BOOK REVIEW; “EPHRAIM AMU- NATIONALIST, POET and THEOLOGIAN
By Philip T.
Laryea; Regnum Africa 2012: ISBN 978 9988 1 2293 5.
Review by Nii B. Andrews, MD
During the last
decade, residents of Accra and other urban areas have grown
accustomed to loud and intrusive noise from charismatic churches
(and others) in their neighborhoods. A prominent feature of
these churches is the use of African drums, African songs and
electrified western musical instruments associated with popular
The “liturgy” of
these churches and music is often conveniently portrayed as
being based on the African mode/style of worship and the iconic
Ephraim Amu is often offered up as a progenitor and prime
influence of this genre within Christianity.
But is this true?
Is this accurate? What was Ephraim Amu’s stance with respect to
the interface of African culture, Christianity and social
Rev. Dr. Philip
Laryea, a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and a
Senior Research Fellow at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute
addresses these questions in his newly published exciting book,
“Ephraim Amu- Nationalist, Poet and Theologian (1899-1995)”.
Rev. Dr. Laryea
painstakingly documents the oral traditions about Amu-
comprising the oral statements and the written texts of Amu
himself- and these include beautifully and concisely written
letters in Ghanaian languages. The scanned copies of the actual
letters within the book evoke a sense of euphoria for what can
ensue if a proper archive is maintained in the public arena as
well as by private individuals.
With the wealth
of material that he unearthed, Rev Dr. Laryea then subjected it
to rigorous analysis and interpretation. This is where the book
really excels and as a result, places itself firmly within the
canon of required reading for any serious student of
contemporary Ghana or patriot.
There is this
famous story of how the foreign missionaries disbarred Amu from
the Presbyterian Training College at Akropong for wearing ntama
(cloth) in the pulpit; this book sets the record straight with
respect to this “myth”.
Amu was disbarred
by the African members of the Synod Committee- not the
missionaries. It turns out that this misconception has been
perpetuated by prejudice on the part of the Africans and
buttressed by a misreading of an interview given by Amu to the
Ghanaian scholar Victor Agawu. Indeed, the Scottish Mission
staff at the college disagreed with the Synod Committee (with
respect to his disbarment) because they felt Amu was doing
something that was needed and he should be encouraged.
Is it therefore
surprising that Rev. A.G. Fraser immediately offered Amu a
position at Achimota after his disbarment?
In our epoch,
does the position of the Synod Committee in the 1930’s resonate
with the current attitude of the local church towards fraternal
organizations, sexual orientation and cremation?
The more things
change, the more they remain the same- there is nothing new
here. But hope springs eternal as sixteen years after his
disbarment, the local church came round to adopting Amu’s
analysis and exegesis of Amu’s songs, sermons based on
scriptural passages and expositions of the traditional worldview
enable us to appreciate Amu as a tour de force- a colossus, who
was a Theologian and Master Poet, well steeped in the cadences
and aesthetics of the traditional African style, aka Mpaninkasa;
all twinglish and ganglish speakers should sit up, take notice
On the question
of introducing African music, African dance and instruments into
the church, Amu had a clear position which is worthwhile
repeating in this azonto age with its attendant generic
ear-splitting Youth Fellowship Band.
entire life, Amu was strongly opposed to any form of dancing in
church. He opined that ‘dance rhythm and actual dancing’
occasioned particularly by traditional music and drumming,
excite the emotions and that ‘over emotionalism is not conducive
to [a] deep sense of worship’.
He advocated that
at the call to worship, the bommaa orchestra could ‘play a
combination of rhythms which does not compel dancing’ and this
could be ‘followed by the appellations of God played on the
talking drums [atumpam]’.
The soft, mellow
and solemn tone of the musical pipe, odurugya, he suggested
could deepen our sense of worship when played out of sight.
drew clear limits on the extent to which traditional African
music, dance and instruments could be used in church music for
he was aware of the dangers and pitfalls inherent in this
process of adaptation; here he was in complete alignment with
the Synod Committee. The paradox with respect to current
practice cannot pass unnoticed.
Those of us who
have long given up on hearing anything analytical, educational
and or uplifting from our fast growing list of social/political
commentators; shrill/barking partisan spin doctors, serial
callers and heavily compromised public servants can literally
blissfully lose ourselves while reading Amu’s social commentary
on education, culture, patriotism and the nationalist movement.
There are gems
here- priceless ones.The Appendix is a treasure trove of
historical material of exemplary quality- transcripts of
interviews, scanned diary pages (written in Ewe with
translations), drawings and photographs.
The main body of
the book is comprised of chapters with a wealth of material that
might help us in our current quagmire.
They include- Amu
on Nation Building, Human Growth and Advancement; Amu on the
Past, Education and the Dignity of Human Labor; God, Creation
and Human participation in God’s Work; Theological Landmarks in
the Life and Thought of Ephraim Amu and Patriotic Songs and
Commentary on Social and Political events.
recent AU celebrations would have benefitted from adopting Amu’s
“YAANOM ABIBIRIMMA” (A wake up call to Africa) as its anthem.
This song was inspired by Amu’s Middle School headmaster at Peki
Blengo, Christian B. Gati- a man who aroused an African
consciousness in Amu…...“Animguase! AnimguasemfataAbibirimma
o”,(Mediocrity! Mediocrity does not befit the African) wrote Amu.
Dr.Laryea, Amu’s judgment was spot on; the source of our growth
and development is not the Imago Europa (the Image of Europe….or
eh…China), rather it lies in the image and likeness of God, the
Imago Dei in which Africans share. To be made in the image of
Odomankama Oboadei (the creator God) means that Africans have
creativity and MUST USE IT.
It is to give
credence to Amu’s exhortation, that I unreservedly recommend
this book which will be launched in Accra on July 17, 2013 at
the Ebenezer Church Hall, Osu.
Amu preceded John
Mbiti in recognizing that there were truths in African religions
that shed light on the great Christian truths. However, Amu had
serious reservations about incorporating some traditional
religious rites into church practice even when he knew the
“truth” about them; he was sometimes painfully ambiguous….or, if
you prefer, nuanced….or, deep.
Rev. Dr.Laryea in
this well researched, written and produced book concludes that
Amu was a pacesetter or pioneer in laying the foundations for an
intellectual and practical discourse between the religious
traditions of Africa and the Christian faith.
Amu’s forte was
that he encompassed the above with a well-grounded nationalist
fervency couched with poetic mastery.
Clearly then the
noisy church goers (with their dancing, screaming and sometimes
even barking ‘congregations’) in your neighborhood, the
non-performing municipal and law enforcement authorities and the
insomniacs are only continuing to contest the tradition as
espoused by Ephraim Amu- Nationalist, Poet and Theologian.
Nii. B. ANDREWS, MD
Blebo We- Sakumo; June 2013.