. Of course religion is never devoid of culture, an integral part of which is the language of the people. Instead of brewing this type of animosity, we should rather be proud that the Gospel has been spread widely in our local languages. Here is a case where we are proudly talking about the elevation of a regional African medium of communication, Ewe to the status of a written and universally accessible language!

Our compatriot, Cyril Bubu previously touched on the subject on ModernGhana.com’s comment section. We hereby expand on some of his the points he raised in this rejoinder. After the plebiscite of 1956, which made a section of the said territory (TVT) opting for a union with autonomous Gold Coast, the church, being tolerant of several concerns, changed the name to Evangelical Presbyterian Church, bearing in mind the fact that the present political location is an expanded one that includes other people in addition to the “natives.” The church has since expanded and established branches all over Ghana; in every region and in almost every district which makes it the next widely expanded church after the Roman Catholic Church. It is also important to note that depending on the location of the church, services are conducted in different local languages and, of course, in Ewe. The Church also has several educational institutions, healthcare facilities and other benevolent societies which are used not only by Ewe members of the Church but by the entire Ghanaian and Togolese population. These universal offerings are some of the most important doctrines of any church. We therefore do not see any point in taking issues with the name of a particular church, of which there exist numerous examples. Take for example, the Church of England which is NOT only for the English; and the Roman Catholic Church is certainly NOT for only the people of Rome!

Granted without admitting that only Ewes form and attend E. P. Church, how does this affect people of other ethnic groups in Ghana and elsewhere? What is wrong with worshipping in Ewe-only churches if the non-Ewe can understand the language? Why must Ewes worship God in any other language apart from Ewe? Do we not observe Ewes, the most inclusive of all Ghanaians, attending church services offered in other languages all over the country? Does Yaw Opare-Asamoa want to tell Ewes that when they meet as a group they should not speak Ewe except any other language? If a group of people have refused to learn other languages to their own disadvantage, why blame Ewes for it? What is Yaw Opare-Asamoa’s take on the biblical story of Babel and “speaking in tongues?” Are these racist? Should a lady not attend Saint Anthony’s Church because she is female and likewise should a gentleman stay away from Saint Mary’s Church because he is male? Would the last two examples also be termed sexism by Yaw Opare-Asamoa in his notorious series? In criticizing the names of churches, the list is endless since no name was given to any church by the BIBLE. The same applies to the language in which church services are conducted. If therefore a group of people residing at a particular area and speaking their own language decides to name a church after the area of their residence and worship in a language that they feel comfortable with, what has this got to do with tribalism or racism? For a fact, Ewes are the most civil, sensitive and tolerant ethnic group in Ghana when it comes to speaking their language in a public place, where others are not able to understand the Ewe language. The reverse is true for others!

It would interest Yaw Opare-Asamoa to learn that some of us were born in say for example, Koforidua and spent a substantial part of our schooling life in Kumasi. Services at churches that we attended cities, including the Roman Catholic Church, were conducted in the local languages. Did we complain? NO! Were these churches acting racist by not preaching the Word of God in Ewe? We guess NOT!

Salomon Agbenya also reminded us that even after both colonies of Gold Coast and Togoland became independent, the Church in both countries has always had the same Synod. In Togo, after the defeat of Germany in WWI, the Protestant Mission of Paris (Les Protestants) continued the good works of the Bremen Mission. It is important to note that the latter was not shut out of the field and the Germans still have their field work in the Northern part of the Volta Region (in Saboba for example). The Protestants (the name was most likely introduced by the Paris Mission) call themselves “Bremanitorwo” (in reference to Bremen). The Church was also called Eglise évangélique, and in Ewe: Nyanyuie Hame. Later on it became Eglise Evangélique Presbytérienne and it does not serve only Eweawo!

As indicated earlier in this rejoinder, we will try not to descend into the dirty gutter with Yaw Opare-Asamoa. However, if Yaw Opare-Asamoa continues to wallow in the pit and sling mud at Ewes, perhaps the only way to get the message to him is to get down in the pit with him.

Source:

A. Kobla Dotse, Ph.D.; dotse@earthlink.net David C. K. Tay, Ph.D.

Join our Newsletter