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Opinions Thu, 15 Apr 2004

Rejoiner: Tradition And Change Or Tradition And Development?

Hello Mr. Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, I made a couple of observations in your article titled"Tradition and Change", that was published in the Ghanaweb on April 09,2004. In that article you identified Asante cultural practises that, in your opinion, militate against "development".

First, you assumed quite unrealistically that the term "development" has a universal meaning, that cuts across all racial, ethnic, and national boundaries.I will not fault you for that, since in the development literature Western model of society dominates explicitly or implicitly as the only form of development. For this reason, it is not surprising that some of us tend to use that model as a yardstick to measure the progress that we are making as a society.Using the Western model of development we may say that Asante women are suppressed, because they do not have access to the same educational opportunities and "middle-class jobs" as Euro! -American women.However, if we look at the issue carefully you will see that Asante women are liberated in many respects; they also enjoy a more respectable status than their Euro-American counterparts.Traditionally, for example, Asante women do not use the last names of their husbands when they get married. They maintain their identity. Nevertheless, Western women do, though ironically they claim to be more liberated than Asante women.In addition, Asante women traditionally enjoyed freedom expression. That is why Yaa Asantewaa was able to speak out against the British Colonial masters and organize a full-fledge army against them.Don't forget that Yaa Asantewaa was not the first Asante woman to speak in public. If she was, and Asante traditions forbade women from speaking in public, she could not have organized such a huge resistance against the British military might. If now the Asante women do not have that fre! edom, we should trace the problem to the so-called modernization of our society with its Western development focus.

Moreover, we should not lose sight of the fact that Asante women play a significant role in the enstoolment of our chiefs, including the Otumfo Asantehene. Western women do not have such a role to play in their society. As well, traditionally you can not have a chief without a queen. The queen represents Asante women in general. All these do not in any way imply that the cultural position of Asante women should not be improved, for improvement is what development means to me.However, if we argue that Asantewomen are suppressed by traditions we are not making an accurate observation.Having said that, it is tempting to say that Asantewomen do not share household chores, including child caring, with their husbands. Nevertheless, this is an unfortunate phenomenon in most human societies, and not peculiar to Asante culture.Most Asante men would argue that the dowries they paid to their wives during marriage implies that their wives have to do the household chores.Equality between Asante men and women in marriage would either necessitate the elimination of dowries, or the the payment of dowries by both parties.Interestingly, most Western women would have accepted their subservient position if their husbands had paid them dowries for their marriages!

Second, if development experts( Western development experts, I guess.) are saying that Asante women are suppressed, who are the culprits? The culprits are not necessarily Asante men. Most well-to-Asante women employ women maid-servants, who do not go school, have no fixed hours of work, and paid slave wages. Some of the maid servants are fed with the leftover food in the household and are subjected to vicious beatings, emotional abuse, and physical threats.Who perpetrate these maltreatment against the women maid servants? Certainly, As! ante women, not the men. So we should talk about inter-women sup pression.

Lastly,you also mentioned in your article that Asantes spend too much on funerals. You quoted that for very US$1.00 an Asante earns, he/she spends US$50 on funerals. Without questioning the accuracy of this statistics, I want to ask this fundamental question: where does the US$49 go? If it goes to the various "firms" operating in the funeral industry, it is never a waste or a drain on our "development". Various local capitalists, including casket makers, gravediggers, beer and liquor producers, chair and table rentals, cloth sellers, traditional sandals makers, and so on make money from funeral ceremonies. Like any economic transaction there are losers and winners.Nonetheless, a drain on our development is the gold rings, necklaces, and other ornaments that they bury the dead with. That is a tremendous waste that must be avoided.

While development experts regard funeral expenses in Asanteman as excess! ive, what do they have to say about the unproductive hours that people spend in church? Instead of people going to work on the farm, mines, construction sites, and offices they waste hours in the church.This is a critical problem that development experts(Western experts!) have to address, but they don't.The reason is that Christianity is a Western culture and they do not want to criticize their own culture as a pipe drain on Asante economy. You talk about traditional belief in juju, witchcraft, and marabou as detrimental to development.I wonder why you did not add superstition. Anyway, what about our unrealistic belief in God?

The average Ghanaian believes that God will solve all his/her problems, if he/she goes to church regularly, sing songs of praises, and listen to the WORD. And this is the way they put it:"I am waiting on the Lord". Does this make sense when God has given them brains to solve their problems. This type ofChristian belief is detrimental to our "development", because it socializes us to believe that our problems are not sociological problems but divine problems. To conclude this short letter, I would like to say that when we look critically consulting juju and consulting a priest are qualitatively an identical process. We can not criticize juju and praise Christianity (as practised in Ghana) since both constitute a detriment to our development.

Please let me tell you that I am a Christian, and I have nothing against Christianity. I hate the form of Christianity that is practised in Ghana; it is making us lazy.I hope you will take these points into consideration on the issues of gender and religion in development. Good day Bye for now.

Columnist: Kwateng, Fredua