Magazine article New African

More Tales from Jaware

Magazine article New African

More Tales from Jaware

Article excerpt

Over a beer at Jaware, people's tongues loosened and they told you things which they would never tell even their close relatives or good friends. Stories that went beyond newspaper reports.

Since I wrote about Jaware in the last column, some friends have been making interconnections between what I wrote and what they have saved in their own private "internal data-banks" and which they probably would never have retrieved, had my Jaware recollections not prompted them to bare their minds.

One friend wrote to tell me that my description of the days of kalabule in Ghana had come just in time for her because she had been striving, without success, to make her sons understand "what we went through during the era when we were ruled by General Kutu Acheampong!"

I did not have the heart to tell her that some of the same things also happened under General Joseph Ankrah, General Fred Akuffo and Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and were not unique to Kutu Acheampong's time. One thing is clear, though, military rulers approach economic problems as if they were drawing up a strategy for conquering an enemy force. But in economics, there are no friends and no enemies. If there is a beer shortage, the beer price will go up, and no armoured car can change that. Not only that, beer-thirst can affect both a regime's friends and its enemies alike.

Another friend wrote to ask me whether I knew that the word Jaware comes from the song "Yaa Amponsaa", made popular by the very first guitar-artist star in Ghana, Jacob Sam, who also worked under the name of Kwame Asare and his Kumasi Trio, and recorded it in 1928. Sam later plagiarised himself and brought out another song called "Lamle", whose lyrics were almost identical to those of "Yaa Amponsaa".

The woman that Sam idolised as Yaa Amponsaa/Lamle in his songs, was depicted in the lyrics as having a neck "like that of a pumpkin." Sam also said that the hair on Yaa Amponsaah's head was like "strings of silk". Wow! An African who didn't have "kinky" hair but hair like "strings of silk"?

This mystified me until another line gave me a clue. Sam said that Yaa Amponsaa looked "like a white woman!" This seemed like a contradiction: if Sam was singing about a white woman, then why would he say that she was "like" a white woman? Then I got it: Sam was actually talking about a composite woman; a black woman who also had the features normally associated with a white woman!

Operation Guitar Boy

It wasn't until a friend pointed out to me that Bembeya Jazz from Guinea had also recorded a Yaa Amponsaa song that the mystery was finally cleared up for me. For the Bembeya song spoke about Mami Wata, a water-inhabiting woman who was half-goddess and half-human and who was often confused with the mermaid found in European mythology.

Mami Wata, of course, also features in Nigerian mythology. Victor Uwaifo made a memorable record about her called "Guitar Boy". This song advised a "guitar boy" that if he happened upon Mami Wata (presumably on the beach), he should be courageous enough "never never to run away!" from her.

Now, this song's call for courage had a cathartic effect on the political history of Ghana. For, on 17 April 1967, a small group of soldiers, taking the words of the song quite literally, drove 103 miles or so from Ho to Accra and tried to overthrow the very strong, military government of the National Liberation Council (NLC), that had itself overthrown President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Led by Lieutenant S. B. …

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