Having had a mother, Efua Sutherland, who would happily turn off the highway and meander down a dirt road to discover what is at the end of it, I can understand why Kofi Akpabli has found the Ghanaian country side irresistible.
The former’s excursions, brought her invaluable knowledge about the people of Ghana, their stories, their fortitude and their rich artistic heritage. She also developed a profound attachment to the natural endowments of Ghana all of which are written all over her lifework.
Perhaps one should place Kofi Akpabli’s work in a broader context. Indeed, it would seem that the age of the African travel writer has come. How could you spot one? These are writers who are excited and intrigued by what their countries and the continent of Africa have to offer them. They seem to be like the proverbial sponge -soaking up experience.
In her article Travelling and writing Africa from within (10/12/2013) on the online platform, Africainwords, Rebecca Jones draws our attention to African travel writers among whom is our very own Kofi Akpabli.
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For me reading her article was a process of discovery. For example I have been very familiar with African writers speaking back to Empire, challenging the dominant narrative of adventurers/colonialists and missionaries who monopolised travel writing for decades making it appear to be only valid as an external gaze on Africa. The world of the travelogue was perhaps rightly seen as the gaze of the foreigner on an exotic land.
Readers therefore should not be too startled by the fact that some African writers seek to confront the dominant discourse. I do not think that any title can beat Sihle Khumalo’s Dark Continent, My Arse in this category of writing.
It was also a pleasure to also read of collaborative efforts being made to develop a narrative and record of the continent. The collective named Invisible Borders has within its fold writers, photographers and film makers involved in a Pan African sweep over the continent.
Members are from Angola, South Africa, Rwanda, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique. Others have been intense in a look at their countries of origin such as Pelu Awafeso of Nigeria. Kofi Akpabli’s work is perhaps nearest to that of the latter writer.
All of these writers are blessed with a joyous openness to new experiences and an infectious delight in the simplest of circumstances. And yet, they are not oblivious to the trying experiences which make the so-called rural people of Africa nothing less than heroic.
The references to broken promises of development strewn around the country demonstrate amply that these writers are far from being deluded about the existential realities of Africa. What gives them the edge over the rest of us is that they give credit to local ingenuity.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the irony and sarcasm reserved for governmental neglect. This is exemplified in the Akpabli’s piece about Gwolu, home town of ex-President Hilla Liman, entitled Of a Past President, Broken Bones and Local Viagra.
I cannot wholly agree with pessimists who dismiss all efforts to promote domestic tourism as a waste of time because Ghanaians allegedly do not value travel for leisure.
How many of us however have not been either dismayed or delighted by the arrival of a relative (or two) at our home who after having been welcomed and asked for the amanee would state with no qualms that they are looking at staying with you for say two weeks (in the first instance)? If that is not a leisurely, relaxed visit, what is?
Moreover, many persons are also surprisingly quick to accompany others to destinations far and wide. Ma menkogya wo (let me accompany you) and it will be off to a funeral, a marriage ceremony or a festival.
The job of accompanying involves making yourself available to boost the stature of the person you are accompanying and show that s/he can easily rally a respectable following. It also involves spending hours acquainting oneself with the delights and sights of the area.
These become reference points for favourite travel narratives for many years to come. Culinary experiences for example have gone to adjust the palate of many a traveller. Many good individuals swear by dishes belonging to cultures quite different from their own.
There are also the fantastic childhood stories tucked into the life story of several Ghanaians. Also found in this volume are stories in which children are sent to grandparents and other relatives to spend holidays with dramatic outcomes which spice conversations for a lifetime.
However, because many Ghanaians travel from their home areas in search of livelihoods, the narrative of such displacements overshadows the narrative of those undertaken for leisure. Moreover, Ghanaians who have disposable income have, over a number of decades, made the choice of holidaying in Europe and America, imbuing such trips with a high social status and reducing travel in Ghana to a bothersome obligation.
There is an air of freshness in Kofi Akpabli’s reverie about Ghana’s past and present. His narrative is not a vague reference to rural folks, culture and the like. It is about specific places and personalities. Details are lovingly set out and Akpabli seems to be searching for the soul of these places. History is offered in delectable pieces framing the present and making it easier to understand why things are as they are.
I have been re-reading an account of the migration of my ancestors from the Gomoa area in the Central Region and their settlement in Cape Coast. All of a sudden the streets and neighbourhoods around which they settled have taken on a new meaning as they are imbued with a history which also runs in my blood. A Stroll in Old Accra is one of these as is “Coming Home to Akwamufie’
Some of the best kept secrets lie in common household items, and cultural artifacts. Readers might scan chapters like “Cha, cha, sang the Krobo Beads” for these secrets. And then there are the secrets tucked away beyond a hill, round a corner and down a path we have never taken.
The surprise element is kept up throughout the book but perhaps it is his eye for the peculiar, the quirky realities and the thoughts and experiences of particular persons which make his work special.
I have being trying to figure out what the X factor in Kofi Akpabli’s work is and I think I have it. It is his ability to let Ghana speak to him instead of him speaking ‘at’ Ghana. We are so obsessed with what the country and its people ought to be that we do not listen to those who are holding the country together in the small towns and villages.
The land forms, flora and fauna with which we have been gifted seem to invoke in many of us a ferocious self-defeating desire to exploit them. Perhaps stopping for a moment to savour our natural and cultural heritage from time to time will provide us with the inspiration we need to develop responsibly for the Maasai of Kenya say that “‘the earth has music for those who listen.”
Some relationships begin in a most auspicious way. Akpabli’s love affair with Ghana has been building up steadily from one publication to the other. It would appear that Kofi has also fallen in love with the beauty of language. One can think of romance and lyricism in one breath. Kofi Akpabli is slowly turning into a poetic journalist or a journalistic poet as the case may be.
Finding the words to translate what the eyes have seen is a feat which cannot be taken for granted. The author has gone to a great deal of trouble to achieve a narrative that appears effortlessly lyrical and sensual.
Through his words, we are transported: We see, we touch, we feel, we smell and we hear the texture of the places he has visited. If anyone doubted Kofi Akpabli’s love affair with Ghana, Romancing Ghanaland should put paid to these doubts.