Yes, something attractive, educative, and deeply reflective has been initiated by Richard, with an important element to educate Ewe speakers on the key messages for defeating the COVID-19 disease: staying-at-home, hand-washing, social-distancing and the other precautionary and preventive steps.
The #AfeviaChallenge is not just about moving the messaging from English to a local language that can resonate better with Ewe speakers, it’s also revealing a lot of educational lessons on the traditional uses of Ewe proverbs, appellations, and wise expressions, together with some deep cultural singing in the “Akpalu-style” that’s most popular in the Ewe deep south.
Here is why this creative and engaging approach could be appealing to non-Ewes:
1. This is a COVID-19-fighting campaign that can be replicated in any Ghanaian language for the direct benefit of those relatives or family members who are not so comfortable with English.
2. There is an unspoken backdrop where I grew up in the Volta Region which could be stated broadly as, “The higher you went with western-style education, the more you moved away from anything traditional, cultural, and local.” In fact, in some extreme cases, in some schools, you got punished for speaking vernacular – during certain periods of the school day.
(I know some homes – usually away from the Volta Region – where some parents would choose to use English or another language at home to bring up their children.)
This abandonment of tradition got further entrenched with the rise of the Christian faith in many homes and communities. It is the same trends that will make some of our parents turn Dzidzor into Happy on the birth certificate, Xorse into Faith, Morkporkpor into Hope, Fafa into Peace, Dzidefo into Courage, Mawunya into Godknows, Lorlornyo into Love(lace), Akofa into Comfort, and Dzigbordi into Patience. (Mind you, there are families in England with names like Goodenough and Ramsbottom? And Zimbabwe has many more of these “Anglocised names”)
But the traditional sayings, proverbs, and wise words are loaded with knowledge, wisdom, and depth that western-style education does not really provide. The songs of Hesinor Akpalu are loaded with so much wisdom, creativity, and humanity that it has been studied for academic thesis and should be studied more. My mum was singing Akpalu songs at home and at funerals but I thought that was the preserve of the old ladies and so I didn’t pay attention, I confess.
3. Using the approach initiated by Richard Dela Sky is provoking many sentiments, including “a Sankofa jolt”, and also making some of us to dig deeper and examine why we neglected our local culture, proverbs, customs, and traditions. The richness of the idioms, proverbs, and appellations easily set you thinking about the circumstances that the sages have observed and documented in oral tradition.
When Richard Dela Sky started this a few days ago, he had a video clip showing him fully bearded and (almost) bare-chested having a huge blue towel around his neck, (a yellow one came later) delivering a set of deep Ewe proverbs, mixed with some expressive Akpalu singing, inter-laced with a COVID-19 message. Quite smart, fun-filled, and endearing. He then threw the #AfeviaChallenge, for other Ewes who feel they have that “Home-child” or Home-girl” or “Home-boy” swag – including @Issah Anebi and Mawuli Fui Kwadzovia – to do what he had done:
1. Maintain a pose that’s typical of the Ewe village, town, community, home, or tradition;
2. Use some appropriate serious but light-hearted wise sayings or proverbs to re-inforce your COVID-19 fighting message;
3. Sing a song in the Akpalu tradition;
4. Throw a challenge to another brother or sister or just anyone who feels good about identifying with their roots.
Now, the #AfeviaChallenge is proving quite a hit, with one of the top contributions coming from Kekeli Adonu attracting about one thousand reactions or more. There’s now the need to explore how to make it even more interesting, to expand it beyond the domain of the Akpalu style songs, make more it accessible to non-Ewes, and above all, have it help many more to value their roots and cultural traditions.
Here are some recommendations to make it even bigger and more enduring:
1. Introduce other singing and traditional styles from the Volta Region and other Ewe-speaking areas, including the popular Borborbor rhythms and songs, for example.
2. “Egli toto” or storytelling in Ewe is also a genre that could be easily shared here, with all the attendant meanings and lessons
3. Translate many of the rich proverbs into English and share to wider audiences – on Facebook (something I’ve started doing.)
4. Initiate greater continuous and online education through knowledge sharing related to the songs and idioms – as Kekekli Adonu has already started.
5. Establish a loose and informal judging panel to decide on some awards for the top contenders, plus other fun-filled categories … in a way that is more inclusive, wider, and promoting of continuous education and learning on the culture, norms, and traditions of Ewe speakers in the unprecedented period of the CIVID-19 pandemic.
6. For anyone who feels or felt as intimidated as I have – especially brothers and sisters who grew up away from region, in places like Accra, Takoradi, Koforidua, Kumasi and Tamale, or even abroad, plus those brothers and sisters who are part-Ewe but wish to identify with their roots, I say, “Don’t worry – you are not alone.” Feel the fear and still show what you can or what you have of your Ewe culture … we are all learning. I remember our very own departed Komla Dumor (who was part-Fante) used to crack jokes on air about how “Akpe ka ka ka ka ka ka” used to sound like a Kalashnikov to him sometimes. Fear not. Your roots are yours, whether you can sing the Akpalu songs or not. Just repeat a favourite line that you picked up from your parent(s) or from that visiting auntie or uncle.
AKPE NA MI