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Opinions of Saturday, 24 September 2011

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

There Are No Tribes In Ghana II

Of Bofro Soup, The Thinking Process, And Language Groups

By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

We again 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. 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 of scholarship. 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, you are not likely to find any Ghanaian language included in the list. If at all, your language is likely to fall under the generic 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.

To the opponents of the foregoing assertion, there can be only one way to subvert this simple argument which I have so far made…...and that is that one defines 'tribe' according to any of the existing disciplines from any authoritative source, divide up the definition into appropriate elements, then go ahead and see if the language groups existing in Ghana meet all those elements to constitute tribes. The best format for such a counter will of course be Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion (i.e. IRAC). There are those who think I just rose up one morning, read a definition from a dictionary and came over here to argue….after eating my favorite Fufu and Bofro soup.

And concerning Fufu and Bofro Soup, I must digress here to assert that it is simply the best food there is. The cuisine is awesome and wicked….. but my people prefer to keep it secret. Get hold of a full deer and open it up. Grab the stomach and pour out the fresh excrement. Add some intestine or entrails. Cut up onions and mix it up. Put it in your garage for three days for fermentation and apply spoonfuls to your palm butter or groundnut soup as you would maggi salt or some other gluttamate. (Warning, keep the Bofro under wraps since your neighbors may call 911 because of the smell). If you don’t bite your tongue in sheer pleasure, come take your money from me…….

I don’t just get up to write here after eating my favorite Bofro Soup…..I think about issues for months, if not years before writing them out. (I couldn’t get up to write after Bofro Soup anyway; the concoction is pretty soporific and usually sends me to sleep….) Some ideas have been in my head since childhood, and others come to me sometimes as epiphany. Take my take on the Prophet Moses’ miracles for example: This man grows up in Pharaoh’s palace, learning all the magic of the palace priesthood. After he runs in trouble for killing an Egyptian, he escapes to the wilderness where he stays for forty years. He now returns to the palace and tries to perform the old magic to the new generation of priests, thinking that those old guards had failed to pass on the secrets, or that the young priests had failed to learn them well. To his horror and disappointment, they perform exactly whatever trick Moses performs boot for boot…….and in the end, the games actually become ugly, since Moses applies poison gas to kill all the first-born children of the Egyptians. (If you doubt that he used poison gas, simply ask yourself what a true god needs door markings for!) This last science which is taught to the princes to terrify the population against rebellion is unknown to the priests………and aghast, Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to leave the land of Egypt. With this same poison gas, Moses maintains absolute control on the Israelites and pretty much wipes them out in the wilderness.
This is an example of how an issue will run through my head after I read a Bible passage in Exodus or Leviticus. Others will swallow the Bible itself in its finest detail. But is it my fault that I think the way I do? Probably. I am the fool that allowed god to invest me with the iconoclastic brain of an archetypal skeptic. If I had accepted the investiture of stupidity from god, I should believe without understanding, and thereby enjoy full (or rather the fool’s) bliss in my life. Go with the crowd, go with group think, go to church, agree with your pastor, pay your tithes, ask no questions thereafter, and you will find peace on earth and heaven after death! Or let us say that I had the honor to possess a great political idol. I would then spend all my life praising him and believing that he could never err in anything in this life or hereafter. I could even attack his enemies, calling them evil and ugly or sooty black. Or I could take on the specter of the ideological idiot, whose mental cavity will concretize in praise of socialism despite all its evils, and in condemnation of capitalism even for any of its inherent good. Or I will wrap my language group patriotism around my head as a champion and gaze into the waters of prejudice, hailing myself as the best creation of my god, and spewing hatred on others not of my group……….. What a wonderful paradise life must be for those that are free from the drudgery of daily thinking! After all, freedom from thinking is the greatest freedom of all! Therefore, my good friends, as always, put your mental faculties to sleep!!
But I am very different in having a hyperactive brain, and I have my own process for getting into the bottom of any matter no matter how controversial. There are no inhibitions on my thinking process. There are no boundaries or taboo subjects. See my thought process as the wild dogs unleashed, or some sort of dam unbraked. The dogs and the waters go wherever they may in search of the ultimate truth. I start with a tabula rasa and proceed systematically, reading all the materials I can lay my hands on, turning them upside down in my head, debating them with myself and anticipating all questions and answers. I am thinking about the issues and challenging myself about them in the bathroom, as I am lying in bed or driving alone on the great Texas highway… Finally, I test the issues with my friends and debate my propositions to make sure that my arguments are iron clad. And when I sit down to write, I will have everything clearly sorted out. Do I have a fool-proof article with all the arguments intact? No. All I hope to do is to pose a question whose answers are not easily known. Nobody should be able to pose a question to which I have not anticipated or even written out an answer already.
My ultimate purpose in this regard is to try to use my knowledge to influence my society in a positive sense....and whatever I have written on ghanaweb is geared toward that single goal. I have no hidden agenda to hurt, destroy or denigrate anybody. I want the unity and happiness of my country above all else, and therefore hate anything/anybody that divides us. That underlies the purpose of my articles here.
I don't claim to be superhuman; those who know me well will tell you that I am a humble, regular loving person...a true Ghanaian who loves knowledge and is always prepared to learn something new..... But what I find amazing is the sheer unwillingness or inability of my people to share knowledge or debate without recourse to preexisting biases, ossified notions, and well-crafted insults. I pose a legitimate statement that there are no tribes in Ghana. What is so difficult about researching the word "tribe" and coming out with an informed opinion? Must this also be partisan, or ideological? We gain nothing with biases, preconceived notions and creative insults; but we have everything to gain by going through the laid-down processes for reaching valid, unimpeachable conclusions about all issues raised. When we do that, we are thinking together and gaining knowledge and wisdom together. That is the highest state of human search and discover knowledge together!
And as regards the archaic concept of tribe, let me repeat that it is what I have described. All authorities agree with me, but I choose to discuss those that are readily available to the ordinary man. I don’t need to speak in obscure cant and esoteric jargon, or make references to long-winding passages from ancient scholarly work. It is the burden of those who disagree with me to implicate higher sources to contradict what I say here…..The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, (Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company) defines tribe as 1. A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent. 2. A political, ethnic, or ancestral division of ancient states and cultures, especially: a. Any of the three divisions of the ancient Romans, namely, the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan. b. Any of the twelve divisions of ancient Israel. c. A phyle of ancient Greece. 3. A group of people sharing an occupation, interest, or habit: a tribe of graduate students. 4. Informal: A large family. 5. (Biology) A taxonomic category placed between a subfamily and a genus or between a suborder and a family and usually containing several genera.
The Collins English Dictionary, (Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003) defines tribe in the contexts of Social Science / Anthropology & Ethnology as a social division of a people, especially of a preliterate people, defined in terms of common descent, territory, culture, etc. 2. (Historical Terms) an ethnic or ancestral division of ancient cultures, especially of one of the following a. any of the three divisions of the ancient Romans, the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans b. One of the later political divisions of the Roman people c. any of the 12 divisions of ancient Israel, each of which was named after and believed to be descended from one of the 12 patriarchs d. a phyle of ancient Greece 3. (Informal often jocular) : a large number of persons, animals, etc. b. a specific class or group of persons c. a family, esp a large one.
4. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Biology): a taxonomic group that is a subdivision of a subfamily 5. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) Stockbreeding a strain of animals descended from a common female ancestor through the female line.
Thus, the term “tribe” has many elements of which language is either absent or constitutes an infinitesimal, dispensable and dismissive factor. Hence language alone does not define “tribe”. In fact, there is no word in the English language that solely describes any group that speaks one language. This is because social anthropologists have never seen language as an important characteristic by which to identify any group. The case is even worse with dialects (i.e. the mutually intelligible languages). These are not even mentioned or described, since they are morphed under one group identification. Therefore a group taxonomy based solely on language or dialect is presumed an invalid nomenclature in the sociological context, unless it is complemented by clear differentials in the elements of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent. Or a social division of preliterate people defined in terms of common descent, territory and culture. Or one breed of animals……

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Juris Doctor, lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at