Last Thursday was my birthday and I had great fun at the office.
In the midst of all the cake-cutting, the fun and the congratulatory messages that flooded in from far and near, it did not escape me that my waist was getting crankier and my joints creakier.
Of course, it is right to give thanks and praise when one survives yet another milestone in one’s life, but it is also a brutal reminder, especially at my age, that old age, with all its vicissitudes, lurks in the corner with a cruel smile, with the popping of pills as if they were groundnuts and stern doctors’ orders to avoid this or that.
Be that as it may, I am still young at heart and I feel fabulous — for now, at least.
At the weekend, I decided to fly out of Accra and have a weekend of fun, enjoying exotic cocktails in Las Vegas, hanging out with friends in Louisiana and finally chewing on some delicious grilled chicken and washing it down with ice cold beer in Florida, before crawling finally into bed in New Jersey, ahead of my flight back to Accra on Monday morning.
It was great fun.
Dear reader, before you hiss in envy and mutter annoyingly that this political appointee of a columnist is living off your taxes and jetting off to the USA just for a weekend of profligate spending, I urge you to pause and calm down, because actually I flew only 40 minutes away from the capital.
Yes, I did indeed enjoy exotic cocktails, but for glitzy, shiny Las Vegas, read Ahodwo. For Louisiana, where I did actually hang out with friends and had a wonderful time, read Santasi, while the succulent grilled chicken I feasted on was in Florida, also known as Bantama.
I crawled into bed in New Jersey? Ah! Worry not, for my comfortable bed was at Ashanti New Town.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a craze in town about ‘Kumerica’, which of course is a juxtaposition of Kumasi and America, which almost seeks to ‘Americanise’ the Ashanti capital.
I am not quite sure how it all started and what propelled it, but now, to quote my favourite regional chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Sir Wontumi of Ashanti, “it is stronger than apatai!”
Apart from the Americanisation of the Ashanti flag, complete with yellow stars and green stripes on a black background, the various suburbs of Kumasi have been carefully delineated along the lines of American states, cities or suburbs, with the nerve centre of the city, Kejetia, rechristened New York.
Interestingly, everyone goes by the delineation. There is also talk, all in jest of course, of the need for Kumerica visas for non-natives who want to visit.
While many people (both Kumasi natives and non-natives) seem quite content to play along and amuse themselves over this whole concept, there are some arch-conservatives for whom this is no laughing matter.
For them, what is going on amounts to desecration of Asanteman and all it stands for — the notion that an Asante, in particular, would pride himself or herself to call a city whose name and suburbs have such history, by names that not only corrupt them, but also pander to foreign place names and by extension, American values that do not find space in Asanteman.
To them, the whole Kumerica concept and all that flows from it is symbolic of an inferiority complex — the notion that America and its values are superior to Asanteman and, therefore, Asante must seek some validation from America through these ‘corrupted’ place names in order to be acceptable and attractive, particularly to the youth who seem so hooked on western values these days.
I hear some have even suggested that Otumfuo Asantehene should issue an edict banning ‘Kumerica’ and all those adopted place names for various parts of the capital.
Kumasi is resilient
I can understand the jitters of the purists, but I would also urge them to be calm. It is not as if anyone is suggesting that Nananom should wear tuxedos to Akwasidae, for instance.
Neither will Otumfuo’s horn blowers, who usher him into events, be replaced by rap artistes slanging their way around in Kumerica.
I really do not think the skies are going to fall through because of the Kumerica fad and I really think a fad is what it is.
Today, Kumasi boasts of Harper Road, Fuller Road, Guggisberg Avenue, Stewart Avenue, Hudson Road, Rattray Park and Ellis Avenue, among others — all named after foreigners.
The Baba Yara Stadium is named after a non-Asante. All these coexist with Prempeh I Street, Major Cobbina Drive, Victoria Opoku Ware Street and Osei Tutu I Avenue, among others and the world has not come to an end.
Indeed, on the naming of suburbs, there is Asokwa Texas, Bremang New York, South Africa Ahwiaa Overseas and many others across the Ashanti capital, just as Accra has Russia.
In Ashanti New Town, the drinking bar Swingers Bay, near Manhyia, lent its name to the locality in which it was sited and it became known thus.
The Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital is more popularly referred to as ‘Gee’. This is because in 1954, Mr. Gee (of Gee, Walker & Slater Ltd.), a foreigner, was engaged to construct a teaching hospital at the site. The hospital was later named after Komfo Anokye.
In all of this, no one has suggested a desecration of Asante culture.
Of course, it is the case that in all these instances, the ‘foreign’ names evolved out of particular circumstances and not the rather arbitrary re-christening of various Kumasi suburbs under the Kumerica concept, but I would argue that this is neither here nor there.
Interestingly, I think the Kumerica thing actually does rejuvenate a certain sense of pride in ‘Kumasianos’, as natives of the city have come to be known, almost in a condescending and unflattering manner by others, fed by certain stereotypes.
I think Kumerica is a way of standing up, turning around the Kumasiano tag and then owning it, as if to say, “yes I am a Kumasiano or whatever, but beyond that, I am from the republic of Kumerica, and you need a visa to visit me in downtown Chicago” and then rubbing it in the face for emphasis.
That is confidence, self-belief and pride in one’s roots.
When I see young people, in particular, pose in Kumerica T-shirts or caps on social media platforms, I do not see a denigration of Asante culture and a desperate upliftment of American culture.
I see confident people proud of their Asante roots and also tuned in to the reality of their modern lives as global citizens — a dual heritage if you like.
As I always insist, it is possible to enjoy both the kete dance and ballroom dancing. After all, our contemporary highlife music has evolved with so many different influences and is far removed from what it was in the 1950s, yet we still proudly claim it as our own, and rightly so.
There is nothing like cultural purity in an interdependent world. Cosmopolitan Kumasi, a magnet for many ethnic groups both within and beyond Ghana, has a strong streak of Asante cultural identity and traditional mores, but has also found space for the demands of modern life. I think the two coexist rather well.
I return to Kumerica in two weeks for a whirlwind of three funerals — in Miami, Texas and Brooklyn.
I will also attend a birthday lunch in South Dakota. For your assignment this week, I leave you, dear reader, to decode these venues in return for the possibility of a free Kumerican visa.