MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Sarkodie and the synecdoche of Krobo women

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When I saw a headline on my Facebook newsfeed that suggested some Krobo youth were angry with one of Ghana’s best musicians, Sarkodie, I was curious. That curiosity led me to read the article. The news said Sarkodie had suggested in his song that Krobo women were promiscuous. The reaction of the Krobo youth had sparked a social media storm, but I was careful not to comment or take sides until I listened to the song myself. And I did.

The song is titled “Jennifer Lomotey” and is performed by Kurl Songs and Sarkodie. It is not one of those hit songs that might merit one’s internet bundle or a radio DJ’s airtime. But there is a line in there that got the song the national attention it is currently receiving.

The line, in twi, says: “Krobo ni obaa papa a’ anwenee’ da ne sisi. Komfo Anokye de adwaman, abo’ no dua” to wit, “A nice Krobo woman with beads around her waist, who has been cursed with promiscuity by Komfo Anokye.”

We learnt in our basic school Social Studies that Komfo Anokye was a powerful traditional priest who conjured the Golden Stool for Asante Kingdom. The Golden Stool became the symbol of unity for the Asante people. The myths about Komfo Anokye are many. And so are the different versions or accounts of the same things he is credited with. For instance, there are different accounts of how he died, but like many folklores about aspects of African culture, such claims are often not questioned.

It is a virtue in our part of the world to be content with our world and the stories around us. Those who have lived long enough to know are very much aware that it is a vice to be curious and question what has been handed down to us from generation to generation.

One of the myths about Komfo Anokye is that he once cursed a Krobo woman with sexual immorality, and because of that spell, women from that ethnic group are promiscuous. Some people, till this day, hold that belief against Krobo women. That is the myth Sarkodie, magnified in this song.

Some have sought to contextualise his use of the word “adwaman.” In our everyday spoken Twi, the word is often used to mean fornication, adultery or sexual immorality in general. Whatever context the rapper may have intended is negated by his reference to Komfo Anokye’s spell. That makes it offensive.

But is it fair to brand the women of a particular ethnic group as adulterous or promiscuous because of a myth, which cannot be verified or proven? Certainly not!

There are decent women in every ethnic group. And there are promiscuous women in every ethnic group. In an era when we preach national cohesion, such barbaric and offensive ethnic prejudices and stereotypes should be consigned to the primitive era that glorified them. For this reason, Sarkodie’s lyrics ought to have been condemned with a unanimous chorus of disapproval, but that is not the case. I have read some comments and social media posts that rather blame the Krobo youth for making a case out of nothing.

Some people have said that Sarkodie did not refer to all Krobo women as promiscuous but only one of them. These people are either ignorant about figures of speech or they are being dishonest. Anyone who has attended senior high school in our republic must have done English Language. And that person may not have passed unless they mastered some basic terms in literature. One is often taught to distinguish the figures of speech from the parts of speech one studied in the basic school. There is a figure of speech called synecdoche. We were taught that this figure of speech is when “a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.”

When you hear on the BBC that Beijin has improved its relationship with Moscow, the two cities are being used to represent China and Russia, respectively. In the same way, when Becca sings “African woman” she uses the story of one African woman to represent women of the 54 countries of our continent.

When we recently heard that one of our footballers, Sulley Ali Muntari, was racially abused by football fans in the Italian league, we did not care to ask exactly what the abuse was. We condemned the act and urged our government and football association to do same. We did not say the abuse was targeted at Sulley Muntari as an individual. He is black and we are black so we also felt insulted.

Some people have also suggested that the Krobo youth have no grounds to be angry because such issues are normal with Ghanaians and ethnic groups. Some people made reference to the recent Kumasi Mall trolling, which some people got angry because they felt it denigrated the image of the Asantes.

I have stated before and I will state it again that there are differences between ethnicity jokes and offensive ethnic prejudices and stereotypes.

We tease “the Number 9 people”, the Ewes, because we say they have a funny accent when they speak English. Not every Ewe speaks English like Doe Adzaho, but our plays and movie characters often have characters who speak the English Language in that funny way and they always bear Ewe names. In most of Uncle Ebo Whyte’s plays, there is always that character, who speaks English with the accent we attribute to Ewes. Everyone, including Ewes, often join in the laughter when the character storms the stage and says the first sentence.

There are 1001 jokes about Ewes and their love for cats as a delicacy. It is often said that if your cat is stolen, you should ask the Ewe nearby. These jokes are often woven around Efo, who steals people’s cats for light pepper soup.

Fantes and Gas are subjects of jokes relating to food, and the Fantes have extra jokes about them. We all may have heard about the “M’agya tu” joke in which the white colonialists placed one gun in a room full of captured Fantes and they asked permission from the gun to go ease themselves outside and came back to captivity. When I was growing up, there was a comedian called Waterproof who made a lot of jokes about ethnic groups, especially those from northern Ghana.

Atongo or Atia, who often represents people in the northern part of Ghana, is that character in local movies and concerts who speaks and acts in a certain way. The inability of some people in the north to speak Twi well, is a main feature in local movies and concerts. The late Nkomode played such a character in the Concert Party fame and that made him very popular apart from his comedy. When Nkomode’s master called him, he responded, “masha” instead of master. He was supposed to represent a particular people and how they spoke English. Like Asantes and their “r” and “l”, the Atinga and Efo characters often elicit laughter from the very people they are teasing.

Some specific ethnic groups take the ethnic jokes beyond light-heartedness and engage in “serious” exchanges that outsiders often consider too offensive. If one is not very conversant with their culture, one is likely to take sides and fight for their friends. The Gurune speaking people of the Upper East Region and the Dagaaba of the Upper West Region have these jokes.

During the recent vetting of ministers and deputy ministers I had to explain to someone who did not understand this and took Anthony Karbo on when he made some remarks about dog meat at his vetting. The Dagaaba claim we the Gurune people like dog meat and we have eaten all the dogs in our region. Beyond that, we call each other slaves.

When former Vice-President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama (a Dagomba), died, the Moshie people made their inter-ethnic relationship clear at the burial ceremony. These inter-ethnic relationships and jokes do not happen only in Ghana.

These are ethnic jokes that are common in our country and the ethnic groups don’t take offence. What Sarkodie has done is offensive. Let us not pretend that it is nothing and go on to suggest that those complaining have issues with complex. If someone said that your mother, sister or wife has been cursed with “adwaman”, I don’t think you will laugh about it.

He is a singer with national appeal. His fans, I believe, include Krobos. To the extent that a section of the society is offended by his lyrics, and justifiably so, the reasonable thing to do is to just apologise and move on. It will not take anything away from him.

The creative arts should be used to build our country and encourage social cohesion and unity. It can be used to criticise ethnic practices or beliefs that are inimical do development and infringe on human rights. But the Jeniffer Lomotey song is an unnecessary attack on the dignity of Krobo women and must be condemned without reservation.

The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. He is the author of two books “Voice of Conscience” and “Letters to My Future Wife”.  His email address is azureachebe2@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.