Opinions Fri, 21 Aug 2015

Aban Adwuma: The mentality is the same

Does the term ‘Aban adwuma’ evoke any sense of national pride in you? Have you even thought about the origin of this ‘Aban adwuma’

mindset? Well, if people treat ‘Aban adwuma’ with vile contempt today, it is rooted in a vintage colonial context. The historicity of the ‘Aban adwuma’ phrase makes an interesting reading.

‘Aban’ is a Fante word which means a fortified building, (a castle or a fort). ‘Aban,’ etymologically referred to the place where the colonial masters stayed. Later, it became the metonymy for the administrative office of the colonial masters. In the course of time, some natives were employed as factotums in the castles. It was the locals who served as labourers in the castles who began referring to their work as ‘Aban Adwuma’ (Whiteman’s job).

Even after some Gold Coasters began performing clerical duties, the colonial masters were still in charge of the then nebulous state and the term gained wider usage. Thus, the expression, ‘??y? Aban adwuma’ (he is working for the Whiteman) or ‘meey? Aban adwuma’ (I’m working for the Whiteman) didn’t refer to someone working for his state. Rather, it referred to working for the White (foreign) administration. At least, this is how the people understood it. THE PHRASE DID NOT REFER TO STATE WORK; NEITHER DID IT REFER TO THE GOLD COAST (NATIONAL) GOVERNMENT.

Some historians have even argued that it was a not an expression of endearment because the normative conception about ‘Aban’ (colonial

master) was that of a criminal or a thief who had imposed himself on the locals as a ruler.

The natives therefore, made a clear dichotomy between Aban (foreign despotic, unloved ruler and ‘h?n’ or ‘y?n’ (?man mma) citizens of the land.

That binary opposite - We (Natives) and Them (Aban) made it easier for the indigenous people to disregard any property or work which belonged to Aban in spite of the fact that they were paid for their jobs. After all, Aban was a despicable alien who must be chased out of the land because the reign of ‘Aban’ became a signpost of brutality, exploitation, rape etc against natives. So Aban succinctly represented palpable evil.

Would you expect the natives to work wholeheartedly for the system (Aban)? Then you would be asking the sheep to love the wolf. The natives did not see themselves as being part and parcel of Aban. To them, Aban adwuma was not for Fantes, Asantis, Ewes or Gas, let alone representing Gold Coast.

It is worth noting that as at the time this expression gained currency, the idea of national government was indefinably vague. The people did not know any Gold Coast because the concept of nationhood had not emerged. The natives knew their ethnic groups which were ruled by chiefs and their allegiances were to their chiefs and tribal heads not to ‘Aban’ (a foreign ruler). They were accustomed to Nfante man, Akyem man, Asanteman etc.

There is historical evidence in which Nkrumah, in an attempt to drum up his message of self-rule, emboldened the people to show disdain to the work of Aban (the colonial administration). As he reckoned, the proceeds from their work were been creamed by foreigners. The fact that he had a volley of support from the masses showed the extent to which Aban was detested. So the desire to ‘deliberately ruin’ Aban adwuma surged in the impassioned campaign towards independence.

The end result was that the natives frenziedly sought to prosper above ‘Aban’. The natives sought their interest above Aban. The natives loved themselves and their families and tribes above Aban.

With all these negative connotations surrounding ‘Aban,’ why didn’t post independent leaders change the term or proscribe it from national discourse? Or at best, let it forever represent the past dark history of foreign rulers.

A new word or expression which could induce or stimulate national pride should have been coined. The term Aban adwuma should have been relegated to the footnotes of national history because its memorability was a sad narrative of torture, and exploitation. Naturally, people could not love Aban and anything Aban stood for.

Sadly, fifty-eight years after independence, our perception of Aban is not any better than it was in the days of ‘yore.’ People still conceptualise Aban adwuma in negative terms despite the fact that we know everything today is for us. We are not committed to the national course. Many a Ghanaian seeks his interest first above the nation.

People destroy government houses in order to build theirs. State assets and companies have been messed up in an inordinate desire to build individual companies. Those who stay in government’s bungalows hardly renovate them. We plunder state coffers so our families become rich. Are we not on the path of endangerment? We should remember that when the forest burns, no animal survives? When the river dries up, the healthiest fish dies. And a fish should not seek to grow bigger than the aquarium, for when the aquarium explodes, what will be the fate of the fish?

But we cannot continue with this mentality. No, we should not! There is an imperative need for Ghanaians to change our attitude towards the state and state works. The state is our state. We must realise that working for the state is working for ourselves. And that the well-being of the state is our well-being. And that our individual destinies are intrinsically linked with that of the state. And that powerful state produces powerful citizens. There is a better word for it: it is called NATIONALISM. Our sense of nationalism today ought to be reawakened.

Nationalism is a must-have virtue. It is not an antiquated word. God was frank with the Israelites ‘SEEK THE PEACE AND PROSPERITY OF THE CITY TO WHICH I HAVE CARRIED YOU TO. PRAY TO THE LORD For IT: BECAUSE IF IT PROSPERS, YOU TOO WILL PROSPER (Jer 29: 7). Significantly, ‘?k?mfo hy? nk?m s? ?man mm? a, ?no nso te mu bi.’ (Akan aphorism)

Columnist: Kofi Koranteng