Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Fetish Priests of Modern Ghana - self serving soothsayers or prolific prophets?

(Some) Ghanaians take their fetish priests seriously. So seriously that the poorest of folk are willing to bet their last pesewa on lotto numbers read out by one such priest during a ‘trance’.

Yesterday’s local media covers the story here:


Despite the failure of the spirit man’s predictions, you can’t take these guys lightly – they even have a Wiki page!

Traditionally, despite the influence of foreign religions like Christianity and Islam, people have consulted fetish priests for everything from illness to financial troubles.

Here’s a quote from Africaloft blog on the topic:

“It is not strange to find many Africans walking the gray line between their accepted religion (Islam/Christianity) and traditional religion. For example, a woman who might be having problems conceiving might be visiting a traditional healer on Saturdays while going to her church on Sundays. Are traditional healers quacks? I believe that is a story for another day. But, many educated people outwardly state that they are while they inwardly fear them.”

Driving across Ghana’s rural expanse, one can see small signboards peeping out from the tall grass along empty stretches of road, with the advertisement of a powerful fetish priest – claiming to cure everything from AIDS to sexual frigidity.
Sure enough, there will be a narrowly plodded footpath leading away from the road, toward this mystical man’s chambers. I’ve always wanted to venture in, but have reigned in my naïve curiousity and limited myself to taking photos of some of these wild and wonderful roadside signs from the safe seat of our 4x4.

But some of Ghana’s mystical miracle workers have come to meet me (and others) in the modern world of websites and e-mail consultations!

Take Nana Kwaku Bonsam. His website intro reads:

Nana Kwaku Bonsam is ready to help. Be it spiritual guidance, business promotion, bareness, visa problems, marriage problems, want revenge, ?, etc

There’s an orange button on the site just below this that says: Send me your problems: GO!

Now there’s a modern traditional man. I have to say I’m amazed how easily his craft lends itself to the online world. I have no idea how many people use his services, but he has been interviewed on local media and youtube features some footage of his ritual performances…

His services page claims that wherever you are in the world he can assist you with: visas, barrenness, madness, poverty, spiritual attacks, impotence, vengeance and others.

He claims to charge nothing except the things needed for the rituals, but makes an open threat that those who fail to honour this stipulation will be further cursed…

Scary stuff.

I encourage everyone to take a virtual tour of the site.

On a serious note however, due to lack of education in many instances, and a failing medical system on the other, many Ghanaians (and other West Africans) attribute undiagnosed illnesses to the spiritual world. It is common to hear that someone is under spiritual attack. January 2011, Ghana reported that a well known Nigerian actress is suffering in this way.


The spiritual world also dominates the entertainment industry with Nollywood (Nigeria’s Holly/Bollywood) being the third largest film industry in the world, and pumping out nearly $300m worth of movies every year, many with such a theme.

I've watched a few minutes of Nollywood's finest here, with the bad special effects, showing serpents escaping from people's mouths in the night, and 'witches' disappearing with a snap, only to reappear in another scene. And though I was less than impressed, it was the hordes of Ghanaian kids, huddled around the TV in my compound, enthralled, and shrieking with fear, that got me wondering how much of this was taken as fact, and carried along into adulthood as a cultural belief.

And this week's lotto disaster has sadly answered that question.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Starchy Post - the mighty yam and others

I’ve been hiding away in shame for forgetting JOLLOF as one of Ghana’s staples. Jollof is Ghana’s paella, and it is one of the country’s all time favourite dishes – cross tribe and age – Ghanaians love jollof. And who could blame them really.

A guy here once told me “Without rice, no life” – and rice that’s cooked in a savoury tomato/garlic/ginger/onion/pepper stew, that soaks up all the yummy flavours – even more full of life!

So here it is – this has been my tribute to the mighty omnipotent jollof.

Yams (not the same as what North Americans eat on Thanksgiving (thanks Alex)). Another staple. Yams are definitely not in short supply in Ghana.

Yams look like big brown, dry, dusty logs. But they are soon peeled of the rough exterior and a bright white, pure starch emerges – ready for moulding by the cook!
The yam serves the place of the potato and can be fried, mashed, grilled, baked – you name it. Without stew or a drink though, it can be a dry affair. Ahem…

Not much flavour, yam is all about accompaniment and sustenance. Read: It Fills You Up.

Here is some boiled yam with palaver sauce. Interestingly, the word palaver comes from Portugese - and they were the first colonialists to reach the shores of Ghana in the 1400's. The meaning of the word is tedious work, or argument. You gotta wonder how this spinach type stew with dried, pounded pumpkin seeds lends itself to the name? :)

Below is a rather nouveau-cuisine representation of yam fries - they are great with the fresh grounded hot red pepper mixture (also has onions and tomatoes). They are also great with ketchup, but then that's just so north American!

Fried yam - typically cut in larger chunks than the yam fries, goes as a great accompaniment with everything really - but is shown here with my favourite - tilapia!

So, speaking of food that fills you up - every Ghanaian on a budget or in a rush knows about 'kofi broke man', the affectionate name for an amazing Ghanaian snack combination. Ladies can be spotted around the country, with an open fire pot, grilling plantains - turning them slowly to equally brown each side. At the side of her table will be little clear baggies, twisted off, with small portions of peanuts (or groundnuts as they are called in Ghana).

Usually she has torn pieces of old newspaper that serve as the 'plate', and all is packed into a small black plastic bag, called a 'rubbah'. It's a standard ritual throughout the day - from lunch to the afterwork munchies - like the Mars bar of the nation - this snack fills you up for under one Ghana cedi!

And the really great thing about it, is when your colleagues are chomping away at their desks, having indulged in a rushed lunch take out of kofi broke man, the aroma of the two things chewed together is like freshly baked cake. MMMM

I haven't forgotten completely about all the Ghanaian porridges - and there are many - whose sellers shout as they walk through residential neighborhoods from 6am "Eko egbeemi!!!" at the top of their lungs... and the children run out into the streets with their coins, for a hot steaming clear plastic bag filled up with the thick beige slop. Ok, that didn't make it sound appetizing at all.

In truth, on the breakfast front, there are porridges for everyone's taste. My favourite is Tom Brown (Who knows how it got that name!) - but it's signature flavour is peanut powder... There is Kooko from the Hausa tribe in the north, with a kick of pepper and some seriously aromatic flavours.

Kooko is prepared from corn or millet flour and eaten with koose (fried bean balls). Here's a generous helping:

There are other great filling foods - either to be eaten at breakfast, lunch or snacking with beers - like tatale (delicious fritters) with boiled bambara beans (aboboe) as in the photo below:

And last but not least for snacks that I've left out til now - guinea fowl on the grill. I have some very fond memories of sitting under the ink black sky in Tamale, at Bafana Banyana spot, chatting with friends, cold Club beer (the big one!) in hand and chewing on some tender, spiced guinea fowl from the grill, cut up in bite size pieces on a tray for all to share.

To all - some akrakro (ripe plantain mashed with spices and corn flour and deep fried), and Club to start the weekend off right!

Cheers all! Ayekoo....
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