Notes from Ghana #11

Waiting for things to happen here is one of the challenges and a super typical part of life. You either embrace it or Ghana beats you. I would say that the number of questions I get a day that start with “how long?” or, “when do we…?” have drastically reduced and in fact have become somewhat of an inside joke now. I think everyone is in fact embracing the elastic time. Here are Angie, Danielle and Jona waiting on the lodge porch  to load into “My Goodness” .

An now some great notes from Rory about our day trip on Friday.

TOKWOE

By Rory Magill

We climbed aboard the aptly named ‘My Goodness’ yesterday, all thirty-five of us, less one or two suffering temporary discomforts, in search of the real original Tokwoe. This is a piece we love to dance in the modern ‘creative’ choreography we were taught long ago. We have always wanted to see and hear the traditional style, and learned some years ago from our master, Kwasi Dunyo, that the real original one is from the lyrically named Mafi Kumase (ma-fee koo-ma-see). One day we would surely visit that place and see the real Tokwoe (toh-kway). Now at last, this would be the day, and Kwasi has arranged for a presentation, except: at the eleventh hour we learned that the asking price for the drumming and singing and dancing is too high, and a volley of cellphone calls began to sound like there would be no trip to Mafi Kumase. Happily, an agreement was reached (some money for the performing group, some for their village school) and now there we were climbing aboard ‘My Goodness’, aptly named for two reasons. First, it is indeed very good to us, transporting us in cool comfort as an entire group and not divided into three tro-tros with no room to stretch and nothing like cool comfort. Second, ‘My Goodness’ expresses our marvel at the deft negotiations made on highways and dirt tracks, in this inter-city bus, by our capable driver Kobla, delivering us always safely and in good time.

Our search for Mafi Kumase took us first partway back to Accra, branching at Sogakope. That is the bridge town spanning the Volta River, which has flowed in from the north of Ghana, swelling into the massive man-made Lake Volta just north of Sogakope, then spilling over the mighty Akosombo Dam, then under the bridge at Sogakope and on and into the Atlantic Ocean at Ada, where the fresh water of the Volta visibly pushes up against the salt surf of the Atlantic, creating a rolling wall of water, marking the edge of the Gulf of Guinea.

We branched right at Sogakope, heading to Adidome and right again. The road north was nicely paved and then not very paved and then under construction, narrowed to one width and pocked with holes.

Lesser vehicles often pulled into tiny spaces to make way for our sometimes unrelenting village on wheels.

After a succession of town names starting with ‘Mafi’, evidently named for the particular Ewe tribe in the area, we eventually made one more right hand turn that put us, after a pleasant two-hour drive, in Mafi Kumase. Kobla pulled the bus as close to the drain-ditch as you might ever hope for and we cheered at our arrival. Then our dear brother Jambola motioned from the driver’s window of his tro-tro to go back turn around, and so we did. We came back to the intersection with the main road and faced a few options: the main road north or south, and a couple of dirt roads, one smaller than the other. That was our road, the smaller one, and it became smaller the further we travelled. Tall grasses on either side were now able to brush the red dust off the sides of the bus and we seemed to float through fields, still at surprising speeds, though we did slow to a crawl once or twice when the tiny road had washed out just a little. No problem for Kobla. Wonderful entertainment for the busload.

We reached the tiny village of Masi Adakpa Bakpa Akpokope, our true true destination. Kobla parked the bus near the school field, where rows of chairs and benches were set up for us in the shade of a few trees, and then we walked back down the road in a remarkably hot sun, to greet the village chief in his house. There was just room for us all to squeeze in to his living room, children on the cool polished terrazzo floor, women in chairs behind them and the men, of course, on the white sectional sofa positioned directly under the air conditioner at the front. Curtains were drawn, the room was cool and no amount of greeting in Ewe would be uncomfortably long. Introductions were made by our host, a former member of the assembly and spokesman for the elderly chief who sat and listened. Our chief, if Kwasi Dunyo is our chief, sat looking entirely bored, as sometimes befits a chief or a big man, though he did give warm greeting to the village elders when he moved from right to left to shake their hands, snapping fingers as they do, following the introductions on our side given by our Queen Mother, Kahti Amstrong.

Back into the heat of the day we went, back down the road, into our seats in the shade and then two excellent things happened. Clouds came in and cooled the sky right away, and then the long-anticipated Tokwoe began. Everyone was colourfully and individually dressed, in contrast to Dagbamete Unity who, the day before, had performed decked out all in black and red in, their large numbers. The Tokwoe group was much smaller, closer to our size. After some introductory singing, which was at once familiar and different, the drumming began and right away three men jumped up from their bench, pulling each other out to the front of the group, plainly happy to show off their effervescent dancing. The energy of this group was immediately warm and welcoming and smiles went up all round. The first brief dance had not finished before a woman or a child would grab another, or two, and pull out in front and dance for our delight as well as their own. The bell rhythm in Tokwoe is an infectious one that makes it easy to dance. It is the one element of our modern version of Tokwoe that remains intact. Here it was being played not only on gankogui bell but also beat out on large pieces of scrap metal with heavy sticks. The drumming and singing resembled the Ewe styles we hear in Dagbamete, but we now had travelled far enough to see and hear something different – a little bit or a lot, depending on your perspective — and now we are taking in the ‘real original one’ Tokwoe.

It was after only a few dance displays that one of the women approached our side and pulled one of our kids up to dance. Instantly, a buzz of excitement and appreciation passed through their group. Clearly the yevus were serious about this. (We are the yevus). Soon it was a complete dance party and scarves were draped on the shoulders of the most compelling dancers, some of whom, apparently, were among the yevus. Our dear brother Ledzi (leh-jee) was one of the stand-out dancers. (In fact, he will dance the highly athletic and hugely impressive Atsiagbekor later today with his village’s group.) He danced Tokwoe beautifully, putting his own style into it, maybe even the footwork of an Atsiagbekor dancer. All smiles.

There was a highly original woman who danced alone as she passed through the scene from time to time. Maybe she was crazy, or insane, as some people still like to say here, but what does that even mean? She held a notebook and a pencil, she was rather slight, in a dead-white-man top (used imported clothing) in a leopard print, with a zany striped dance cloth around her middle, and a black wig styled to suit an early Carol Burnett show. Then there was the young village child who was pulled halfway into the dance before pulling himself back with all his might with a look of horror on his face. No matter. There were ridiculous costumes worthy of Parliament Funkadelic, one young man wore a thick heavy oversized stuffed beige top hat that would keep you warm in a winter storm. Happy smiles for all. More dances with the hosts and the visitors beckoning one another. Carol Burnett danced through again, this time holding her black wig at her side like a dance partner. Her skinny legs and all made it plain to see that she was dancing about as much like a chicken as was humanly possible. Very like a chicken.

When the Tokwoe eventually stopped, it was decided spontaneously that our youth would present something of their own to the villagers, and so a fully unrehearsed Danse Guerriere began. There was no comparison with the high energy dance party that had just ended, but the village people loved to see it and demonstrated their happy approval.

And then, just as quickly as the grey clouds had cooled the hot blue sky at the beginning of the gathering, new black clouds appeared to signal the end. Rain was imminent. There was no particular concern about getting wet, and dancing in the rain might have taken this excellent party to a worthy climax, but there might well be lightening, and nobody needs that much excitement. And more importantly, the tiny moderately washed out road that brought us here, and that would take us back to the main road again, might very well wash out altogether if the rain would be heavy. We rallied, waved our greetings and deep appreciation to the fine people of Masi Adakpa and ran for the dry comfort of ‘My Goodness’. Kobla navigated all roads and traffic and a variety of weather conditions to get us safely back to Akatsi vicinity, then suddenly pulled the bus to the side of the main road, jumped down, calling back as he left the bus, “Please, I must greet my Mum.” All on board raised a cheer for Kobla’s mum and watched as he crossed the road, jumped the drain ditch and disappeared (if only for a few minutes) down a tiny alley.

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5 Responses to Notes from Ghana #11

  1. Chris says:

    What an amazing adventure! Rory – you really made it come alive. I can almost hear the drums and feel the energy of the dancing.

  2. Dev says:

    TOKWOE … a page turner, terrific!

  3. Jan Downing says:

    I found myself smiling, laughing and dancing my way through this most wonderful description of your day. Thanks Rory.

  4. C.A. Thomas says:

    WONDERFUL! Great story! Fantastic pics!!!!

  5. Pingback: Baobab Tree Drum Dance Community Ottawa

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