Celebrating Ghanaian Creativity


Chimalum Nwankwo

North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC

Copyright © 2002 by Chimalum Nwankwo, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

Review of:

Anyidoho, Kofi, and James Gibbs, eds. FonTomFrom : Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film. Matatu 21-22. Amsterdam and Atlanta GA : Editions Rodopi, 2000). 383 pages.

  1. This volume of diverse works published under the auspices of the literary journal Matatu is a treasure for all who are genuinely interested in African studies, especially the complex process of cultural production in Africa. It is a volume which continues that enviable national habit and pattern which always place Ghana in the vanguard of numerous endeavors in Africa, from the fierce fight for freedom from colonial rule to the tenacity with which the indigenous is nurtured or protected for posterity. If the protection and nurturing of creativity are problems, the sustenance, the continued relevance of productions, and their dissemination pose even greater problems.

  2. Like all things in modern Africa, the baggage of history remains in the heart of both the problem and the resolution of what is really a crisis. Today is a problem because the past was a problem.So how do we deal with or resolve this double bind? This is probably the character of the omnibus question which engendered this anthology.And so the editors labored to be comprehensive in the selection of contributors and contributions spanning and incorporating various forms and genres. It is an act which weaves in and out of present and past, defining connections and relationships, identifying continuities and discontinuities, conducting clarifications and spotlighting, followed by revisions for appropriate recommendations for improvements, rejections or repudiations. Fiction, Drama, Poetry, Dance and choreography, Publishing, Film and the Media and their various producers: each and every one has a space here. The anthology captures a festival of minds in action with the dips and highs of an actual festival. There is also ample room for celebrations of the accomplished and the remembrance of the unsung and those who have passed on.

  3. Kofi Anyidoho's "National Identity and the Language of Metaphor" does not simply open this volume as a fitting introductory but sets the tone and the stage for all else which follows. With history and the complex emotions associated with all national histories as witness, Anyidoho identifies and defines the ruling tools in the shaping of Ghana's cultural history and landscape. They metaphorically feature as "the Sankofa bird, Ananse the spiderman, the primal drum, and the slave fort or castle."(3) In a sweep which includes cultural production from the past and to today, Anyidoho establishes how all artists are indebted to such foundational metaphors. He argues quite clearly and convincingly that Ghanaian literature is "a more complex phenomenon than formal academic studies have so far indicated."(7) "It may be useful", he writes,"to identify five broad and often over-lapping forms of literary expression in Ghana :oral literature(mostly in the various local languages); popular literature(some of it written, some of it in oral form, in both English and local languages); literature written in Ghanaian languages; literature written in English; and the special category of children's literature, in both English and Ghanaian languages." In the complex tapestry of cultural activity which Anyidoho delineates, we see a world in which everybody feeds out of each other's endeavor -- poet, dramatist, fiction writer and so forth -- with one national cultural pool as collective inspiration.

  4. The second part of this book has twenty-three submissions which pursue the festive vein of Anyidoho's introduction. The beautiful but somber and poetic opener by Opoku-Agyemang affirms the importance of Cape Coast Castle as a fitting metaphor for reading the soul of Ghana. "The power of the Castle," he writes, "is the power of silence; silence as the seduction and betrayal of power" (23). The disturbing dolor of that article hardly forbids or palls the energy of other following articles in which female writers like Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo are celebrated for their persistent introductions of fresh and challenging perspectives and strategies into the craft and thought of Ghanaian drama and fiction. Readers whose artistic portraits of Armah, Aidoo, and Laing have not been quite complete because of the great shadows of their fictions over their talents as poets will be happy to read some articles on those rarely discussed aspects of those writer's lives and careers. And those who have been intentionally or unintentionally excluding Film and Video from other cultural productions will see, after reading the entries on them here, how those inclusions offer us better and more holistic visions of any people's art and culture. The histories and problems of the development of Video, Film/cinema, and Dance and Drama are presented here as national problems from whose peculiarities other African countries are bound to learn something. James Gibbs' dissenting critical remarks on Matters of the Heart which close the section is a good jolt for the Ghanaian audience. Sometimes it takes an outsider's detached observation to sharpen national taste and improve artistic quality.

    The section which follows, "Marketplace : The Media", is an interesting and innovative inclusion in a compilation of this nature. For some inexplicable reason/s, the business aspect of cultural production has never been a serious aspect of the production concerns of African writers. Its inclusion here should educate more people about the frustrations and pains of writing and why publication is also the kind of pain it is for many. There is a lot of candor in these very useful articles by three different contributors, Dekutsey, Awuyah,and Adinku, who offer first-hand experiences from Literature, the Media and Choreography respectively. The decision to market or not to market remains clearly driven by the familiar profit motive which drives all entrepreneurs.

    A most intriguing thing about art remains listening to artists talk about the creative process and how they all make it happen. This kind of volume would have been incomplete without its section of five interviews. The interviews of leading playwright, Mohammed Ben Bellah, playwright and novelist Bill Marshall, film-maker Kwaw Ansah, and with Journalists/media success stories Kwaku Sakyi-Ado and David Newton reveal that success has a lot to do with sweat and persistence, the will to defy deepest despair with new doses of stubborn resolve. Parents and teachers and friends and popular opinion may have to be defied and rejected in favor of one's inner voice in one's formative years. These cultural producers, the interviews reveal, are all driven by the impulse to serve society decently and selflessly.

  5. The section on "Creative Writing" features selections from the works of the finest writers from Ghana. The works of familiar veterans of the business such as Sutherland, Aidoo, Brew, Awoonor, and Okai are in juxtaposition with newer or less familiar practitioners: Kobena Eyi Acquah, Kwakuvi Azasu, Kwabwo Opoku-Agyeman and Abena Busia. While the poetry echoes some of the suggestions in Anyidoho's introduction regarding the drum as a national metaphor, very clear in the poetry of Atukwei Okai, the song or chant paradigm and other folkloric materials assist in the definition of the character of Ghanaian writing. The "Book Reviews" section which follows shores up the pantheon of modern Ghanaian letters which began with "Creative Writing." Perspicacious and informed, the reviews affirm the creative strengths and contributions of the works of Ben Abdallah, Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho, Atukwei Okai and Ayi Kwei Armah to the waxing of Ghana's cultural productions.

  6. The compendious nature of this volume and its special eclecticism or diversity of represented forms make the normal short book review an awesome task. The book is an African standard-bearer in its quality and character as a national compilation. Fontomfrom, named after the great drum of the Ewe people, summons its readers into the full cosmos of Ghana's cultural productions. You may not like all you find inside that cosmos, but at least you will know where virtually everything is or how to find whatever you think is not there, from the nebula of folklore to the more palpable spaces of choreography and film-making. And, wait a minute . . . the book also provides the addresses of writers and all the principal players and contributors.

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