Tag Archives: Mawuli Adzei

Mitigating The Silence, A (Re) view On Mawuli Adzei’s Taboo

Title: Taboo
Author: Mawuli Adzei
Publishers: Kwadwoan Publishing
Year : 2012
Pages: 245
Reviewer: Kwabena Agyare Yeboah

‘’ Places are ghosts.’’ ‘’ Memories are ghosts.’’ ‘’ To name something is to bring it to life.’’ These sentences appear in different times in Yvonne Owuor’s eloquent, language-dense debut novel Dust. Owuor provokes the amnesia of a nation in a straight-forward term, showing and naming. Mawuli, on the other hand, shuttles in subtlety in the Ghana project. Both, however, have the common trait of bearing witness to history. Something that Kwesi Brew puts it better in Ghana’s Philosophy of Survival – But we have always been here on this land of ours./ Our country is our home and will always be here at home/ To watch, listen and take our suffering/ ‘til true happiness comes naturally and without bitterness.
Taboo as a word comes from Tongan tapu or Fijian tabu which literally means ‘’prohibited’’, ‘’disallowed’’ or ‘’forbidden.’’ Taboos can either be behavioral or verbal. This essay will explore verbal taboos (in the context of the novel) which are deemed as ‘’inappropriate to say aloud or to print.’’ Say ‘’F-word’’ instead of ‘’Fuck.’’ This background is important because even though Mawuli invites us to remembrance, the title of the novel is a form of verbal taboo. In Akan verbal taboo system, there is a variety called ammodin (unmentionables). The title speaks to something without saying it. It is euphemism. It is verbal taboo. Too.
The novel opens with the death of Togbi Somadza, known in private life as Gabla Gakpanya who was the chief priest of Tugla in Sembe and the religious rift that ensued thereafter. After the failure of the Traditional religion gate to arrest his soul, he proclaimed from the land of the dead through Afa (Ifa in Yoruba) divination –
I have crossed the threshold. In vain those kinsmen at the crossroads ululate and shout my name across empty spaces. [5]
Set in the late 1950s, the ensuing religious rift is one that is familiar, especially with the Achebe-Ngugi archetype of African novels. The Gakpanya household is microcosm of what occurred in southern Ghana as Troare Household is what happened to Africa in Maryse Conde’s Segu.
Gabla left twins, Ata and Atakuma, seeds of his loin. Ata always admired the father and wanted to succeed him after his death. And he failed. Atakuma strayed to the white man’s religion, Christianity. But it was his internal conflict that he would battle with, one that started in his younger days.
How could he have forgotten to make the sign of the cross? He wondered. He felt guilty. Perhaps he hadn’t internalized the practice of frequently making the sign and invoking the name of Jesus in every propitious situation. It was the same the Tugla adherents did routinely – swearing by Tugla and pointing their forefingers heavenward. [39]
He was leaving home to study as a Christian priest. As a priest, he pursued intellectualism. He read books of virtually every human endeavor. It was not for knowledge sake. It was for validation of his (in) actions. He read Liberation theory or Christianized Marxism as its distractors call it. It was his impetus for questioning the church. He read David Rice’s Shattered Vows. He read all those who were against celibacy in the Catholic Church. He quoted and studied at length, certain portions of The Bible. He thought about Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis. He read reports of other priests who were perverts, homosexuals, had children et al. All were to justify his sexual nature and why he was what he was.
Meanwhile, at the turn of the millennium, many African countries had yielded to the economic pressures of the international community. The dictators of old bought new clothes from Kantamanto Market. There were to be elections. The doomsday prophets were having a free day. So were armed robbers and alleged ritual killers. Everybody forgot about the armed robbery. The real political meal was the serial killing of women. Inspector Oduro was tasked to solve the latter. The Big Men at the top were breathing fire.
It is hard to think about the main plot in Taboo, nothing gets resolved. I have never read any novel that mimics the Ghanaian life so closely. In Ghana, nothing gets resolved; we just move on. ‘’Amnesia. Collective amnesia,’’ Insp. Oduro called it.
On the pages of Taboo are glimpses into the lives of public servants who work under poor conditions yet the public expects them to perform at the highest level, the top official who is a puppet of the executive, the activist and the everyday Ghanaian people who dream dreams.
Manyo, the twins’ paternal uncle is an interesting character. On pages 16 and 33, he talked about the hypocrisy of the Christian converts. Yet, when his nephew Atakuma, later Father Shakana, sought for his help, he did not criticize him. He did what fathers do. It was not the case that the traditional religion won. No. In fact, none of them won. It is a novel about a man’s daemons told through religion.
Manyo’s endearment for his brother’s widow Ablewor enforces Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism theory as opposed to the kind of Feminism conversation that was going on during the election in the urban area.
In the real life situation, Charles Papa Ebo Quansah was convicted for the serial murder of nine women, including his girlfriend, in Kumasi and Accra in 2002. In 2004, he spoke to the press and said that he was being used as a scapegoat. Even if Charles indeed killed the nine women that he was accused of murdering, what about the twenty-five or so whose cases remain unresolved?
Like Taboo’s ending remark, the question is a simple one. Who killed the women?
If I were a bookseller, I would clutter up my desk with copies of this novel and when anyone walked in, I would ask; do you want to read some fiction? If that does not happen, something else should. When the author dies, his tombstone should read ‘’WRITING IS BURIED HERE.’’


Issue IV – Kofi Awoonor and The Challenge Beyond

Today, we have come not to be led by the poet-cantor. We have come on this sacred journey to internalize the power of his poetry, and that that is the challenge of history. It is said that death is a monument on the social landscape. Coupled with its willing partner, dates, we are not only reminded that life is transient but also, we have to live until it comes. Once, the ancient Ewe poet-cantor, Akpalu said that (and we put it in our own words) – do not worry if death comes when the seats are all taken for; he brings his own. The deepening aesthetic of death is a synonym to life, they are twins actually. This respect is what we pay to the master-poet, Kofi Awoonor, a year on after his unfortunate passing.
There are people that we will never meet in person. There are people that we become familiar with because of the traces of themselves that they leave behind on sheets of papers. One of those who fall in that category for many of us is Kofi Awoonor. Yet, when we discover them, they become part of self and we want to carry on what they left behind.
‘’When the final night falls on us
as it fell upon our parents,
we shall retire to our modest home
earth-sure, secure
that we have done our duty
by our people;
we met the challenge of history
and we were not afraid’’
– Kofi Awoonor, To Feed Our People
In the end, the poet will not be eternal; his voice will be. Poets are natives of everywhere and nowhere. We claim their words because they speak to us. They seek to map us. It is here that we succumb to the enormity of this task – life. We prowl history to discover the other cousins and to see the poetic borders of our evolutionary being, social function and a construction of identity. It is this call that tolls and invites a breed, poets/writers.
1. Awoonor’s Gone                                              – Afya Kiss-iwaa Ocran
2. Elegy For A Bard                                            –  Rasaq Malik
3. Nkem, My Own                                                – Atta Atta Brown
4. Four Poems                                                    – Afam Akeh
5. Taboo                                                             – Mawuli Adzei
6. A Song For Nyidevu For Afetsi who survived  –  Kofi Anyidoho

With Aisha Nelson
Kwabena Agyare Yeboah
Weta, Volta Region
21st, September, 2014


By Mawuli Adzei

I am a wandering entity
disbursed into empty spaces
fated, perhaps, to die
where seven roads meet

But, Fates, if I should live this life again
yoked at conception as an island  of yolk
in a sea of albumin
some hydrocephalic tadpole
locked in mortal combat for survival
or a product
of some abominable abdominal chemistry
gone wrong
a fatal foetal construct
with a guardian angel lost in the galaxies
whose Paths I shall never cross
nor he mine
I shall die at birth

Only do not mention my praise-name
Just leave the iron gates ajar . . .
I shall return
Mawuli Adzei has taught in Nigeria, Libya and Ghana. Currently, he teaches African Post-colonial  literatures and Creative Writing at the Department of English, University of Ghana.