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Apetorku Shrine Poem

August 3, 2010

DRUM, RATTLE, BELL

For centuries men and women have gathered to sacrifice the light in the eyes of another as if it were the right thing to do in front of God.

Is He …or She… impressed by this?

I don’t know if anyone has ever asked. But who am I to question?

Who am I but a Bolo Bolo swaddled tightly in Adrinkra cloth.

I am nobody.

Blood smells sweet.

And goats are not lambs.

They are goats.

And the chickens lay patiently on their sides…blinking.

What other choice do they have?

After all, they are chickens.

I see a man who loves his goat and it’s twisted horns protruding horizontally from it’s head.

He bunts his fist in the goats head and they play.

Scratches it like I once did Red, my St. Bernard dog.

Red died.

A tumor strangled him.

Under the hot tin roof

Inside the cement walls

There is peace there.

All drop gently from the hands of the Diviner to the hardened, rusty earth.

If their master is peaceful with Mawu (the Creator God of the Ewe)

They are still.

If not, they struggle and pop upright.

People confess and offer.

Confess and offer as their reflection glows in the eyes of all the community.

There are no broken promises with Mawu.

He will wait patiently as a chicken or a goat.

Until the devoted ones fulfill promises previously made.

I have made my deals with God but usually when I am too wine drunk.

My reflection is not in the eyes of other human beings.

It is in the white porcelain toilet.

No one checks on me in my embarrassment and shame.

Thank God for that!

Apekorku is a Shrine not made of porcelain.

And not made of marble or fine wood carvings.

It is a simple circle where God is not commanded but where humility is required.

There is no room for false intentions or broken promises.

Faith is not made of money.

It is made by the blood, water, air, and drum where body and music and worship are united in love.

God has lifted me up by the throat off my beautiful blue bench…my feet dangling.

But still, I kick.

His hands…gentle.

But still, I kick.

His grip firm.

But still, I kick.

I have been sacrificed before and why not? Someone has to die.

It is a relief to die for the sins of others.

At least it’s over with.

My head has dangled by a thread of muscle and tissue.

My blood has dripped quietly without much notice.

But my ancestors, what do they say?

Are they proud of me?

But, yet, there is not darkness in my eyes.

In fact, there is more Light than I can possibly bear!

This is the least I can do for my brother, my sister – mother and father.

It is the least I can do for myself.

I am only human.

I come by the beating of the drum.

I go with the shake, shake of the rattle.

I awake by the rhythm of the bell.

Until next time…be happy!

Kat

I am now within one week of leaving Ghana and the time just seems to be getting more precious. Of course, there are distractions from the emotion of leaving including very frightening incidents concerning a stalker but even that seems to just be a part of it all. I don’t know that I could have withstood another day/night living in such a fear based place but, “by God’s good Grace” (said ALOT here), we left the area and spent a grueling 14 hours on a bus. Thank goodness for air conditioning, tinted windows and comfy seats or it could have been much worse on these red, worn, pot-holed Ghanaian roads.

Before leaving Tamale, I had the privilege of meeting some incredible women from a nearby village who run a shea butter cooperative. This program not only accords women to earn money and, thereby, send their children to school, feed them, etc. but it also helps them with on the job training in literacy, business management, and finances.

Before launching into a brief but vital tirade about my observations, I want to say that the women at the Shea Butter Cooperative were absolutely incredible!!! You know me…I cried. You will see with the photos I post next that there is alot to admire about these women and the steadfast manner with which they live their lives for the betterment of themselves, family, and community as a whole. Wow!!!

I have been pretty quiet on the male-female issue here because I really wanted to get a sense of the differences in the varied communities and check my judgments before expressing my opinion. Generalizations can be pretty darn hurtful so let’s just call these thoughts…my Western reactions to certain aspects of Ghanaian culture. You can decide for yourself but here are some things I’ve noticed on a daily basis since being here:

1.  Groups of men lingering about for hours on end with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Whether watching the soap opera, Storm Over Paradise, or just escaping the heat of the day in the shade…the fellas really know how to waste time…with each other.

2.  Female Genital Mutilation being presented by male professors as ‘Rites of Passage’.

3.  The term ‘virgin’ – as in the Lua Dance of the Dagomba – a dance only for women. When I asked about a dance for male virgins, the look I got was a blank stare with no response.

4. Women carrying babies on their backs, products for sale on their heads, and in their hands walking to and fro for hours upon hours in the sun.

5.  Continual sexual harassment from men toward me and everyone of my female classmates. Harassment that leads to stalking and then, really frightening stalking. It seems so odd to juxtaposition my experiences against the complete opposite experience from my teachers. Let me say that not once have I ever experienced this type of degrading and demeaning behavior from a Muslim man. And, as Don (my producer) says…”interessant”.

Until next time…be happy!

Kat

Savelugu Photos #2

July 28, 2010

Savelugu Photos

July 26, 2010

I suppose one never knows what will unfold in life. That is the beauty it seems to me. So, what was an opportunity to meet the lineage bearer of the Gonji (see earlier post and photos) in the Northern Region of Ghana turned out to be Ghanaian hospitality at its very best…a traditional village wedding! As luck would have it, the village chief was marrying and this, the fifth day of the celebration was the big day…the day the bride leaves her house and dances her way to the home of the chief of the tribe.

Savelugu village is about 15 miles north of Tamale and is the home of my Gonji teacher, Sulemana Saulisau. He is a first class gentleman and wanted me to experience the village. Sule made all of the arrangements for us ahead of time and we were very, very well cared for. The taxi ride—as crazy as usual–and the 2 mile trek into the heart of the village was baking us alive but once the drums were in earshot, all that seemed to change.

The Gonji is the instrument that welcomed me and my advisor, Michael Frishkopf, into the celebration and introduced us to the community. Within minutes, I was being asked by the women of the village to dance and as the Gonji was joined by talking and Brekete drums, I did. They seemed to really like what I was doing even though I had not a cognitive clue of it. The energy was palpable like that of the Ewe funeral and, in true Kat fashion, I cried. Fortuntately, it was also one of the hottest days since I’d been here and the sweat masked the tears. Either that or I was crying out of all the pours on my skin – ha ha! Anyway, I proceeded in my haphazard manner of dance following the lead and the encouragement of whomever stepped forward to be my role model.

Once escorted to the women’s area – Savelugu is Muslim – there was plenty of dance, placing of coins on the forehead to show appreciation, as well as all sorts of other things happening that were fascinating even though I did not understand the musical or spoken language (Hausa). I was joined by many children and a young girl, Safia (see photo) who was translating for me and educating me at the same time. Talk about having the inside scoop. She was fabulous!

Once again, photos speak a thousand words so I’ll spend the rest of my internet time posting photos of the event. I hope to come back again to describe in detail the process of the event and further insights I’ve had.

Until then…be happy!

Kat

Slave Dungeon Tourism

July 19, 2010

Alex Hayley and his book Roots…that was my first introduction to the history of slavery. I remember each episode of that work and recently rewatched the series. I must have been about 9 years old when that ‘made for tv’ series came through on one of the two channels we had available on the farm in Saskatchewan. I was glued to the TV to watch as the main character, Kunta Kinte, was captured from a village in Africa and shipped to the ‘New World’ – the Americas. There he was marketed like a piece of meat and sold to the highest bidder. He was sold into a life of slavery and the laws of the land did not view him as a human being but, rather, as an animal.

The roots of slavery continue to scar the landscape of the Southern United States and, quite possibly, large portions of North America. The color line is a very real set of living conditions and its effects are much deeper than one can feel and see (as you can gather from my Mississippi blog in April).

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was an economic development project for the Americas.  It is a foundational piece of the economy of the ‘developed’ world. Indeed, that was its function…the develop trade relations on the backs of free labour…in this case, African people. It is a complex and disgraceful piece of our human history and it is impossible for me not to be profoundly affected by it. I find it brutal to bear witness to a human history filled with such horrors. It is almost as if my mind can’t sort through the atrocities committed in the name of economic advancement.

The West Coast of Africa (which includes Ghana) was the primary scene of the export/appropriation of African slaves to the Americas. Slave dungeons/colonial castles were the 2-4 month holding cells of captured slaves before they boarded slave ships. If an African survived the horrendous trek without food or water to the slave dungeons, they were treated no better once in cells. If they survived the dungeon experience, things were no better on the ships…and then…and then. The very fact that any African survived at all is a serious testament to the human spirit!!

So…what was my education in being a tourist of a slave dungeon? I don’t know. Really. It was a numbing experience. A sobering experience. And, ultimately, a trauma to all feeling aspects of who I am… body, mind, and heart. But, at the end of the day, this is the least I can do – to bear witness. It is my responsibility as a human being on this planet.

Until then…be happy!

Kat

The drum. The heartbeat of Mother Earth – the Great Mother. In Her many shapes and sizes, the drum is the life blood of music in Ghana. It would be impossible to photograph drums in all their variations because they change by maker, by community, by language, by culture, by dance, by player, by listener and by song. What I have realized is that the drum has been in my life for a very long time.

When I was a child…a young girl…I remember dancing to the drumming of the indigenous peoples of Canada. The beat would play on TV and at a very young age I was dancing in a circle beating out the rhythm and anticipated melody in my feet and torso. I would spin my make believe tail feathers and put on a performance for anyone my Mother and Father wanted me to show. I got the impression from their encouragement that the drum and the dance and the rhythm were important.

At key turning points in my life, I embraced the drum. I have had a frame drum and made and Ashiko drum but gave them away. I wanted to djembe, but didn’t buy it when I had the chance. I have tried to drum but never understood it except through the body. So when I no longer danced, I no longer drummed.

Initially, I was more attracted to the dance than the drum here in Ghana but I understand some really crucial elements that I never understood before…that the dance, the drum, and the elements rise and fall together creating a tonal language. Drumming…real African drumming…is a musical language.

Years ago I was drumming alone on a secluded beach in Seattle when a lovely man sat beside me with his drum and played with me. We communicated just as well without words and I never had the opportunity to know him more than that day. I did not imagine that I would see him again after that day so we made the most of it and parted. I did not know his name. He did not know mine.

As I was learning to dance the Kpanlogo dance this past weekend at Kokrobiete you can imagine my surprise when I encountered this same man from Seattle. A moment I will never, ever forget. We went to each other, stared at each other and he said “I know you. I love you.” and I said “I know you. I love you as well.”. We held each other and he said “Seattle 1994” and it was then that the flood of memories overwhelmed me. Simply beautiful.

I suppose one never knows why the path of life moves us in any direction but I could have never imagined the warm and beautiful surprise of reuniting with places inside that I had forgotten. I am coming back to life on this Ghanaian adventure and through my body, the drum is speaking to me…calling to me to return. And already I don’t know how I will leave Ghana.