Nsempiisms: The Absurdity of 21st Century Tribalism

15 May 2016

I was having a chat with a dear friend of mine yesterday about an order for autographed sets of my books. When I asked her about the names to sign the books to, she mentioned three names, one of which meant “hope” in Twi. She explained that it was her sibling’s name and that they have an Akwapim side of the family. This friend has a Ga surname and so that was a revelation.

I was born and brought up in Kotobabi in Accra, but my parents made sure we were connected back to our hometown and heritage. I took it (from what I heard) that my paternal grandpa and maternal grandparents were Wasa; my paternal grandma, Maame Afua Abakoma also known as Elizabeth Amonoo I knew was Fanti. Her brother, S Appiah Wilson, lived at Agona Swedru and he was the one my dad stayed with for most of his education till he completed Middle School at the Agona Swedru Catholic Middle School. I was told Abakoma’s family hailed from Ajumako. Indeed when Nana Wilson died, we attended his funeral there. That was my heritage as I knew it for many years.

Until about seven years ago when I got to know, from my paternal aunties, that Abakoma’s mum was from Asanti Juaben. So overnight, I realised there was some linkages I needed to update.

Anyone who knows Brong (Bono) Ahafo well would know that there are a lot of people there would bear same surname as mine. I asked my dad once and he wasn’t very sure but said one of his uncles journeyed to Bono to trace that link and never returned.

A few years ago, my big brother told me my maternal grandfather has roots in Nzema.

When I proposed to my girlfriend (my wife now) and as we travelled to Wasa to introduce her to my parents, I thought about how times had changed from when parents went back to their hometowns or selected girls from their towns for their sons when they came of age. I reflected on how now sons and daughters are sent miles away to schools where they interacted with people from all over the world; some of these boys and girls don’t even know the roads that leads from Accra towards their hometowns. I took home a lady whose parents are from Winneba and Saltpond.

With a combination of Wasa, Asanti, Fanti and Nzema, what tribe do my children belong to?

What about those children born to parents of different nationalities and races?

That is why modern day tribalism amuses me. Because many of us don’t even know the full stories of our ancestral and ethnical make-up. Not a few people will tell you, for instance, that the attribute of great height in some Asanti families is imported from further up north. Professor H Kwasi Prempeh likes to remind us that the famed chief cum boycott-hene Nii Kwabena Bonne III was both Osu Alata Mantse and Oyokohene of Techiman. As Prempeh says, Nii Bonne claimed both proudly.

Elections are here with us again and politicians will appeal to tribalistic instincts again. Next time one of them attempts that, ask him or her if he or she is even sure which tribe he can claim.

Above all, ask yourself: which tribe do your children belong to? Are you even sure.

Nsempiisms. Even whilst I shake my head at such absurdity, my mouth has fallen.

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