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A book review

Title: Kpawo-Kpawo Toi Kpawo
Author: Rev. Engmann Augustus Wilkens Engmann
Number of Pages: 70
Publishers: Regnum Africa, Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, Akropong Akuapem, Ghana

Reviewer: Vincent Okunor

This book is a mouth-watering invitation you cannot but accept. It is aspects of Ga way of life handed down from the dim twilight of prehistoric centuries and encapsulated in one compact volume. It has attractive illustrations that illuminate its pages and captivating events.

Genres are established categories of composition characterized by distinctive language or subject-matter. Since the 18th century, the novel and, to some extent, the short story have been the major literary genres in most literate societies. This book is unique in that first, its literature is recorded anonymous oral literature, and secondly, because it is a miscellany of folktales, folk songs, riddles and games and pastimes. Nor do we need to search for a label to identify it.

 

The book's striking feature is that it contains much variety mixing. In principle, it taps the resources of language to portray character, situation, theme, plot and point of view. It represents all language varieties, from the most colloquial to the most formal, from the most mundane to the most arcane. It not only captures our impressions of the world, but also maintains racy, realistic dialogue.

Each folk tale has three divisions: a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is formulaic: “Mita Ny loo mikata ny!” “Wmii here o n”. (More or less equivalent to “Once upon a time” or “Abrabra” etc).

 

The opening plants us firmly in folk land and signals that both the story teller and audience are full participants of the session. Then follows the story. It starts with the conventional expression. “Jeee”, which introduces the chief protagonist(s)- a man and his wife, Tsi Anaanu (Mr. Spider), a goat, three sisters and a king. Of the remaining characters, the most noticeable are Old Woman and Sasabonsam, the dreadful and fearsome Devil.

 

The sequential organization of the folktales is such that the first two or three stories are relatively short and serve as teasers that whet the reader’s appetite. As the book advances, the stories become longer, the plot more complex, the events more weird and wonderful and the heroes or heroines more uncanny. Each story which is a banquet of an aspect of Ga Traditional life is interspersed with songs. There are two kinds of songs. The first is an integral part of the story and is sung by the narrator. The second is introduced by a soloist for all the listeners to join in. The songs make the audience not merely passive but active participants. They also keep everybody awake. (As story-telling is usually in the evening after the hard day’s work, listeners, both children and adults, are likely to doze away sooner or later). Thirdly, the songs lend colour and style to the session.

The end makes the audience aware of the finality and provides a sense of completeness. It focuses on the emotional stand and how the listeners benefit from the ethical and moral values presented. The lesson is stated explicitly or implied. The story ends by the narrator inviting a member of the audience to tell another tale.

On the folk songs, the author laments the paucity of the traditional ones and invites Ga lyricists and musicians to compose modern folksongs. The value of riddles lies in the opportunity they give children to entertain themselves by engaging in a sort of mental gymnastics or critical thinking. Forty-four (44) riddles are presented. The author describes in detail 28 traditional games and pastimes. In modern times, most of these have been overshadowed and rendered moribund or obsolete by the cinema, television and internet, especially in the cities and big towns.

As Rev. E.A.W. Engmann was a strong advocate for the preservation of the heritage the Ga inherited from remote antiquity and worked conscientiously and passionately toward the achievement of his goal, it is only proper that we beam a little while on his linguistic excellence.

 

A characteristic of the stylistic technique of literary artists is that they push language beyond its limits till they “fall off into a misuse of words, into nonsensical jabbering, into the void where the rules give out”. This is evidenced by the principle of the fascination of what is difficult and the curiosity evoked by what is unintelligible espoused by modern English poets like T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats, who believe that literature can communicate without all its words being understood. For them, literature knows no linguistic bounds. So they push English to the extreme and draw on lines in French, German, Italian and Sanskrit. Many of the expressions in the Ga folk songs, especially the war songs are in Akan, but the singers are scarcely worried about their meanings as the main concern is with their music and its emotional impact. Similarly, the seemingly unintelligible language of “Minymi Ogbaame”, “Oko, onu, osa, ofi, ok, otse, ob!” of “Ntosa (Otoosa), koo, ny, saa, naa, nue, lee, h” of ampe and “Timi, timi, nyamaale”, are situationally functional because of what they communicate to the users.

The individuating and striking feature of the author’s use of Ga is the ingenious way in which he employs ideophones to open the doorway to the reader’s mind and trigger their emotions. The use of these adverbs results in an intuitive flash of recognition that surprises and fascinates. Expressions like “hagidigidi”, “kripo, kripo, kripo”, “lb”, ‘glen”, “gbur.r.r.r.”, “papapapapapa” and “h tii, h tii” activate the reader’s five senses, especially of hearing and sight, enact the meanings of the situation being described and add colour and style to the narrative. It is the author’s mastery, and superb use of Ga that elevates the tales to the enthralling, intriguing, entertaining and dazzling heights we all highly appreciate and admire.

We all owe a duty to both the author and Ga heritage to read “Kpawo-Kpawo Toi Kpawo” avidly, teach our children to speak and read Ga and encourage them in turn to continue the chain. This is the surest way we can immortalize Ga heritage and the Ga language.

 

Vincent Okunor
 

Mr. Vicent Okunor is an accomplished writer, artist, painter and an authority on the Ga language spoken in Ghana, mostly by people in the capital city area and some parts along the South Eastern shores of Ghana. He is an intellectual who holds degrees in English and law and has lectured at some of our higher institutions in Ghana.  Mr. Okunor started his teaching career as a master at Osu Salem Middle Boarding School and later at Presbyterian Secondary School (PRESEC), Odumasi Krobo.  Among the pupils he taught at both institutions was the publisher of Ghanadot.com.

 

 


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Review, Oct 12, Ghanadot - This book is a mouth-watering invitation you cannot but accept. It is aspects of Ga way of life handed down from the dim twilight of prehistoric centuries and encapsulated in one compact volume.
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