I recently returned to Ghana, West Africa, for the third time. One evening during this visit, I went to the home of my dear friend Samuel Tetteh. His wife Eugenia had a towel in their kitchen that declared: “Every meal is a story.” Yes! I thought. This is very true everywhere, but perhaps especially in Ghana.
For two weeks, in Ghana, I ate stories.
I ate boiled yams, fried plantains, yam balls, abula, a little kenké, spicy tomato stew with chicken or fish, bananas and mangos and the freshest pineapple … I drank pineapple-watermelon juice for days. Of course, one of the meals most often enjoyed in Ghana is fufu, a dough made from yam, saturated with palm nut soup, and eaten by hand.
To prepare the dough, the yam must be pounded with a mortar and pestle. The pestle is as tall as a person while the mortar is a tall, rounded wooden bowl with sides that curve upward so the mouth is smaller in diameter than the rest of the interior of the bowl. (See Ghanaian Cusine for a picture!) This particular method of preparation proved to have a storied significance, which I learned of when I visited Kakum National Forest.
At a certain point while hiking through the trees, the Ewe tour guide asked her international visitors, “How many types of people are there in the world?” Without saying anything, I thought to myself: one type (because we are all human). Alternatively, of course, I thought: there are thousands of types of people! So imagine my surprise when she said, “Two!” Guess which two?
“Men and women,” she said.
She then went on to explain how the mortar and pestle used to make fufu symbolize the relationship between men and women. For two of the exactly three people on this hike who had actually seen fufu made (the two being myself and a Ghanaian friend named Festus), this was inevitably funny, but the third, a Ghanaian professor, gave no sign that he noticed the implications.
Ah, food and stories …
Stories often come after a meal, too (as well as in the middle of long walks in new places), and one evening when I was staying at the home of my dear friend Kate Tetteh in Lartebiokorshie just outside of the city of Accra, my five-year-old goddaughter and I had a story-telling contest. She would recite a poem, then I would sing a song, and back and forth we went for more than an hour, I all the while amazed at everything Padiki had memorized.
Among other things, Padiki recited the Ghanaian Pledge and then sang the national anthem. The words seemed so innocent but so powerful in the mouth of a child.
The National Pledge
“I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland. I pledge myself to the service of Ghana with all my strength and with all my heart. I promise to hold in high esteem our heritage, won for us through the blood and toil of our fathers; and I pledge myself in all things to uphold and defend the good name of Ghana. So help me God.”
The Ghanaian National Anthem
God Bless our homeland Ghana,
And make our nation great and strong,
Bold to defend for ever the cause of Freedom and of Right.
Fill our hearts with true humility
Make us cherish fearless honesty,
And help us to resist oppressor’s rule
With all our will and might for evermore.
Hail to thy name, O Ghana.
To thee we make our solemn vow;
Steadfast to build together
A nation stong in Unity;
With our gifts of mind and strength of arm,
Whether night or day, in mist or storm,
In every need whate’er the call may be,
To serve thee, Ghana, now and evermore.
Raise high the flag of Ghana,
And one with Africa advance;
Black Star of hope and honour,
To all who thirst for liberty;
Where the banner of Ghana freely flies,
May the way to freedom truly lie
Arise, arise, O sons of Ghanaland.
And under God march on for evermore.
(For a picture of Ghana’s flag and coat of arms, see the Ghanaian Flag, Pledge, Anthem, and Coat of Arms.)
The words of the pledge and the song pierced my heart. I thought of how noble and how right they were. I thought of the history hidden within them, and the love of home, and the spiritual strength of endurance.
I wondered what America would be like if our national anthem explicitly remembered the shed-blood of our ancestors and the necessity for deep personal humility.
I wondered what Ghana, a developing nation, would be like in twenty years when Padiki’s generation comes of age in an amazing world.