(culled from Network herald) — In later years, at Achimota where he taught African music to my husband, my brother and my sister, I heard more about Owura Amu. I was also lucky to have been among the first group of Achimota students that he taught to play the Dondo. It was a fascinating experience because he was such a good teacher and I could feel his own bubbling interest in what he was teaching. I was also one of the selected girl students that he first taught a special song of invocation, “Hohoin papa inesi nne o” to parade the compound of Achimota College, (as it was known then) at dawn long before sunrise, to evoke the spirits of Gu–isberg, Fraser and Aggrey at the beginning of the Founders’ day celebrations. The song with the dawn parade became an important part of College tradition.
But it was through the small community of the nucleus staff and students of the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi in the fifties that my family became more intimately acquainted with Owura Amu and his family. Three times I was privileged to have him perform, with impeccable dignity, the traditional outdooring ceremony which welcomed my three children into the community Over the years, our families grew closer and I still hold in my mind, an image of Owura Amu coming down our drive way, the joy of genius shinning on his face, calling, “Takyibea”! “Ahwireng”! to show and demonstrate music from a new mouth piece that he had successfully carved to fit the traditional flute odtirtigya or atenteben! Believe me when I say, Owura Amu was an amazing genius!
My respect and admiration for Owura Amu goes further back than that. I remember an argument with a student colleague who giggled and poked fun, (as some people do when they are embarrassed by their own inadequacy and ignorance of a subject), because Owura Amu was wearing a shirt and shorts made from unbleached cotton material woven from local spun yarn, and, on his feet he had locally-made “Afro Moses” sandals. You may find it interesting that the “AfroMoses” sandals became a footwear of top fashion internatinally, many, many decades after Owura Amu had been wearing it! Owura Amu was definitely a man before his time.
Anyway, I was quite angered by my ignorant colleague because, at the time, I had just heard some details of the story of Owura Amu’s disagreement with the Synod of the Presbyterian Church over the wearing of our Ghana traditional attire and I was full of admiration for his courage and his daring to dress in a non-European fashion in those days.
That period in the Gold Coast was certainly a difficult one. It was a time when the European (largely English) way of life was having a major impact on life in the Colony and everything European was perceived as superior to anything African. It was a time when it was seen as better to accept and adopt European ways, however unsuitable and uncomfortable, than follow the African way of life. It was a time when imitation of the European seemed the most direct route to a better standing in society and access to jobs and wealth. It has been said that, at the time, the use of the English language and the practice of the English way of life were almost synonymous with being civilized and Christian.
So strong was this type of peer pressure on the Gold Coast African that several solid and respected families anglicized their indigenous names. As I understand, Kuranchi became Crentsil, Dua, Wood; Mensa, Menson; Kuntu, Blankson; Adoba, Addison; Ewusie, Wilson. Many of them, of course later went back to their original indigenous names.
But, as I said, it was a difficult time with emphasis on upgrading the non-African over the African. The colonial powers, I understand, (but perhaps because of the inability to get their tongues around the pronounciation of non-English words), even changed the names and spelling of the names of towns; Akyemfu became Saltpond, Oguaa -Cape Coast, Asante-Ashanti, Nkokoo became Nkawkaw. But perhaps we may take consolation from the fact that this adulteration of names also happened elsewhere in the empire; Botswana became Bechuanaland, Malawi, Nyasaland.The most ingenious name change by the colonial power was that of a little island with an indigenous name of Kiribati. It became Gilbert Island.
Also during this period in the Gold Coast, there were quite uninformed, often autocratic, foreign missionaries who were wont to rate most things African as heathen on the basis of the only st,’indards that they knew from their own systems back home. Our religions, music, traditional institutions, customary practices and other elements of culture were misinterpreted and often condemned. Art work and sculpture, architecture were considered primitive; musical instruments, talking drums,foWoiifroiiz, atetenben, horns and flutes were condemned as pagan and heathen as were our traditional dances.
The Biographer quotes Otto Boateng to explain this condemnation of our music and instruments. He records that our rhythms and music were totally alien and strange to the foreigners, and therefore “African songs were considered vulgar, pagan and unbecoming of a church teacher or catechist”. They were not alone in thinking so in those days. From elsewhere, a German writer of the time is quoted to have said of Africa, that “it had no contribution to make to the world”. In short, our culture and its various manifestations, language, dance, music, religions, traditions, institutions were not only misunderstood, but were roundly condemned.
Apparently, in the Gold Coast, there were exceptions to this extreme view. Rattray, the famous anthropologist who did a lot of work in Ashanti is recorded to have taken the Basel missionaries to task for not trying to integrate Christianity and some of the traditional African religious rituals. But of course in those days such an act would have.