Have Our Lives Changed for the Better?
Duodu, Cameron, New African
Long before colonialism arrived on the shores of Africa, the people lived a fulfilling life based on the ability to conquer and enjoy their own environment. But then, colonialism came and tried its best to psychologically shatter the people's self-confidence. The biggest weapon they used was "education". They sent us to school where we began to be brainwashed to despise our own way of life. Cameron Duodu looks back at a temps perdue.
Once, many years ago, the forest areas of Ghana were like Paradise. Our parents--like all other parents in our village--were allocated a plot on which to make a farm. We helped them to do it, as best as our meagre strength (now usually referred to by economists as "manpower resources") enabled us to. The whole family created the farm together and harvested it together. We hadn't heard of Karl Marx, yet we gave our services "each according to his ability" and we received from our farm, "each according to his need!"
The funny thing is that although we fulfilled one of his maxims for an ideal society, Karl Marx himself would probably have dismissed our society as "primitive" and "feudalistic" because our farmlands were shared to us under the supervision of our chief and his elders. We didn't complain about the system under which we got our farms, but Marxist purists would most certainly have condemned it on our behalf. Well, we didn't know any of that, so we didn't care. We grew our crops. And carried enough food home on our heads to feed ourselves. When our supply was exhausted, we went back to the farm and brought home some more food. Nobody taught us to have a "balanced diet". But somehow, we knew that yam, cocoyam and cassava (starchy foods) should be balanced with plantain (iron) and banana (sugar) as well as vegetables (vitamins).
More importantly, we also knew that we ought to eat things that gave our bodies protein. This is where the fun began. We crossed several streams before we reached our farms. Streams full of fish, crabs and prawns. Our father knew how to construct a trap out of dried raffia, which ingeniously enticed the water creatures into the traps with raw cassava, pawpaw, and other things that he had somehow discovered were delicacies for them. They went into the trap to eat these things. And they couldn't come out again. Instead, they became our delicacies.
There is no sight as edifying as watching one's father wade into the depths of a stream, pull out his well-hidden fish-trap (adwokuo) and empty out of it, a variety of wriggling and writhing creatures--shrimps, eels, tilapia, crabs, minnows.
There was a risk to this business--on a rare occasion, a water-snake would be inside the trap and a faint-hearted father would drop the trap back into the water and forget all about its catch. But a tough dad would find a way of releasing the snake back into the water. If the task proved dangerous, he would find a way to slash off its head carefully with his cutlass. We absorbed so much from our father by watching him that we could do some of the things he did, when he happened not to be around.
My mother could inspect fish-traps without sweat. And sometimes, I would ask to be allowed to do it--in the areas where the water was not too deep. You have not seen a happy boy until you see one who is sucking nice juice out of the claw of a boiled crab which he took out of the water himself (at what he imagined was some risk to himself, although his mother would have been watching over him to ensure that he came to no harm whatsoever).
Traps placed in strategic places in the forest were a different thing. They were more likely to catch dangerous snakes like black mambas. So they were approached with great care. The traps were usually made out of a strong piece of wood which was bent into a type of bow to whose end was attached a piece of wire or some other very strong string. Raw foodstuffs--cassava, cocoyam pawpaw and so on--were placed in the trap in such a way that any animal that tried to reach them would automatically displace a contraption that was attached to the bow and cause it to spring upwards. …