Opinions Wed, 2 Mar 2011

“Pepeni” & “Ntafuo”: People from the North should embrace these names

“Pepeni” & “Ntafuo”: People from the North should embrace these names with pride

Only about a week ago The Kennedy Agypong –Alhaji Bature exchange led to the use of the descriptions such as Pepeni and Ntafuo. And yesterday ( 27th February 2011) someone responded to my article on Ghanaweb with these words “ Bawa you are pepeni aboa continue to stay in tamale and look after goats and sheep that you are good at”

With these comments I felt that I should say what I think about these so called derogatory labels or descriptions of northerners which have been used for a long time. To me, it is rather remarkable that northern Ghanaians take offence when we are called Pepeni and Ntafuo. I reckon we should not feel offence because there is comfort in the knowledge that those ignorant ones who call us by those names are just undeniably / inalterably “niggers” like us.

Now that I have made clear our common “nigger-ness”, I turn to two other important reasons for taking pride in the labels. In the first place, the northerners earned those names through honest work and intelligent adaptation to living in the economically developed south, which had great employment opportunities but was also fraught with danger. According to many sources the word pepeni was used to refer to the northerners’ inclination towards honesty, doing the right thing and punctuality. Sociologists often talked about labels mainly in relation to deviance that is at odds with cherished social values. In the case of the pepeni and Ntafuo no crime was committed. Let us therefore celebrate our names Pepeni and Ntafuo because we embody the positive attributes of truthfulness, honesty and punctuality, which Jesus Christ, Mohammed and our African ancestors have preached. The pepeni personifies these glorious attributes cherished by all societies/ nations and religions.

The second term “Ntafuo" has roots in the fact the Northerners who worked in the south during the colonial period moved in pairs like twins. This act was an intelligent adaptation to living in the south environment, which was fraught with danger. According to our grandfathers some southern Ghana festivities and ceremonies often resulted in people being killed for rituals and the northerners knew this from the stories of the northern traders and Arabic scribes who lived there prior to colonial rule. That is why the northerners moved in pairs; a clever strategy in the face potential danger. Thus the name Ntafuo draws attention to our ancestors’ adaptive intelligence and I think we should also embrace this name more proudly.

Another important reason why we should feel positive about such labels is that ethnocentrism is not the preserve of non-pepeni people. In fact subjective descriptions of other people or the derogation of “otherness” is a common human trait. This is to say that southern Ghanaians are not the only people who think and hold others in low esteem and many northern tribes also have derogatory names for southern people. Unfortunately those in the south don’t even know it and so they could not be bothered. There are names like “dirt eaters”, “head-cutters” “snail-eater”, etc. The interesting thing is that each group often thinks that they are more advanced and better than the one group that is being “othered”. So superiority or being better is a matter of who is doing the defining or labeling.

Let us remember that the Mamprusi-Dagomba-Mossi states were in existence for about 400 years before Ashanti was formed in 1680. And during the 200 years of Ashanti’s power many of the Dagomba, Gonja, Dyula and Hausa scribes /scholars and traders who came to the forest zone were business people. They were not dependent on other people and their only label was “Kramo” (Meaning a Muslim or Arabic scribe - able to read & write). However, with forced colonial labour recruitment came subordination and the grant of the power to our southern employers to label us.

When the north became part of the Gold Coast from early 1897, a new labour reservoir was opened for the colonial government to meet the labour demands of commercial agriculture and mining. This led to forced recruitment of northerners to the mines and cocoa plantations and the kings of northern territories were expected to send specific quotas of men each year. These labourers were in a dependency position and scholars have alluded to the fact that the power to label another person always goes hand-in-hand with subordination. Fortunately the northerner got two good / positive labels which we should be proud of. I therefore reiterate the call for northerners to embrace the labels and I suggest that we set up a centre to propagate the philosophy underpinning these labels. The centre could be called “Pepeni & Ntafuo centre for work ethic & strategic living”. I hope that we can look into the future with pride that we are “pepefuo”.

The northern people have a very positive pre-disposition towards other people and in so far as the label pepeni does not stop us from breathing oxygen (God’s benevolent gift), then there is nothing to worry about.

I am aware that only ignorant people use derogatory names in modern Ghana and so I conclude with the famous saying of Marcus Garvey (Jamaican/ American black rights advocate) “If a man’s will was determined to do evil against another person, no human law could stop it; except a conscience”. This was in reference to the treatment of black people in America and the Caribbean. In this case, the determined evil mind occurs in a situation of nigger versus nigger all praying in churches, shrines and mosques in a land called Ghana.

Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini

For CEVS-Ghana, Tamale.

Columnist: Kuyini, Ahmed Bawa