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Accra in 1914: Apprenticeship amongst the Ga

Okomfo Anokye Bajan
2008-03-17 00:32:54

The following 1914 article by A. B. Quartey-Papafio provides rich insight into the life, culture and customs of the Ga people of Accra a hundred years ago.

Nuff Respect, Okomfo Anokye Bajan.


by A. B. Quartey-Papafio

Preliminary Rites.

AFTER the child had been shown to the people and named it will then, if a male, be circumcised. Circumcision usually takes place between the fourth and twelfth year, and is performed by the Town circumciser. Sometimes a family or private circumciser will be called in. Before circumcision the oracles have to be consulted.

1. His Kra is consulted through a Fetish Priest or Priestess as to its willingness for the circumcision so that the child may not die.

2. His family Fetish is consulted as to its protection of the child's life.

When the child returns from the circumcision booth, there is a feast in the house in honour of the occasion. Only circumcised persons, or persons who are liable to circumcision by Custom, will be allowed to attend.

At this feast the circumcised child chooses a steward to attend on him for about three or four weeks, i.e. until the wound is fully healed. This he does by striking at him with the head of a dressed chicken used for the Feast. It used to be considered a great honour among children to be thus chosen as attendant. The circumcised child with his attendant will, if at Accra, then go to the Tumo Te, i.e. the rock on the South of the Basel Mission Factory. In this place are holes made in the rock which serve as glasses wherein circumcised persons treat themselves and their attendants with corn wine and pour the remainder on the part of the rock known as Akwete or the Twin rock. The Akwete rock is described by the Rev. C. C. Reindorf, in his work on "The History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti". This will continue till the wound is healed. During this time the child generally goes to his friends and relatives in the Town and shows himself to them. They give him presents and congratulate him. On the eighth week, when the child is completely well, he goes to the outskirts of the Town followed by many people, and there tears up the basket shield which he has been wearing, after first putting it on the head of his attendant or some substitute for him. This terminates the circumcision ceremonies and period.

The rock at Tumo Te does not serve for its ancient purpose now because the Accra Town Council have built a Slaughter house upon it, so that there is not much chance of the children making any use of it.

At the expiration of the circumcision period the child is given presents of new wearing apparel from friends and relatives and then proceeds to perform the final Customs, i.e. Ese eyi.

The Season for circumcision is during the Aharamata Season, i.e. from December to February. To understand clearly when this occurs it is necessary to consider briefly the six seasons into which native reckoning divides the year. The year commences in connection with the Harvest.

Now the Homowo or Harvest Custom celebrations invariably take place on a Saturday sometime between August and September, and the Dantu Priest starts his reckoning of the year from the Sunday following the Saturday on which the Kpokpoi Feast is partaken. The following are the six seasons:

1. Marwe - cold, - from August to first half of September.

2. Gbo - Rain, - from last half of September to part of December.

3. Aharabata or Aharamata - cold, - from part of December to part of February.

4. Ofleo, Ofleo Kwe, Otso Kilikili. Dry Season ? hot - with rain at times from February to April.

5. Agbeona or Gbeona ? Rains - from May to July.

6. Alemele ? cold - part of August.

It must be noted that the Homowo Festival is bound to take place on a Saturday. The Dantu Priest is obliged by the Customary Law, which in this matter is as unalterable as the Law of the Medes and Persians, to manipulate the days so as to let it fall on a Saturday. Consequently the Calendar is not always accurate and the Seasons take place on months other than those mentioned unless the Festivities are postponed by the Native authorities.

Apprenticeship and its Duties.

After the child has reached a certain age, it becomes necessary for the father to select what trade the child, if a son, should be taught.

Formerly the child would either become a Farmer, a Blacksmith or a Trader; but for some time past now it has been possible to apprentice to any of the trades in addition.

It may be mentioned here that for some time after the arrival of the Gas in the Gold Coast the only trades known were:

i. Fishing in the rivers, brooks and on the sea shore,

ii. Farming in a small way,

iii. Smiths work,

iv. Other trades not of much importance.

i. The Fishing Trade.

Previous to the arrival of the Ga Tribes in this portion of the Gold Coast the district was inhabited by the Nai people. (For description of the Nai people, see "Native Tribunals of the Akra?, in the Journal for October, 1911, p. 75.) They were engaged mostly in fishing and scratching the surface of the land here and there to plant cassada and such like things. They not only continued doing this till later in the century, but also taught others after the arrival of the Gas on the Gold Coast.

What the Nai people used for fishing came to be known in later years as ya. It was a small net suitable for fishing in the Lagoons, rivers and brooks ; by standing on the beach or on the rocks it could also be used in the sea.

It was not till later in the last century that the Akras learnt to fish with a large hand net from canoes rowed out into the sea over the waves. Fishing has become such a thriving industry in the country and the members of the families engaged in it so increased that there is now in the country a person who goes by the name of the Tse or Mantse-the chief or head of the fishermen-and is recognised as such by the Native authorities. Further the Nai Priest in his position as Priest of the Nai or Fetish of the sea is the superior head of all the people engaged in the fishing trade.

It appears that the life of this purely Native Industry is threatened by European Companies which are making arrangements to start not only produce buying in this Country but also operations in fishing on a large scale. It will be long, however, before this old-established native industry will die out.

ii. The Farming Trade.

Although the original people who lived on the land now occupied by the Gas might have been engaged in some sort of farming to keep life going, yet what is now known as farming really came into vogue after the arrival of the Gas here.

The Gas who came down to the seaside afterwards from Ayawaso appear to have known a great deal about farming in comparison with the kind of scratching process carried on by the Nai people. Besides this they carried on their farming business mostly up-country and not in the outskirts of the towns, as the Nai people used to do.

This improvement in farming has been going on gradually and with great steadiness and should become a valuable asset for the future progress of the country. In fact, the fisherman and the farmer are the two great assets possessed by the Ga tribes in the present day. They are masters of moneymaking trades in the country; and capable of assisting the future revenue of the country.

This trade also is threatened by European Companies, although it appears they are not likely to make any substantially good headway against Native farmers notwithstanding their small holdings.

iii. The Smith's Work.

The Blacksmith work was a necessity among the Farmers and Fishermen because they required instruments and other things for their work.

The other smith's work (i.e. that of gold, silver and copper smith) is more a luxury and useful only for the well-to-do people who started wearing gold, silver and copper ornaments during the time of Sir James Macarthy's Ashanti war.

Later on Europeans and others came into the country and a good many other trades came into use in the Colony, e.g. : Carpenters, Bricklayers and Masons, Washermen, Coopers, Stone Plasterers, and such other trades and crafts as are known to people of more advanced stage in civilisation.

It therefore became necessary to apprentice some sons to people engaged in one or other of the above trades according to the father's trade. It was for the father or son to choose what trade the son should learn. After the choice of a trade has been made, the father goes to the person engaged in the particular trade and tells him that he wishes his son to be taught the trade he is engaged in. This person will then inform him of the rules of his trade and if he agree will appoint a day on which he may commence.

On the day fixed about four or five o'clock in the morning the master will call some elderly people engaged in the same trade as himself to meet at his place, some to take part and others to witness the ceremony for the apprenticeship, The father will come to the meeting with his own men and the son for the ceremony. When the parties have gathered together then the father will repeat to those present that he wishes to give his son to the master to teach him his trade. The father will then give a flask or two of rum as evidence of the sincerity of his intentions.

The eldest member of that particular trade will get up and commence by pouring some of the rum into a cup as well as on to the ground. He then offers prayer to a God known or unknown to himself or those present, sometimes he prays to the particular tools with which they carry on their work or trade. Indeed many people make little Fetishes of their own working implements. In this way he asks for a successful career for the candidate in the trade.

The eldest person will then call the candidate and pour some of the rum on the top of his head, invoking blessing from the firmaments, the nether world, and the four corners of the world.

After all this is completed the father, and those he brought with him, will be told again of the rules of the trade into which he has apprenticed his son. The rules of all trades as to apprenticeship appear to be the same; only few differences occur here and there.

When all the trades were formerly carried on within the limits of the country ruled over by the Ga Mantse, or Paramount Chief of all the Gas, now called the Akras, apprenticeship appears to have assumed the aspect of perpetual servitude. There was no certainty as to when an apprentice would become really free from his customary obligations to his master. For the master's liabilities are still exactly as they were in the days of yore, when there were only two principal trades known among the Ga people. These liabilities are in substance as follows:-

1. The ward is to live with the master at his house; but may make occasional short visits when necessary to his own parents.

2. The master is to provide for his ward food, lodging, clothing, and other necessaries of life, with liberty to use his tools, so that he may learn his trade.

3. The master is liable and answerable for all misconduct on the part of the ward, and for all debts due by him whilst he lives in his house as his ward.

4. The master is the proper person to obtain a wife for his ward with the knowledge and consent of his parents and family.

The ward on his part has to give all his earnings to the master. Even after his marriage the master was still expected to look after his ward and to continue to do so until his death. In fact, the relationship between master and ward was in the nature of an insurance for future support and maintenance of the ward by his master.

In the middle of the Nineteenth Century there arose a need for Carpenters, Coopers, and members of other trades to work for the European Factories at the Bights, as the two Nigerias were called, including also the Cameroons, the Congo, &c. In consequence a strong desire for more freedom began to take shape among those learning these trades; the ward wanted greater independence. The liabilities, however, of the master remained with little, if any, change; those of the ward were greatly modified to his advantage.

The masters, seeing the justness of the claim by the apprentices, made the following new rules for apprenticeship:-

1. When the ward goes to the Bights for the first time he is to hand over all his earnings to his master on his return. Out of these earnings the master may give some drink to the parents of the ward.

2. When he goes to the Bights for the second time he is also to hand the whole of his earnings to his master on his return. But the master is now bound to hand a small portion of these earnings to the parents of the ward.

3. When the ward goes to the Bights for the third time he is again to hand the whole of his earnings to his master on his return. This time the master must divide these earnings into three parts, giving one-third to the ward and one-third to the parents.

This handing over of the earnings of the ward to the master for the third time practically frees the ward from any further obligation. He need not now give any of his earnings to his master or pay him anything further for teaching him his trade.

The ward is now at liberty to marry through his own family. It is not necessary for him to consult his master on any subsequent occasion; when he returns from the Bights he may, if he please, give some "drink" to the master. The relationship between them after the third return from the Bights, with its consequent payment of all earnings, is now one of intimate friendship born of gratitude supposing, that is, that the reminiscences of the past are pleasant enough to warrant it.

Members of the trades have also themselves made additional rules to the effect that, where a ward failed to hand over to the master the whole of his earnings on the first occasion after his return from the Bights, or failed so to do on any one of the three occasions, then the parents of the person or persons who apprenticed the ward to him, together with the ward himself, shall pay to him a sum of thirty-two pounds together with a quantity of rum. The payment of this amount frees the ward from any further liabilities.

In some cases the custom has arisen of compounding for the whole by a monetary payment of thirty pounds at one time. This amount is then paid to the master as a fee for teaching the ward his trade as soon as his tuition is complete.

Nowadays a parent often sends his child to School for some time before apprenticing him to learn a trade. It may even happen that the child remains in School long enough to become a teacher or to go to the Government Training Institution at Accra for training in Carpentry, Black-smithing, or other such work. He will afterwards be employed in the Government service or else take up higher studies with a view to qualifying in one of the learned professions outside the Colony.


[This is an authentic posting from Okomfo Anokye Bajan (Registered User)]
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