In a recent and deeply distressing turn of events, the Akenten Appiah-Menka University of Skills Training and Entrepreneurial Development (AAMUSTED), located in Ghana’s Ashanti Region, is grappling with the untimely demise of one of its Level 300 students.
Prosper Owusu, fondly known as ‘Arrested,’ tragically passed away on September 1, 2023, leaving the campus community and beyond in a state of shock and mourning. This unfortunate incident has ignited extensive discussions on both social media platforms and within traditional circles, prompting a critical examination of the safety and relevance of student-led traditional rituals in Ghanaian universities.
Prosper held the position of “chief priest” at the Opoku Ware Hall within the university, where he played a central role in conducting traditional rites and ceremonies for the hall’s residents. This role had earned him admiration and respect among his peers. However, the tragic incident unfolded during one of these ceremonial gatherings.
In a video that swiftly went viral on various social media platforms, Prosper can be seen solemnly presiding over rituals beside a blazing fire. It was during this very ritual that tragedy struck as his ceremonial attire inadvertently caught fire. Despite frantic efforts to save his life, they proved to be futile.
This heart-wrenching incident has brought to light the dire need to reevaluate these traditional rituals and ceremonies within university campuses. While some staunchly advocate for the preservation of these age-old traditions, emphasising their cultural and historical significance, others contend that they must evolve to prioritise the safety and well-being of participating students. There are even voices calling for the reconsideration of whether these student-led practices should be disbanded entirely.
Tradition, an esteemed shared facet of human heritage, holds a significant place in university life, serving as a bridge that connects the past with the present.
It imparts to students a profound sense of identity and belonging. Yet, the tragic incident on the AAMUSTED campus serves as a stark reminder that traditions, if not carefully curated, can sometimes pose grave dangers.
For staunch proponents of tradition, the value of these rituals cannot be overstated. They argue that these student-led traditional rituals are integral threads woven into the rich tapestry of Ghanaian cultural history. They enrich the collegiate experience with a unique flavour that distinguishes each institution. To them, student-led traditional rituals and traditions in Ghana’s universities provide a window into the past, a means to connect with previous generations, and an opportunity to celebrate the essence of an academic journey.
On the same side of staunch proponents of tradition are those who stress the urgency of adapting traditions to modern safety standards. They firmly believe that the safety and well-being of students must always take precedence. These advocates insist that it is entirely feasible to preserve tradition while ensuring that no student is exposed to undue risk during these events. This may entail the university institutionalising these practices and implementing safety protocols as well as reevaluating the involvement of potentially hazardous elements such as alcohol.
Conversely, a resounding chorus of concerned voices has emerged, casting doubt upon the continued perpetuation of these time-honoured traditions. The critics contend that some of the age-old traditions within Ghana’s universities have transcended their original purpose, descending into treacherous realms.
They argue that universities must now prioritise the well-being and comprehensive growth of their students above the preservation of archaic rituals that, in certain instances, have metamorphosed into breeding grounds for dark mysticism, unhealthy hyper-masculine tendencies and the rampant abuse of alcohol and substances.
In addition to these disconcerting trends, the normalisation of vulgarity and profanity has reached obscene proportions. Language that once held a modicum of respect has been replaced by a debased lexicon that corrodes the very essence of civilised discourse. Such normalisation has resulted in an environment where basic decorum is overshadowed by a sea of indecency, leaving the sanctity of academic pursuits in peril.
Amidst the ongoing debate that rages like a tempest, there lies a profound dilemma at the heart of Ghanaian university life. It is a quandary that pits the cherished tapestry of student-led traditional rituals, woven with the threads of Ghana’s cultural history, against the imperative of disbanding them altogether.
On one side, fervent advocates rally to protect these rituals as guardians of heritage, while on the other, voices insist that the safety and holistic development of students must take precedence over traditions that have strayed from their noble origins, descending into treacherous abysses.
In this pivotal moment, universities stand at a crossroads, their very identity and purpose hanging in the balance. They are confronted with the formidable challenge of navigating the treacherous terrain that lies between the echoes of the past and the imperatives of the present. Striking the delicate balance required is no easy feat. It necessitates a collective endeavor marked by thoughtful deliberation, empathy, and cooperation, drawing wisdom from all corners of the academic stakeholder domain.
Stakeholders, as diverse as the Ghanaian landscape itself, must come together in unity. Students, with their unwavering enthusiasm, faculty, with their scholarly wisdom, alumni, whose footsteps echo through time, and administration, with their custodial responsibility, all have a role to play in shaping the path forward.
It is a clarion call to action, a summons to honour the profound cultural richness of tradition while unwaveringly safeguarding the physical and emotional well-being of those who participate in these age-old rites. The future beckons, and the choices made today will ripple through time, weaving a new fabric of Ghanaian university life—one that reflects the best of tradition while embracing the imperatives of safety and holistic growth.