William Esuman-Gwira Sekyi, better known as Kobena Sekyi (1 November 1892, Cape Coast – 1956) was a nationalist lawyer, politician, writer a celebrated Pan-Africanist in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). As a firebrand nationalist he became the president of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS), an aboriginal organization that fought and won their battle against the British obnoxious Land Bill of 1897 that seek to give Queen Elizabeth of England all the unoccupied lands in Gold Coast (Ghana) and also entire British West Africa in general.
Kobena Sekyi was also executive member of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA), and member of the Coussey Committee for constitutional change that finally pave way for the independence of Ghana.
As a person born into the Gold Coast coastal aristocratic Fante family and a highly educated member of his society, he was brought up to believe that European culture was superior to African culture. But it did not take long for Sekyi to commit class suicide and transmogrify into an unshakable apostle of African values, traditions and culture. Sekyi did not only became an unrepentant hardcore Pan-Africanist in his days, but, in fact, he lived and practiced African culture and traditions to the very core; so much that ‘he vowed never to wear European clothing again, and became the first lawyer in the colony to appear in court in a traditional African cloth. He never wear coat and European dress until he died in 1956.
Though an ethnic Fante man himself, Kobena Sekyi criticized the manner his Fante coastal towns have became anglicised to such an extent that even now a Fante cannot speak a sentence without less than four English words. They anglicised their local names into English such that you can hear Koomson, Blankson, Menson, Filson etc. Some have all foreign names without a local name. To show his utter abhorrence and disdain for this anglicization of Fante names and outright adoption of foreign names, Kobena Sekyi as a matter of principle and leading by example removed “William” from his names and became just “Kobena Sekyi.”
Kobena Sekyi was born in November 1,1892 into Cape Coast (Oguaa) aristocratic family. His father was Mr John Gladstone Sackey (note, Sackey is the anglicization of Fante name “Sekyi” to suit European tongue), headmaster of the renowned Wesleyan School (Mfantsipim) in Cape Coast. Mfantsipim is the first secondary school in Ghana and was established in 1876. Mr John Gladstone Sackey himself was a royal and a the son of Chief Kofi Sekyi, the Chief Regent of Cape Coast.
Kobena Sekyi`s mother was Wilhelmina Pietersen, also known as Amba Paaba, daughter of Willem Essuman Pietersen (c.1844-1914), an Elmina-Cape Coast businessman and one-time President of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS), a later president of which was Sekyi’s uncle, Henry van Hien, whose heir Sekyi was.
Like his father, Sekyi was also educated at Mfantsipim School and and went on to study philosophy at the University of London. He was accompanied to Britain by his maternal grandfather. Sekyi was originally to study English Literature, however, a fellow student (Nigerian) persuaded him to give up English Literature in favour of Philosophy.
After completing his philosophy degree, Sekyi returned to Gold Coast to teach for sometime and participated in the political affairs. Realizing that Gold coast has many lawyers and liberal art scholars, Sekyi went back to England in 1915 with plan to become an engineer like his mother’s younger brother, J.B. Essuman-Gwira, but because his family controlled the purse strings and they wished him to study law, so that was the career he entered. He was called to the Bar from the Inner Temple in 1918 and also awarded MA in philosophy. Sekyi became a lawyer in private practice in the Gold Coast.
A REVIEW OF KOBENA SEKYI`S “BLINKARDS” BY NANA FREDUA AGYEMAN
The Blinkards by Kobina Sekyi
Title: The Blinkards, A Comedy and The Anglo-Fanti – A Short Story
Author: Kobina Sekyi
Genre: Play/Short Story
Year of Publication: 1974 (this edition, 1997)
Country: Gold Coast (Now Ghana)
Setting: This book contains two stories: The Blinkards – a play and The Anglo-Fanti – a short story. Though the stories are from two different genres, one theme thread through them: the effect of absolute cultural osmosis or better still the consequences of swallowing an alien culture without much scrutiny, as happened in occupied countries popularly referred to by the occupiers as colonies (colonies of what? Ants? Bees?) Both stories took place in Cape Coast and the setting is very significant to the story. Apart from the author being a Fanti and hailing from Cape Coast, Cape Coast was the first point of introduction to colonial rule. As a seaport city, it was the first town that was first brought under colonial rule; hence there are numerous Castles and Forts scattered in Cape Coast and surrounding towns like Elimina and Anomabo. However, the inhabitants of this great city, which was the first capital of Ghana before it was moved to Accra in 1877, became anglicised to such an extent that even now a Fanti cannot speak a sentence without less than four English words. They anglicised their local names into English such that you can hear Koomson, Blankson, Menson etc. Some have all foreign names without a local name. Yes, it is that serious. And it is this that Kobina Sekyi, who was also known as William Essuman-Gwira Sekyi was speaking against. Here, it would serve a good purpose if one realises that the play was first performed somewhere around 1915 whereas The Anglo Fanti short story was first published in the West Africa magazine in 1918.
To understand why Kobina Sekyi, who himself was from the elite who were eagerly morphing into caricatures of hybrids, turned around to criticize the status quo, which in the beginning of the nineteenth century marked the borderline between civilisation and bushmen up to today, one needs to read about his biography above.
The Blinkards is a satirical play written in English and interspersed with Fanti (all the Fantis have been translated on the left hand side of the page or the even-numbered pages). It tells of the consequences of blindly mimicking the European culture.
Mrs. Borɔfosεm (someone who exhibits too much European tendencies in his/her actions) eats only European foods, though we know that at several points in time she yearns for locally prepared food such as roasted plantain. She goes everywhere in a frock, boots with an umbrella and a lorgnette. Though she speaks bad English, she does so with a forced English accent. As a wife to Mr. Borɔfosεm, she forces him to behave as an Europeanised man: smoking cigar, eschewing local foods and dresses.
Mr. Tsiba (a cocoa farmer) brought her daughter to Mrs. Borɔfosεm to train so that her daughter would become just like her and this Mrs. Borɔfosεm did with eagerness, instilling in her ‘proper’ English mannerism. Later, Miss Tsiba met a young man, who to attract her attention as an Europeanised man, had also gone to work with Mr. Onyimdze – a lawyer who avoided anything European except those that are germane to the execution of his profession such as the wearing of black gowns and white curled wigs.
As the play goes on we find that the two (the young man Okadu and Miss Tsiba) finally met at a garden party thrown by Mrs. Borɔfosεm and there and then got engaged in manner of one they had read from an English novel (without the presence of any family member). Mrs Borɔfosεm told Mr Tsiba that her daughter was about to marry and that he, Mr. Tsiba, had to buy the clothes for the impending wedding. He got furious but calmed down when he was told that it was the ways of the Europeans for the bridegroom’s father to purchase the clothes for the bride and bridegroom. When Na Sompa (wife to Mr. Tsiba) heard the news she got furious and insulted Okadu. It was in the middle of one of such vituperations that she got a heart-attack and died. Nana Katawerwa, hearing that her daughter (Na Sompa) was dead and her granddaughter was marrying without following tradition stormed the chapel and disrupted the whole program.
Nana Katawerwa refused to let Miss Tsiba into her ‘husband’s’ house. Later Miss Tsiba was to marry another man through the traditional mode. This infuriated Okadu, who got grandmother and granddaughter arrested. The case went to court and Nana Katawerwa and her daughter won under the exposition of the Native Law.
The story is deep and borders on several aspects of our lives. It is a pity that the situation still pertains today. People cannot speak their local language properly and yet would do everything to show that they can speak English including faking the voice. It is easier to see people in three piece suits walking under the scorching sun. Still the borderline between enlightenment and colloquialism is measured by how much one has adopted Christian and European values. But there is hope: gradually people are changing, people are finding their roots… it is a slow process now but it would work out. It is the language that is becoming a problem. There is a former presidential candidate who changed his name from Joseph Houston-Yorke (yes he is a Fanti) to his local name.
The Anglo-Fanti Short Story
Like The Blinkards, this story concerns blind assimilation of European culture. It’s about a boy who was brought up to become an aficionado of European mannerisms, while shunning African culture. Following this path and learning very hard he got a scholarship to London where he studied Law. Whilst there he realised that London was not all that they say it is. There are classes and divisions and the people they imitated are on the lower scale of their social ladder. He also recognises, that no matter what he did he was described as a savage especially when people began asking whether he wore clothes or not (and they do now ask Naipaul!).
“It does not take him long to find out that he is regarded as a savage, even by the starving unemployable who asks him for alms. Amusing questions are often put to him as to whether he wore clothes before he came to England; whether it was safe for white men to go to his country since the climate was unsuitable to civilised people; whether wild animals wandered at large in the streets of his native town.” (page 230)
However, there were many Africans who also came to a similar disillusionment when they saw England with their own eyes; yet these group began to accept these disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisation.
“… but if his friends, even those who had been similarly disillusioned, have begun to accept certain disconcerting matters as incidental to civilisaiton, and instead of arguing from the unpleasantness of such incidents to the inherent unwholesomeness of that to which they are incidental, they conclude somewhat perversely that whoever cannot explain cannot explain away such unpleasantness is not civilised. ” (page 231)
Time came for Kwesi Onyidzin (Kwesi without a name) – known as Edward Cudjoe – to come to Gold Coast and to Cape Coast. His family were all expecting him to behave like an European man. So when he set down to work and began wearing native dresses and eat native foods they became disappointed in him. Some even considered him mad. Others made it their duty to show him the way. After he was virtually thrust into marriage, it became his wife’s pursuit to force her husband to behave like an European. Later, she resorted to the cooking of European foods and throwing of garden parties. Working harder and ever harder to avoid these incidents, Kwesi Onyidzin broke down.
The issue of cultural invasion is one that has taken the world by storm especially in these days of globalisation. Should there be a universal earth culture? and who would determine what should be in such a culture? or each country should keep its culture? Are other cultures at a threat from European culture? These are questions we need to ask. Culture is something you are born into. It grows with you. Yet people who were born outside of it like VS Naipaul and other aliens who spend a day or two in ones country, only to label their culture as backward, are either insane or mentally distabilised. To me such behaviours and thoughts are infantile and express nothing save folly. Ignorance is no sin yet ignorance expressed in hatred or bad language is stupidity.
This story is purely narrative with no dialogue in it. If you love a narrative novel I recommend this to you. If you are a staunch believer of the communalism rather than individualism, I recommend it to you. If you believe in selective cultural absorption, incising certain unproductive parts of culture and replacing it with tested ones not just dumping the whole into the society, I recommend this to you.