It’s the 55th anniversary of Ghana’s Independence Day today. What that means is that all around the world where there are Ghanaian communities there will be some kind of “function” to celebrate this event. In fact, these “functions” likely started last weekend and you can expect somewhere in this world the Ghanaian Independence Day “function” will occur in a few weeks.
I actually have not been to a Ghana Independence Day function that I can remember. In fact, I have not attended many Ghanaian functions but I have attended a number of diplomatic “functions”, a couple “funerals”, and an Abissa (in Europe) to have a general idea as to what to expect. Oh, I suppose my own medical school graduation was a function in itself because there were family members from 4 countries present.
Before I go on, let me explain that going to a “funeral” is quite a social event, and said “funeral” in my experience is a memorial service for someone who may have died a year back, or who actually may have died recently but are being buried in Ghana where the real funeral is happening, but those of us abroad need our own funeral “function”, whether or not that person lived amongst us at the time they died. To break it down further, fictional Auntie Comfort lives in Edmonton, Canada and last month her mother’s sister (ie. aunt) who raised her when she was a child died. Forget the fact that this elderly aunt has never been to Canada and forget the fact that Auntie Comfort hasn’t seen her in oh, 15 years. For one reason or another, Auntie Comfort won’t be able to go to Ghana for the customary rites of mourning and burial, so she will arrange a “funeral” to honour the life of her dear aunt within the Ghanaian community of Edmonton. And if Auntie Comfort were ever to make it to Ghana in the next few years, she will be sure to visit the home of her deceased aunt for the customary rites of mourning.
Eii, but here I go again on a tangent. Insight into a Ghanaian Function is the blog post of the day. Focus!
First of all, a “function” has to be in a rented hall because you need space for the dance-floor. My medical school graduation was being attended by family members (aunts, uncles etc), the number of which I was not privy to until maybe a couple days prior. My thought was well we’ll just go to a restaurant, or we’ll just eat at home. Ha! The joke was on me.
|A typical holiday spread at home|
That brings us to the second point. It cannot be a Ghanaian function without catered Ghanaian food. By catered I mean the female relatives and close friends of whoever is throwing the function will cook everything. In the case of my medical school graduation, my mother drove 9 hours with parts of a whole goat in an ice bag, amongst other “ingredients” to my place (as if I did not live near a grocery store that sold tomatoes, onions etc) and she and my aunties spent the weekend cooking up a storm in my little one bedroom apartment kitchen.
|I cooked this mini-spread for my birthday one year|
What is on the menu of a typical Ghanaian function you ask? Of course jollof rice. But there might also be Ghanaian “fly rice” (fried rice), or waakye (rice & beans). There would probably be balls of kenkey (Ga or Fante) or perhaps banku. In all likelihood, there would be some fufu hiding somewhere, you just have to be privy. If it’s an Nzema function, trust that there will be attiéké! There will be fried (or baked) chicken – no, not the American breaded and moist fried chicken – the Ghanaian dry as leather fried chicken. There will also be fried fish in the same degree of crispiness. But again at an Nzema function, there will probably be grilled fish with the usual topping of fresh tomatoes, onions, and peppers. There will be tomato stew with either chicken or tough-to-chew beef or goat. Condiments will be shitɔ (fried chili sauce of pepper, dried fish, dried shrimp) and pepper sauce (salsa of grinded hot pepper, tomatoes, onion). Then there will be the soup. It’s not going to be chicken groundnut soup. Au contraire. It will be goat or a seafood light (pepper) soup. There might be a few sticks of suya (kebab) but you have to be extra early to get one of those. Same goes with the fried plantain. These will be all laid out at one end of the hall in aluminum foil pans or in the pots in which they had been cooked.
|Grilled tilapia with attiéké – Nzema comfort food!|
The drinks will invariably be various “minerals” and beer (ie. Heineken, Guinness) in an ice-chest somewhere. The kids will know where, because invariably it will be them who will be told “Ɛ-heee, you, kε bεfεlε wɔ ε? (what’s your name?), ε-heee, go bring me a Guinness, a coooold one”. If there are no kids, then it will be the young ladies who will be sent on these missions to get this or the other, serve so-and-so and the other. In fact, when we were in Germany last year, my sisters and I were invited to a funeral.It was a memorial service for a matriarch who had died the year before. We did not know her nor her family. My sisters were rounded up to go to the kitchen to get the drinks to offer to the guests. Our “auntie” (family friend) who invited us to the event quickly put a stop to that, in her eyes we were guests too and besides the teenage and young adult grandchildren of the matriarch being honoured were “sitting there doing nothing”. Also, when I was in Ethiopia in 2010, I went with my father to the Ambassador’s residence to watch that fateful World Cup match, and some other African ambassador present grabbed me (forget the fact that was an obvious servant staff in pressed black and white uniforms), no, he grabbed me and instructed me to get him some Schnapps or other liquor which I did begrudgingly. Another good role for the young women present, guests or not, is bearer of the bowl of water, soap & napkin for those who want to eat with their hands to wash them.
Speaking of which, at these functions you will see a clear divide between the elders sticking to tradtion, wearing “cloth”, speaking a local language while their Westernized children of teenage or young adulthood age sit aloof or amongst themselves in Western clothing, speaking the language of the land, and absolutely ignoring whatever summons has been asked of them. The real young kids? If around, will be running all over the place.
If you happen to arrive at said function early, that is if you arrived at the time printed on the flyer, you will probably find the hall empty and you might find yourself part of the organizing party, setting up tables and placing balloons. This will happen to you even if you are the token white guest who actually thought that the “function” will start at the appointed time. This “Ghanaian time” gene is one I do not possess. I think it’s because my grandfather refused for his children to be tardy and therefore my mother does not play with her time either. But it is a serious matter. I still don’t know what time to gauge for my arrival at Ghanaian, and actually any African event. I just ask the organizer “seriously, just tell me what time I should truly arrive. Please. It says 8pm, do you really want me there at 8pm, cos I’ll be there, I’ll be there, oh.”
Case in point, this “funeral” my sisters and I were invited to in Germany. We were at the museum enjoying our last days and we got a call asking what we were doing that evening. Having nothing planned, we agreed to join our “auntie” (family friend) at a Ghanaian party. That’s what she called it. It was to start around 8pm but if we could make it to her place before that, we would all go together. So since I’m in charge and me being me, I didn’t want to be late. I rushed my sisters out of the museum, rushed them on our way home, rushed them while we were getting ready, rushed them on our way to our “auntie’s” place (yeah they enjoyed allladat), only to sit and wait. 8pm came and went and we were still waiting. 9 pm came and went. Waiting. Waiting for someone else who was coming with us. 10 pm. Still waiting. Oh by the way, it’s during this whole waiting time that we learn it’s a “funeral” we are going to and already I want to change my mind. We finally leave and get to the community center where the event was being held. Would you know it? We trickled in with others. The family members themselves were not yet there. The DJ himself was finishing setting up. The MC sef was not ready! Imagine. It was well after midnight before the thing got started, and I just wanted to go to bed! My people.
At a Ghanaian function there will be the DJ who tries to play all the latest Ghanaian and African bashes with some throw-in highlife for the older people, and some throw-in hip-hop for the Western people but invariably the acoustics will be way off. Also way off are the attempts at jokes the MC will make. The MC that you will hear from the entire night, calling upon someone for a prayer, someone else for a libation, some other person for words of wisdom, undsowieter. Sometimes, the speaker will forget that he’s on the microphone, a poorly set up microphone at that, and will proceed to scream whatever he is saying passionately (mind you Ghanaians already speak loudly and enunciate every syllable when they want to be heard) so expect your night to be filled with lots of high pitched screeches and someone running up to the MC to properly position the microphone or change it or something.
I don’t know what time that funeral in Berlin finished. We left around 2am and it was just beginning to pop. But imagine you have rented a hall at your local community center. Or horrors still, you are hosting at your own home. Do you actually expect them to allow you to throw it down until the wee hours of the morning? So why get upset when the neighbours call the police on you? Why say the party was not “sweet” or there was no food when you decided to arrive 4 or 5 hours after the designated start time. Oh, time to go so soon? Yeah, time to go!