May 2009


It is official – Rainbow Round the African Sun has been officially launched!!! And there is a big bonus to the event –the “Celebration of Creativity”, hosted by the African Rainbow Resort (www.africanrainbowresort.com) on May 23 and 24. It is the first of many to come, providing a venue for young artists and performers to display their talent during the weekend launch party.

The Rooftop of the Rainbow was filled to capacity with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. The Saturday evening program began fittingly enough with Ankasa, one of the poems from Rainbow Round the Sun, delivered first in English and then translated into Twi by Nyansa Boakwa. He and his friend, Kweku Atu Kumi accompanied the reading with compositions played on the atentenbene (the traditional flute). Jazz officianado, Bill Courtney gave his rendition of the theme for the evening and throughout the weekend introduced the line-up of performers that followed. Lovely Orkore and her dancers showed us why they are asked back repeatedly to perform in Accra at places like the Golden Tulip. Artist Sir Black delivered a piece from his growing repertoire of “spoken words”. Nii Lartey, also from Accra, evoked many smiles as he demonstrated his verbal skills in his “I will not bore you”. Hip life was also in the house when Jah Wi took the microphone, bringing his messages of wisdom.

Sunday’s program included all of the previous evening’s performers, along with the youngsters from the Royal Cultural Troupe from Dixcove. Several of the poems from Rainbow Round the African Sun were read, and our chairman for the event, Nana Adomako, Abusiapanin from Kokofu Asaman officially declared the book launched. The party continued into the small hours.

The success of events such as this relies heavily on the coverage that is provided by the media. Big thanks go to Daniel and the GTV crew of the Morning Show, who came from Accra to record the event. Skyy Power TV from Takoradi were also present – thanks to Sista Pama and Bless. Also from Accra we were fortunate to have Nyansa Boakwa from HOT Fm. Last, but certainly not least, from Canada, film maker and documentary journalist, Heiko Decosas, ensured that the event will be seen in that country.

The “Celebration of Creativity” was the first in a series of such events which the African Rainbow will host in order to provide a venue that will encourage the creative arts. Stay tuned – there is more coming up!!

The event draws ever nearer, and preparations are coming together. In response to my reluctance to have a full blown book launch, my daughter has suggested and organized an event which she is calling Celebration of Creativity. It will provide a venue at the African Rainbow for artists and writers and performers to showcase their talent on Saturday evening, May 23,  and Sunday afternoon, May 24. The “outdooring” of Rainbow Round the African Sun, a collection of poems will be part of Sunday’s program, and various guests will be invited to read selections from it.

This will be the first of what is planned to be an annual event, and it promises to be a lot of fun. In the Western Region of Ghana, there aren’t any of such events to enable and encourage young creative minds, and this will be our effort to change that situation. Stay tuned for a review of the event next week in Village Rainbows.

School children with trees after one year of growth

School children with trees after one year of growth

During a recent visit to my oil palm farm at Kwame Adjei in the Ashanti Region, I was able to check on what you might refer to as  a long term project – my “timber plantation”.

Allow me to explain. About the time that I was buying the farm in 2004, a Quebec based nursery company had been commissioned by the Forestry Department to demonstrate an improved method of starting nursery stock used in reforestation in Ghana. In a serendipitous meeting at our hotel, the African Rainbow Resort, we met the expert who was overseeing the project, Claudine Ethier. Claudine described her work, which was very fascinating, and spoke about the potential for communities to become involved in nursery and reforestation projects.

The project was coming to an end, and Claudine told me that a number of seedlings had been started and were likely to be discarded. I offered to take them off her hands and she was pleased to see the seedlings planted rather than have all of that effort wasted.

Comfort and I drove our pickup one day to the nursery near Kumasi and in two trips we were able to collect almost 1,200 seedlings. The first 60 seedlings were taken to the Primary School in Comfort’s home village, Amudurasi. The children planted them in a row between one of the classroom blocks and the highway. Within 24 months, the tallest of these was more than 25 feet tall!!!

The remaining seedlings were transported to my farm. I hired four men from Amudurasi to go with me. These were all men who are accustomed to the arduous work of clearing bush in

A cederella which has grown through the canopy

A cederella which has grown through the canopy

preparation for farming. Within a period of a week, they had managed to cut paths through the dense undergrowth to enable the seedlings to be planted. The majority were planted in four rows along one side of the farm, with two rows around much of the remaining perimeter of the farm. Within several months the first rains had come and the pathways that had been cleared were overgrown again but the species are adapted to such conditions and will eventually grow through the canopy and in time they

This is the forest that it grew through

This is the forest that it grew through

will tower above it.

In thirty years, these trees will be approaching a size large enough to begin harvesting them for timber. Many of the local inhabitants questioned the economic wisdom of planting something which would require more than thirty years before it could be harvested, especially considering that the man who was doing the planting would not likely be the one who was going to benefit from the harvest. I have not been too bothered by those concerns.

Planting trees was part of my upbringing on my father’s farm. As a child, I played on maple trees that had been planted by my grandfather shortly after he and his father homesteaded. I remember accompanying my Grandfather as he drove a horse drawn cultivator in the shelter belts that he and my father had planted on that farm before I was born. As a teenager, I helped my father and mother and brothers when we planted even more tree belts. And when Comfort and I bought our farm a number of years later, one of the first things we did was plant rows of trees around the farm yard.

The trees at the school yard - 4 years of growth

The trees at the school yard - 4 years of growth

I guess you could say that planting trees has just been a part of my life. Planting trees in Africa is just a continuation of my previous life, and with global warming almost a buzz word these days, I am sure that I have not yet planted my last one!

On Sunday, April 26 in Kumasi, many hundreds of Ashanti chiefs, their elders and their supporters assembled at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium to pay homage to Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the King of the Ashanti Nation and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his enstoolment on the Golden Stool. I was one of the chiefs, now a participant in an event instead of being an observer. The change in roles brings with it a much different perspective.

Five years ago, my wife and one of our daughters and I sat in the bleachers of that same stadium with the thousands of people who came out to witness and offer support through their presence when the fifth anniversary was celebrated. From that vantage point we could watch as the Omanhene entered under their brightly coloured durbar umbrellas, attended and surrounded by Queen Mothers and lower chiefs and supported by drummers beating out their encouragement and horn blowers offering their praises.

On Sunday morning, the Edubiase Division of the Adansi State made our way to Kumasi. We entered the stadium through the entrance designated for the chiefs. In a crush of umbrellas and drums and humanity, with okyeame juggling for the best position for their chiefs and followers, the chiefs pushed their way into the stadium. The air was filled with a sense of excitement and expectation, in anticipation of the spectacle that we had all knew was about to unfold.

The Stadium holds 50,000 people – the crowd was large, made up of the King’s subjects plus Ghanaians from other parts of Ghana and foreign visitors and dignitaries, seated in the bleachers around the stadium. The various paramount chiefs and divisions of the Ashanti were assembled on the playing field in designated areas. Seating was at a premium and late comers were sent scuttling around for chairs and when successful in finding them, had to jockey for room to place them.

Rains had come earlier in the week, leaving clear blue skies out which the sun beat down on those unable to sit under an umbrella. In spite of the heat, the assembled crowd showed no sign of leaving until the last speech had been delivered.

Large spectacles are difficult to capture in their entirety. The selected photos provide slices of the whole and a sense of the event.

The Great Wall

Land litigation is almost a way of life for some folks in Ghana. Even when one is not looking for a quarrel, disputes seem almost inevitable for anyone who has land holdings in the country. My wife and I have experienced our share of these challenges, beginning almost the first week in 2001 that we began building our hotel. One of the parishioners from the community tried (unsuccessfully) to question the boundary which we share with the Methodist Church.

That encounter was short lived. Fortunately, Comfort had been given some excellent advice three years earlier when we purchased the land. Before she and our daughter returned to Canada that year, she had a cement block wall constructed around the perimeter. The wall was only eighteen inches tall but that was enough to prevent anyone from encroaching and then using the excuse that they did not know where the boundary was supposed to go.

Our experiences since that time would fill several blog entries, and for Ghanaians who are versed on the subject, these entries would begin to sound too much like déjà vu. They include encroachment by road contractors and by municipal authorities. On more than one occasion, the person who sold the land has continued to occupy and use the land, or attempt to use the land, almost as if they had forgotten that they no longer owned it. Land that has been held in families and subsequently sold by one member is also up for debate when a different person in the family decides that they had not agreed to the sale.

Most recently, and perhaps most distressingly, we have found ourselves in a situation where a portion of family land held for three generations, with a site plan stamped and signed by the chief, has been sold to another party by the very chief who signed the earlier document. By tradition, a chief has the right to re-enter land which has been leased to someone, however Ghanaian law has set out the correct procedure for this re-entry and for compensation to be made to the party who loses the land.

Unfortunately, this procedure is often not followed, and land is taken without consultation or compensation. These actions are rarely challenged, often out of ignorance of the law or fear of the traditional authority or a combination of these. Occupation is the best defence, and that requires that a structure be built. In our situation, we already have a house built on the property in question and that should satisfy the requirement that it be developed. Our lawyer has advised that in addition we construct a concrete wall around the perimeter – not an insignificant expense, considering the distance. Now that we have some idea of the legal costs of protecting the property in the court, this seems to be a less expensive option.

There is an old adage that tells us when it comes to litigation the only winner is the lawyer involved and we can attest to that!! There is another old adage, one which American poet Robert Frost expressed when he told us that “good walls make good neighbours.” Wise words indeed.

Several years ago, a Ghanaian friend complained that her countrymen could not create anything on their own. She gave many examples of the ways in which products from other parts of the world were copied as if to say that any ideas originating in Ghana were not worthy. My friend had a valid point – examples abound to illustrate her observation

Taken from another perspective, is that any different from other cultures in other places? Consider architecture. Many of the world’s famous buildings and communities and gardens have been described as “original” and yet incorporate ideas which have been “borrowed” from other creations. And what about fashion? How many times have we seen old styles brought back and presented as the latest fad? Music is yet another area. I often lament the loss of highlife in Ghana as the most popular form of music ever since young musicians have decided to emulate American rap and hip-hop performers.

Culture evolves as mankind adapts to changing times. We embrace these changes when they force us to re-examine our present, but we need to be ever vigilant that in making changes we do not forfeit valuable aspects of our past. The Sankofa bird which looks back over its shoulder with an egg in its mouth best symbolizes the lesson that we need to know where we are coming from if we want to make the best decisions for our future.

New beginnings often hide their promise and that appears to be what has happened with the newly formed Dance and Drum Troupe in Amudurasi. Folks began to assemble shortly after six one evening, just as darkness descended. The first drumming lessons and the first tentative dance steps were delivered with the aid of a dim flashlight. The new moon was of little help that night because it remained hidden most of the time behind clouds which threatened to dampen the evening.

In spite of the darkness which hid the participants, it was an auspicious beginning. An executive of eager volunteers has offered to guide the group. Future practises will continue after dark in order to enable adults to prepare and eat evening meals after they have closed from their work at the market and on their farms. They have already decided to move to the day care building and arrange to have electricity brought from the nearby classroom blocks. Until that is completed they will bring kerosene lanterns from home.

My good friend, Adamfo Amoako is confident that we will soon have a troupe performing at a very high level. Stay tuned on this blog for more updates on this exciting community development.

Monday morning, April 27,  saw young children enthusiastically singing songs and reciting sayings at the Community Day care Centre in Amudurasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Comfort and I introduced our guest, Ietje Rijnsburger, to the children and their two care providers during a brief visit to Comfort’s home village.

Ietje is the artist and illustrator who produced such great portraits of our family while she was staying at the African Rainbow the previous week. She travelled on Sunday with our son and his friend to Kumasi to witness the tenth anniversary of the enstoolment of the Ashanti King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Not only is Ietje an artist, she is also a teacher in her native Holland. She interacted with the children with humour and enthusiasm, and it was clear that she has a love of children matched equally with a love of learning.

The Day Care Centre opened in October and currently has 86 children registered to attend. The project was first conceived by my wife, Comfort, when we approached the Government of Canada for funding to enable us to construct the Centre. We did not receive the amount which had been requested but were able, through community labour and the provision of land for the building by the chief to begin construction. When the initial funds were exhausted, we set up the Africa Sankofa Fund (http://africasankofafund.blogspot.com) as a registered charity in Canada. Family and friends offered their assistance and collected and donated money, enabling us to complete the first two rooms.

Ietja’s visit to the Centre was short but it is my hope that we will be able to attract people like her to come and spend more time with our caregivers to share ideas and experiences. Early childcare offers the opportunity for children to interact and learn social skills; to develop their innate creative abilities; to improve motor skills and body awareness. It will never take the place of a mother’s natural nurturing – rather it enhances that which mothers already provide their children. For any readers of this blog who might be interested in such a holiday experience, contact me to find out what might be possible.

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