Before I turned seven, unruly behavior had my mother package me and send me off from Accra to my father in Ada. She felt my father, by virtue of his manhood (- no I do not mean his male member), would be in a better position to raise me into the man she wanted me to be. At that age, I knew I was a Dangbe boy – whatever that means – but I understood and spoke Dangbe with the facility of a chimp mimicking human toddlers! At age seven, of course, I knew nothing about ethnic identity, history or culture.
It was during this period of my stay in Ada – about two years, that I came to be familiarised with the Dangbe language and culture, particularly the peoples. There are various clans and within Dangbe, it is never enough to tell a fellow Dangbe that you’re one too. The next question, by default, will be, “Which ‘wé’ do you come from?” and that too will be followed with when was the last time you visited “wém”? “Wé”, literally ‘home’, used to mean ‘clan’ in this context, is your root among my people and anyone who came from that wé is a blood relation. It is peculiarly embarrassing if you were asked these questions and you failed to know. You are considered a “lost” soul and your relations took it upon themselves to take time to lecture you on these matters in order that you are redirected unto the path of righteousness!. While these rather long, often boring lectures provided me some knowledge of my ethnicity, I must admit that they didn’t imbue any sense of pride in me. It isn’t that I was ashamed of my ethnicity. I just couldn’t be bothered.
After these lessons about my people from my people, came my Cultural Studies classes in primary and junior secondary school. Then I had to beef-up from private reading sessions of books mostly discussing the broad subject of how the various ethnic groups in Ghana came to be, their histories, and cultures. Coupled with reading panAfrican literature heavily influenced by Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Jomo Kenyatta, I dropped the “European Christian” name I had been given at birth – Stephen (go ahead, have a laugh) – , pushed my “traditional” name – Amanor – onto my documents, and adopted another Ghanaian name – Bubuney. I wanted my name to unequivocally identify me as Dangbe and African wherever I went. At this point, I was being prideful of my ethnic and African origins.
In senior secondary school (the boarding house), my stereotypes, picked from the communities I had grown in, about people from other ethnic groups were shattered. It was weird at the time. How is it that someone of this or that ethnicity was so brilliant? How is he so neat? I thought they were supposed to be dirty. I thought they were violent. I thought they were loud. I am ashamed to admit, these stereotypes were mostly of people from the North of the country. The Southerners were neat, clever, reasonable, amenable and pliable. And I had mostly spent the preceding years with people from the South. And within the South of Ghana, the supposedly cleverer, more peaceful side, people from one ethnic group hold some damning suspicion or stereotype of the other. The Ewes think the Asantes bigots, and the Asantes think the Ewes juju-invoking, cat-eating (- an anathema among most Akan groups), brethren-loving/nepotic (“nyebro”) nuisance! The Gas are lazy, i-won’t-move-from-my-parents’-home-even-though-I’m-married, unambitious lot. Krobo women are prostitutes. And Ga women are man-beaters! Fantes are the ones who spend all their lives interlacing their English (- no, not their Fante) with Fante (- no, not English). Their women have expensive tastes.
These stereotypes and a legion of others are what most Ghanaians of my generation grew up in. And repercussions have been damning: of business transactions that couldn’t materialise because one partner became suspicious of the other after s/he learnt of their ethnicity; of couples that wouldn’t be allowed to marry because of ethnic origins; of political appointments made only on the basis of ethnicity; of votes at the national elections cast purely on the basis of ethnicity and so on.
Elsewhere, ethnic sentiments, stereotypes, mutual recriminations, and bigotry have drenched nations into brutal genocides. These are barely the telling realities of what impact ethnicity and ethnic stereotypes play in our national fibre. We need brutally honest conversations about these matters. And we need to break down our ethnic barriers in the knowledge that although our ethnic origins may be our surest source of self-identity, our current fates are irrevocably intertwined, and to thrive as a nation, national interests must unfailingly supercede ethnic allegiances. And those of us who have had the privilege to educate ourselves (sorry, I do not mean schooling) and to identify stereotypes, and bigotry for what they are and the harm they cause, must spearhead in the dismantling of those barriers.
Hi, my name is Amanor Bubuney Apenkro. Please call me Nii. Nice to meet you!