Of old firewood, corned beef and sankofa

Yeboah Afari  Write Up Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Sat, 11 Aug 2018 Source: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

I can hardly believe it, but this month marks the fifth year of this column, the Thoughts of a Native Daughter which ‘resurrected’ after a very, very long break. Actually, the fifth anniversary fell exactly a week ago, on August 3.

In honour of the anniversary, I’m taking a walk down memory lane. The following is a slightly abridged version of the first article published on August 3, 2013:

The popular belief is that it is easy to rekindle a broken love affair, in the same way that old firewood lights easier than the new. As one African and Creole saying puts it: “old firewood catches fire easily”. Here in Ghana, the evocative Ga expression, lai momo, sums up the same sentiment.

However, although the old firewood may light instantly, how easy is it for that fire to burn brightly and continuously? This is the question that has been on my mind for some weeks now.

Having accepted an invitation to resume writing this column, almost immediately afterwards I began to have second thoughts, a feeling of trepidation that I guess is associated with restarting any activity after a long break.

Like lovers trying to relight the passion after a period of separation, the central concern was: will it work?

Another analogy that fuelled the doubts was a question that I sometimes ponder in idle moments: why is the corned beef on the shelves these days so tasteless and different from the corned beef of my childhood?

In those days, corned beef stew which featured on the family menu only at Christmas or when there were Very, Very, Very Important Guests, was wonderfully tasty!

However, when I grew up and began earning a salary and could eat corned beef practically at any time I liked, I came to the sad conclusion that modern day corned beef was not in the same league as that of my childhood. Or, was it just that my taste buds had become sophisticated and outgrown childhood tastes?

But still, I wondered, what if old readers of the revived column came to view it in the corned beef-analogy terms?

The ‘Thoughts of a Native Daughter’ column was born in 1976 to articulate some of the concerns in the society, a commentary on the country’s general, political, societal and developmental ups and downs. The column’s name was a salute to American writer James Baldwin’s book, Notes of a Native Son. It was chosen to reflect my belief in my inalienable right to comment on issues in my country, of course the same right any other native or citizen has.

When in 1986 I decided to rest the column for a while, I had no idea at that time that my career path from then on would make it such a long break.

Now, in 2013, would the column still be relevant? That was the critical question that agitated my mind ceaselessly, even as the few people who knew about the invitation and my nervousness continued to encourage me to go ahead and jump into the fray. They revealed themselves as diehard Obama disciples: “Yes, you can!”

Still in search of an answer, I turned to one certain barometer of the times: the news headlines. Comparison of some 1986 and 2013 headlines proved instructive.

Some headlines in the People’s Daily Graphic (as it was then known) in July, 1986:

1. Measures to curb lawlessness in Awudome, Peki areas.

2. Parents blamed for poor educational standards in B.A.

3. Don’t misuse chieftaincy.

4. Govt urged to ensure skills development.

5. Family appeals to IGP to probe police brutalities.

6. Customs officer held for ¢8.3m deal.

7. Take re-afforestation programme seriously.

8. Farmers learn food storage methods ... in the Afram Plains.

9. Bride price – curse or blessing?

10. $600,000 boost for small-scale


Some headlines in the Daily Graphic of July, 2013:

1. Peace at last – Nkonya, Alavanyo sign accord.

2 Step up monitoring in schools.

3. Minister concerned about Winneba chieftaincy disputes.

4. Panellists call for broad-based education.

5. 3 Policemen in custody for allegedly killing a suspect.

6. 3 GES officials, bank manager ‘chop’ GH¢175,000.

7. Create special fund for afforestation.

8. Modern irrigation systems for Northern Region farmers.

9. Marriage by abduction violates women’s rights.

10. Stimulus package for local industries.

Evidently, twenty-seven years on, in spite of the internet, mobile phones, and numerous other technological advances, the headlines prove that the basic issues are virtually the same on the national agenda.

The situation could well prompt the question: have we been going in circles, or are we at a standstill? Or, is it a matter of, as the French adage puts it, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? (The more things change, the more they are the same.) These sentiments are even more eloquently summed up in street parlance: ‘Did we go or did we come’?

Traditional teaching as portrayed by the message of the Adinkra symbol, Sankofa, also came into play: ‘If you forget and go back for it, it is not a taboo’.

Modern technology, too, provided support. The internet search engine, Google, provided in 0.30 seconds flat, an amazing 322,000 results for the topic ‘Rekindling an old flame’, indicating that a lai momo quandary is to be expected.

A big thank you to all the loyal fans who over the years have continued to urge me to resume writing the column, or reminded me about something I had written that they still found relevant.

* * *


And it seems that some things never change!

Some headlines from last month, July 2018:

Daily Graphic – Atewa West cocoa farmers appeal to government, stop purchasing clerks from cheating.

Ghanaian Times – SC to rule on 20-year Gomoa Fetteh chieftaincy dispute.

Daily Guide – SSNIT boss in court over $72m scam.

Daily Graphic – We’ll purge service of miscreants – IGP.

Ghanaian Times – 2m students to be equipped with entrepreneurial skills within 5 years.

Daily Guide – Police defend killing of suspects. And,

Daily Graphic – Public angry with cop, for beating woman at Midland.

The Mirror – Do ‘photo marriages’ work?

* * *

Are the above more examples of ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’?

But, more critically, is the lai momo burning well? Well, I think this is a question only readers can answer!


Columnist: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari