Why Are Ghanaians Such Great Storytellers?


YOU may have noticed that I often tell my readers stories about the days when the Gold Coast was almost a paradise (compared to today’s Ghana!).

I do this in order that the young people of today may be inspired to help make Ghana regain its affections in the hearts of its own people.

That love is in a steep dive towards a hole filled with hassle-filled hatred and may be killed altogether if we are not careful.

Now, in my writing career, I have been trotting along under the illusion that, as the Twi proverb says, “The good thing sells itself” (Ade pa n‘eton ne ho.) In other words, something that is inherently self-elucidating does not need to be explained further.

But I got a letter the other day which clearly demonstrates that the letter writer has not understood why I use story-telling so much.

So, please let me explain the idea behind the effort. Whenever I tell a story dealing with the past, I intend to use it to take my readers back, in their own minds, to their own childhood days; school days (for instance). What my teachers did or did not do are meant to trigger stories of the “Me too!” variety. Oh yes – modesty aside, I used that term long before the Americans set up a whole movement around it!

In a typical Ghanaian village (like my own Asiakwa) you cannot sit under, say, a neem tree and tell stories without inspiring — or even provoking — others in your age group into relating their own tales.

That search for stimulus is the whole purpose of people gathering under the Neem tree in the first place, or if the story-telling occurs at home, gathering around the fireside in the family yard at night.
As soon as one storyteller finishes his narration, someone else jumps in with a story that might be as interesting as, or even more interesting, than the one just told.

In reality, such story-telling serves as an undeclared contest. “Interruptions-by-song” are warmly welcomed, the songs (or mmoguo) make story-telling less monotonous than would otherwise be the case. They also help the story-teller to obtain whispered corrections from members of the audience, in case a faulty memory is making him tell the story wrong. Or he’s reached a point when he’s droning on into the bounds of boredom.

My friend and fellow writer, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa of Ogoni, Nigeria, once observed that stories transmit “mirror images” from the story-teller to the audience. There’s hardly a better way of explaining how ideas are communicated from one mind to another.

My school mates are fond of saying to me: “But how come you still remember these things? I swear, if I hadn’t read what you wrote, I would never have remembered that funny incident, ever!” Others take great delight in contradicting one’s recollections! And a great time is had by all.

School days are simply incomparable in terms of stimulation and enjoyment: you enjoy leaving home and going out to meet loads of strangers, some of whom become ‘enemies‘, while others become life-long friends.

At school, we also came across stories from other parts of Ghana and the world, through story-books.

C A Akrofi’s books, for instance, were extremely interesting. See:

Be warned: if you follow the link I have given above, you will find that the biography of Akrofi does not mention his most enjoyable book, a collection of delightful stories in Twi entitled Mmodenbo Bu Mmusu Abasa So. Only God knows why it’s been out of print for so long.

I don’t know why, but when we old classmates happen to meet, we often recall the sad occasions when we were at the receiving end of caning by teachers. We are mostly of the view that caning was stupid and sometimes sadistic. But we regard ourselves as having been somewhat “special” by tolerating it stoically and continuing our schooling, in spite of the caning.

Talking of the stupidity of caning: I personally knew a girl who, today, would be diagnosed as being clearly dyslexic but who was continually caned by our grossly ignorant Class Three teacher. Caning her and expecting that to enable to read was, of course, an exercise in futility and she eventually dropped out of school.

If any teacher caned a pupil in England today for being unable to produce good work, because he/she suffered from dyslexia — an illness that can be easily cured with skill — not only would that teacher be considered woefully “uneducated”, but he would probably be sent to jail.

Sir Jackie Stewart, three-times World Motor Racing Champion, is dyslexic. But see what he achieved.

I realise, of course, that dyslexia may not have been discovered in those days, but what about the common sense of the teacher? He whipped her; but her work never improved; and yet he whipped her all the more!

One other device I like to use in my writing is the Akan proverb, which I try hard to explain so that anyone reading can understand it. Such proverbs strike a special chord with readers who do understand the original language, because it gives them an extra insight into my meaning.

Usually, other languages have similar proverbs, and when that coincidence is disclosed, it brings a warm feeling to one’s heart.

Yes, human wisdom is universal.


By Cameron Duodu