By Solomon Mensah
It has become a ritual that whenever Papa Braimah finishes praying the fajir, the worshippers troop in lonely like a cloud into the shrine. Perhaps Papa Braimah is their wake up siren. Shivering in their snowy-shirts, they come to bow before their god. The god whose titles are as many and countless as the stars of the azure skies: Mmoatia sakere, Kill me quick, VC10, Man pass man, Ogoglo, Apio, Quick action, Efie nipa, Anferewoase, African ice, Apiatiti, Home boy, Yes we can, Liquid fire, Holy water, One touch, Nana Drobo, Obiara a nnye obiara, All die be die, etc. These titles show how the high esteem the worshippers hold their god.
Akpeteshie is that celebrated god. Our elders say, no matter how small the size of a shrine, it must be worshipped. So in the numerous small “shrines,” blue kiosks, they bend, bow and pound their chest in a ‘gargantuan’ way of drinking to glorify the gin.
One of its numerous shrines dotted all over the country is the Alavanyo Spot in Sunyani. Behind the Tata Hotel off the Sunyani-Techiman road is the Alavanyo Spot. Here, akpeteshie is served and worshipped.
The Alavanyo Spot with time has defied the norm of been a small shrine. After 13 years of its existence, it now stands like a restaurant. Fenced with wood, its bright painting makes it stand out from the shops and containers on its lane.
Mr. Kwaku Obeng is the owner of the Alavanyo Spot. He told me he started the spot with the sale of akpeteshie but later “invited” the other drinks to compete. “So how has the competition been?” I asked. “The competition between akpeteshie and other drinks has been very keen but I can say the first has a good stand,” Mr. Obeng said.
Kofi Akpabli, a freelance journalist, brings to us the true meaning of the name akpeteshie. In his award winning article, “What is right with akpeteshie,” he wrote that the phrase, “akpe teshie” in Ga means “to go into hiding.”
Nothing could have made the drink go into hiding than the deals of the men who came from beyond the horizon to rule us. Kofi Akpabli recounted that, certainly, the local gin stood the test of crippling the Britannia’s Jack Daniels and Old Toms. Therefore, as wise and mean as our masters were (which I am saying), they banned akpeteshie. But on 6th March, 1957, when Ghana gained independence, akpeteshie also joined the jubilating Ghanaians in saying we are free forever.
As at Ghana’s independence, the local gin has indeed been free forever. Today in the boxing ring with the Hennessey, Alomo, Kasapreko, Opeimu and many others, it gives them Bukum Banku’s hard punches.
From the look of the gin, it does not possess much ‘strength’ that it keeps knocking off the other drinks. It has no well branded bottle, no nice scent (in my view), no alcoholic percentage level and a thousand and one negative factors. But akpeteshie like the chameleon’s faeces, when baptized into it becomes indelible to delete from one’s system.
Consumers I talked to at the Alavanyo Spot revealed some of the gin’s secret to me. A consumer who I would like to keep anonymous took me down cultural lane. He said “in our time, akpeteshie was used in naming ceremonies.” He paused, held a glass of the gin, sipped and shouted ‘assssh’ with his 32 teeth out as if being kicked down in a Chinese movie. When I struggled to resist his fumes, he continued his testimony. He said during the naming ceremony, the one performing it dipped a finger into the gin and dropped it three times on the baby’s tongue. This is where he stressed his point of the gin being loved by many. “Culturally, we get baptized into the drink that we get too much in it to be out.”
Another ardent consumer gave his reasons why the gin will not die. He told me akpeteshie is cheap as compared to the other drinks. “With even 50 pesewas, I can get my appetite,” he said. I was moved when he mentioned akpeteshie boosting his appetite before meals. He told me akpeteshie is the best of gins to whip one’s appetite before meals. “With the half of a glass I take before meals, my wife always pats my shoulder for ‘killing’ her meals,” he proudly said.
It will amaze you to know that aside these reasons the consumers gave; there are a host of others I gathered from a semi-retired consumers. When directed to their homes for further enquiries, I was hysterical. I thought it disrespectful going to such elderly persons to ask questions on what has been sustaining our local gin. But hey, it was a lovely chat.
One elder told me akpeteshie gives one the Dutch’s courage. “If you have someone to talk to of whom you feel shy, akpet (he shortened the name) can be your lawyer,” he said and kept on preaching, “that is why it is called Anferewoase.” Akpeteshie is believed to possess a kind of spirit that gives one Kwaku Manu’s “vim gogor.” Perhaps you might wish trying it when going for a sort of high tensioned interview. You know, space will not permit me telling you all the reasons I gathered.
Mr. Obeng affirmed all the above reasons why akpeteshie will not die. He told me the reasons that sustain the gin are solid enough to keep it (the gin) alive always. He said he had never advertised his spot but it stands tall in Sunyani.”. Why? “This is because akpeteshie markets itself and I sell the good stuff here”
Coincidentally, Mr. Obeng asked a question that I intended asking him. “But what do we stand to gain from akpeteshie not dying?” Mr. Obeng although makes money from his customers, he is worried over the detrimental effects of the gin on its consumers.
Indeed, if even akpeteshie lives long like the Biblical Methuselah, all we will see on our streets will be the walking pictures akpeteshie keeps snapping its consumers.
Mr. Obeng suggested that if Ghana as a nation will take the business of akpeteshie serious, the gin will be positively popular like the Russian’s Vodka.
I think it is about time we considered how to effectively give a touch of quality in terms of branding, packaging and what have you to the most celebrated gin. We must not forget that akpeteshie when well packaged and marketed locally and internationally, can redeem us from the sin of unqualified begging (as I keep telling our “politrickcians”).
Until akpeteshie receives this new look, the popular adage “se abe bewu no nka kookoo nhye” will be meaningless. Long live akpeteshie, long live Ghana.
The writer is a student-journalist at the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
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