Notes from Ghana #16

Now, some writing from the newly shaved Rory Magill (called Sakura now that his head is shaved…a ritual for him on Ghana trips). Here he is describing our last night’s party in Dagbamete that I alluded to……

Kwasi has a way with people. I may say. And he demonstrated his prolific skills thuswise on our last night in the village: by orchestrating a grand and hugely enjoyable party. Days before the party would begin, he sent Maggie out to buy a goat, a goat of good size, which then spent its last days in relative tranquility, tied to a tree in the outdoor kitchen of the impressive Dunyo family compound. However briefly, he (he was clearly a he) was a member of the impressive Dunyo clan. A day later…..we learned there were now two goats. One full-sized goat would not feed the entire party? Anyway, goat soup the day after the party would not go uneaten, in fact. A day later…..we learned there were now three goats. Two full-sized goats would not feed the entire party? Something was up.

We requested a special preparation of the goat, in the form of a dish that we had enjoyed only once ever, and only in small quantity, on a previous visit to Dagbamete. It was chewy and a little crispy and rich with the flavour and aroma of coconut. In fact, that story was a little funny in itself. Some years before we had enjoyed two small pieces each of fantastic coconut goat and commended the cook and asked if we might have it again. The answer was yes, you must go to Akatsi market and buy some goat. Some goat…..we went with a driver into Akatsi expecting to find a butcher and ask for some goat meat. Not, in fact, some goat meat, but rather one goat. We returned to Dagbamete with an extra passenger in the van. The next day the bleating stopped and the first of several, several successive goat meals graced our table, though disappointingly it bore little resemblance to the previous day’s dish, goat though it was.

Now, years later, I asked if we could at least buy the coconut oil needed for the preparation of these three goats for the party, feeling sure that this would improve our chances of once again tasting glorious coconut goat. I was directed to find Agbadada, the new Agbadada, who is not only the leader of the women of Dagbamete (dada in Ewe is mama in English), but also a vendor of coconut oil who lives on the other side of the village. Luckily, I met young Sami on my way and he would save me some time and aimless asking by taking me straight to the correct place. Once there we did not find Agbadada. However a lovely woman there spoke with Sami who then assured me that the oil for sale right there was Agbadada’s oil, so I happily asked for two bottles. Oh! the woman said, they have already sent it to the house. (?) I knew full well that she meant Kwasi’s house, but I asked anyway, because I couldn’t fully understand it. I had just left the house with directions to go find Agbadada and buy her oil. Now it seemed the oil had already found me. Yes, she said, it had gone to Kwasi’s house. Kwasi himself had just now been by and ordered a full six-gallon bucket. Good thing I asked. Now I had every assurance of coconut goat to come.

The morning of the party, we learned that a very powerful chief, as we were told, a very powerful warrior chief was on the road from Akatsi. In fact! he was in Dagbamete, right here, right now. This chief would be guest of honour at our farewell party. In a cleverly calculated move full of his enthusiastic generosity, Kwasi would pull out all the stops to impress and befriend this powerful chief and our farewell party would be the vehicle of his extravagance, and we would go happily along for a wonderful ride. Yes, in fact, the powerful warrior chief, the Torgbui, was now in the village, Kwasi told me excitedly, and Supa (Super) told me excitedly, and the Torgbui would surely attend the party.

A quick visit to the kitchen area outside the back of the compound revealed a fabulous scene of all available Dunyo women – Agbeshinor, Mansah, Maggi, Vivian, Bernice, Mabel, Adzo, Roda and others – working full steam at four separate fires under the darkening sky. The energy was vibrant and the air was delicious. Only an hour before in full daylight, Kwasi’s sons Joe and Abee had stood over one of these fires turning a whole goat – complete: fur, skin, eyes, ears, nose, manhood – on the flame, singeing its fur with the flat side of a hot machete. Do goats even have fur? Perhaps they have hair instead. They certainly have manhood. (And then one wonders about the goat soup the day after.)

Back to Kwasi’s room, and the expectant excitement is fulfilled with the sight of a man dressed in regal purple and gold robes sitting directly to Kwasi’s left, backed by his retinue, several full-energy gregarious Ewe men talking and laughing in fine but not regal robes. Kwasi was in full smile and pouring on the complimentary attention as generously as his attendant Supa was pouring out the tots of Red for the assembled guests. In fact, first there were tots of premium vodka from a fancy silver bottle, and then Kwasi’s beloved Red. The visiting chief was all smiles with much laughter, so we could see that things were going well. Supa was surely thrilled. He had been promoted, for the occasion, to the position of atsiame or “linguist” to Kwasi the self-annointed, if unofficial, chief of his domain. Kwasi might as well be chief of his village, he is certainly that powerful a figure in so many ways in village life, though he is far better off self-annointed and unofficial – much less trouble for him that way. And Supa the new linguist did very well speaking the opening introductions and explanations and praises.

The visiting chief was clearly having fun, and surely new plans were being hatched for the very near future. And we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, extending and receiving numerous greetings with many snapping handshakes, Ewe greetings and English chatter. There was much reverent talk of this chief’s palanquin. Palanquin? How often does this word come up in regular conversation. This is a chief who knows how to make an entrance and does it for very special occasions in a chariot carried high atop the shoulders of his men. Perhaps not all that comfortable or steady, come to think of it, but not shabby either. This powerful warrior chief, as we first heard of him spoken, actually seemed like a very friendly chap who undoubtedly throws pretty great parties himself. And so we learn that his annual festival – palanquin and all – is coming up in little more than a week’s time and so we all fill the room with the disappointment that we the whites will miss the occasion by mere days. Days. The chief insists, in the friendliest way imaginable, that we call him on his cell phone and quickly gives us his number. This could easily turn into a very funny story about chiefs and their cell phones and their ringtones and how cellphones interrupt all important political and spiritual discussions and events, but that will have to wait. Our new friend the Torgbui of Mefe is clearly intent on keeping in touch. And of course we will call. You never know where things might go. Kwasi has taught us that by his remarkable example. We were witnessing such deft social networking right there as he negotiated the inclusion of his brethern of the Dzogadze Atsiagbekor dance troupe Brim Shi Brim (Warrior Conquers Warrior) in the chief’s upcoming festival. And you must know that Kwasi will not need a palanquin to make a grand and impressive entrance in chiefly robes at that festival in Mefe.

By now Bobobo drumming can be heard warming up somewhere outside Kwasi’s house and coconut is filling the air and so we take our leave of these two friendly parties to enjoy the first beginnings of the party outdoors. The common area between the lodge and the houses is now filled with tables and chairs for al fresco dining and dancing. The newly acquired chafing dishes are set in place in a long buffet full of promise. The Bobobo drummers are from Dzogadze and in fact the songs are being brought by one of the wonderfully talented Agudzamegah brothers, Sami, senior brother to Ledzi, beloved of Baobab.

We are called to dinner and immediately face a great difficulty. There is too much food and it is all – like all good Ghanaian food – heavy and filling, and it all looks (to quote someone’s recent remark) top drawer. And so the great difficulty, the challenge, is to select most carefully. I purposefully bypass all the rice and fufu and half the stews and go straight to the goat. Several coconut goat kebabs to start.

And because dzakple comes only on special occasions and because it is so very good, filling though it is, I must chop dzakple. And that could be enough: agbor kebab and dzakple. But, no, there are small crabs in red sauce, and anything in Dunyo red sauce tastes good, but crab? No, it cannot be passed by. Sweet and crunchy and wonderful. But that’s it. Nothing else…..except more kebabs and a Club beer and another crab and a bit more dzakple.

There is nothing that can that be done about chopping too plenty except joyous singing and dancing and so we crowd round the drummers and clap and sing until a circle of dancers gradually rings the drummers, and starts shuffling counterclockwise around them. Always, for unknown reasons, counterclockwise. Perhaps someting to do with the Coriolis Effect, who knows? Anyway, the shuffling is in the very most expressive and stylish sense of the word. Shuffling and singing. The goat is doing the singing now – the goat, the crab, the Red, the Club – and we are singing full tilt, some of us with no knowledge of the songs we are pretending to know, and then it only worsens when there’s a song familiar to us whites, because then we are emboldened to sing even louder and more confidently until there is no stopping anybody and for a long time there is no stopping anybody. Dancers break out of the circle to face off in pairs and trios for the back-flexing foot-stomping arm-twisting dzime dance, as the chief and his men, and the host and his men, sit at the tables and eat and drink and behold the dance and enjoy the beautiful drumming. And the night is, in fact, an unqualified success.

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