john h. mcdowell
- a glimpse of ghana


A crowd of peopleIt was through a wonderful group of Ghanaian students at IU, especially Owusu Brempong, Kwesi Yankah, Kofi Anyidoho, Daniel Avorgbedor, and David Adu-Amankwa that I became aware of the treasures of Ghanaian folklore.  And it was through the good offices of Professor Yankah, in particular, that I sought and received a Fulbright Lectureship to spend a half-year in Ghana as a visiting lecturer at the University of Ghana in Legon. My wife, Patricia Glushko, a skilled photographer, traveled with me to Ghana in September of 1987 and there we remained through February of 1988.  My assignment was to teach, not to conduct research, but it chanced that the students were on strike for much of the remainder of 1987, which left us free to explore the byways of Ghana until classes resumed in mid-December.  Our trips took us to several regions of Ghana: to a Ga village; to Duakwa, Kwesi's town in the Fanti region, where something interesting always seemed to await us; to the Ewe region across the Volta River; and to Kumasi, the Asanti stronghold.  Because we were well-attended and well-received, we were able to witness and document many traditional events, including festivals and funerals, with their welcome quotas of libations, drumming, singing and dancing.                       



Five seated menA GA LIBATION


From my field notes:


We saluted the chief and his advisors and took our seat on a low wooden bench. The drummers played at intervals and there was some dancing. I turned on the tape recorder from the outset, but when we asked if we could take some pictures, it triggered a problematic incident. The woman who was helping us made the request to the elders, but one large woman stirred up a bit of a ruckus, and there was some talk that we would take the photos and use them for a calendar. A few people came by to require a donation, but Kwesi was adamantly opposed to this idea. He feels that donations are fine but they should be purely voluntary. For a little while things were a bit tense and we considered beating a retreat, but eventually we secured permission to take the pictures, which they understood to be a request for posed portraits, of the fetish priestesses, of the chief and his advisors, of the drummers. By the time all this fell into place, it was getting a little dark -- Pat had to downstop to 60 and even so the light meter indicated barely enough light available. 


three men with percussion instrumentsI think the mood changed when I suddenly jumped up, saluted the chief, and performed a dance solo to one segment of the drumming. My clumsy efforts produced a great shout of approval, and the chief requested Pat to dance the next segment, which she did to even greater shouting of approval. After that we felt quite at home and the tension of the previous hour evaporated. As it was getting late, I offered to contribute some 800 cedies to the welfare of the village. The woman helper took this money and handed it to the Linguist (a counselor of the chief) who immediately sent out for a bottle of gin. They insisted that we stay long enough for libations, and that turned out to be very interesting. The Linguist (who had a wooden staff painted red, as an emblem of his office) intoned a libation prayer, spilling gin from a small cup made from a cocoanut, but the real libation poet was another advisor to the chief who recited two libations to the accompaniment of quiet handclapping and a choral background. I have all this on tape and hope to work with a Ga speaker to obtain a transcription and a translation.


Man holding out libationThe libation complete, we took our leave, promising to return with copies of the photos we took. On the way back I chatted with some high school boys from the village whom we gave a lift to into Accra. They said the name of the village is Oshieye and the chief's name is Oshieye. Each of the fetish princesses dances for a different deity. They are chosen mostly through possession by the god. I have been surprised how alive the traditional gods are, in spite of a very visible surface of fervent Christianity. At the first village we visited on Sunday (in the Aburi hills) Kwesi's friend and our guide pointed to a wooded grove at the edge of town and said: "Our Gods live here." Traditional village culture persists here, even in this cultural haven of West Africa.



Text of Ga Libation


Elder:               Agoo! Agoo! Tsemei

Agoo! Agoo! Fathers




Response:         Amee!


Elder:                Mene ashi me?

Today is what day?


Response:         Mene ashi hכgbaa                                                                     [5]

Today is Sunday


Elder:                Miimi ahכgbaa

Our Father's Sunday      


Maame ahכbaa

Our Mother's Sunday


Mawu bo kenklen baa tsכnaa oha wכni eyi obכn

God you be the first to taste that it may be full to the brim


Ei! Odכ baa he eko onu okwashi okwa den   [1]

Ei! Odכ , come for some and drink that you may protect us


Shikpכn tse baa he eko onu                                                       [10]

Owner of our earth, come for some and drink


Mene baa he eko onu

Mene come for some and drink


Nana Otu Kwadzen baa he eko onu [2]

Nana Otu Kwadzen come for some and drink



Maa כokכ bi, Maa Amerbey

Maa כotכ's daughter, Maa Amerbey


Ten bi Ten

Ten's son, Ten 


Nye fee nyeba hea eko nye nua                                      [15]

All of you come for some and drink


Máa! Màa Saafia baa he eko onu

Máa! Mother Saapia come for some and drink


WB tse Kwoshie baa he eko onu [3]

Our father Kwoshie come for some and drink


Máa! Màa Sakumכ baa he eko onu ni okwa den  [4]

Maa! Mother Sakumכ come for some and drink and protect us


Ke dze ne_ma ke ashi adasurכ wכskee moko, wכshii moko

From south to north we call no one yet we leave no one out


Leele! Nii nidzi Mii Oshie etsofa dzin ekwe Ga me                            [20]

Truly! Nii, that's Nii Oshie using his medicines to nurse Ga people


Leele! Nye see, otsi le, wכgbe fee na

Truly! Before yesterday, last week, we finished all


Wכ dzi enaa gbee

Tomorrow we bring it to an end


Hewכ nye kenklen nye ba hea eko nye nua

So you all be the first to come and drink


Aye כtampo abonsam ni le ekee ekplee wכ ye mã

The witch and enemy of a devil who would not let us have our peace in this land


Wכ dzככ le, wכ dzככ le                                                           [25]

We bless him, we bless him

Hoo! Hoo!


Response:         Wכ dzככ le, wכ dzככ le

We bless him, we bless him


Hoo! Hoo!


Elder:                Wכ ke wכ kpa dzna le

We bind him with our rope


Response:         Egbo                                                                                         [30]

He is dead


Elder:                A wa eyi

Hoot at him


Response:         Hoo! Hoo!






Elder:                Kpãã wכ noni  [5]

The Kpãã is for us


Wכ shee le gbeyee Kraa

So we are not afraid of it at all


Omu ni oke noko shwee shi oke shwee eflo

Whosoever put something on the ground does it in vain


Response:         Eflo

In vain


Elder:                Hee! Kwa! Fante me kee "kwa"                                                    [5]


Twa! Omanye aba

Twa! Let there be peace!


Response:         Yao!

[1]Odכ is the name of a river that flows into Klore Lagoon.

[2]Nana is the term for "king." Nana Otu Kwazden is an important ancestor.

[3]Kwoshie was perhaps the founder of the town.

[4]Maa Sakumכ is a godess of the Sakumכ Lagoon.

[5]A festive dance featuring songs of verbal abuse.  

Back to Top


Last Modified Jan 30, 2023