Growing up, during festive occasions, especially Christmas, dad and mom would usually package some items to be delivered to our neighbours. Mom would cook rice with local fowl or jollof with chicken and stew. This would be nicely packaged in a special container called the “parish bowl” and further placed in a woven or a plastic basket, neatly covered with a napkin and given to us (children) to take to our neighbour(s). In our garden at home were sweet potatoes, cassava, plantain and others. Daddy would usually uproot sweet potatoes during the Christmas season and distribute to people far and near.
One special delicacy for the grown-ups was “joseph” meat. Mommy would usually prepare cat meat locally termed “joseph” stew to serve to friends and family that visited during the yuletide. It was fun and a time to bond. Neighbours could visit each other anytime as well.
In the 90s aging backwards, this kind of communalism was a normal happening. It was not a problem to chastise a neighbour’s child when he or she went wrong because society was by then egalitarian, meaning sharing and owning everything together. You would usually hear announcements being given about communal labour for a particular weekend. The whole community would eagerly come out to weed and clean gutters with their working attire and tools. The communities were very neat as compared to what we see today. It was an eyesore to see heaps of rubbish around those days.
Town Council pronounced then as “tankas” were like the local police/ watchmen who were up to the task of supervising the cleanliness of homes and town as a whole. Society lived in fear and respect of the Tankas and whenever we heard that they were coming, one would immediately begin to clean up. We would see people running in haste to clean their homes and surroundings all in a bid to swerve being arrested or fined. Town council could go as far as entering you washrooms and kitchens to see whether they were kept neat. They would also check the Wells and water storage tanks to ensure that they were clean for use and consumption. Ghana was indeed neat then. I honestly miss those days.
At church, during confirmations, the confirmants after church service jointly partied together. There was hardly “solo acts” of partying with just your known friends and family. The confirmants usually would move to one person’s house and party and then move to the next person’s home/venue and then the next and the next, doing the same thing until dusk. It was interesting, exciting and egalitarian. These days however present quite a different story. After your graduation or confirmation, you only move with your family or one or two friends to a venue or home to party. That communal spirit or togetherness is missing. That “life” was a very important part in our upbringing. We learnt a lot of things.
But what do we see or experience today? You can even be arrested for reprimanding another person’s child. You would be described as being abusive if only the one in question is able to prove it. You cannot even use the cane anymore. Truth be told, some have abused it yes, but the outright abolition of it makes no sense. Bible says “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Communication is indeed key but at a particular stage in correcting a child, there is a need for the cane.
Modernization has had its own positives but its negative effects on communalism are enormous and devastating. The loss of the communal spirit in Ghana has adversely affected us. People want to do things only within their nuclear family for fear of being attacked or for fear of the unknown. This tendency has crept into the office and work spaces where cliché, sects and cronies feel comfortable among themselves and would not like to bring others on board. The result, a feeling of neglect, dejection, and loneliness and in extremes sense, triggering thought of suicide. You cannot easily talk to someone or pour yourself out without difficulty. You cannot go to your neighbor’s to play or talk for fear of being framed up or set up. Many have died in their quietness and keeping to themselves what the existence of communal spirit would have addressed easily.
The system has become porous. There is therefore an urgent need to look at this situation. In as much as we are developing the country, we need to revisit our communal past; the very thing that was a source of bond, which made even the rich in society built houses and never thought of erecting giant fence walls or electric security. The government has for some years now been implementing a policy of cleaning our environment ones every month. This takes place on Saturdays. But how successful has this been? It has been extremely hectic getting the masses to come out and clean the frontage of their homes. Everything is seen as the work of government forgetting that we are the government. We deliberately keep our refuse at homes and wait till it begins to rain, offering us the opportunity to throw the heaps of rubbish into surrounding gutters and in extreme cases, is discharging our septic tanks into run-off waters. The result of this is the perennial flooding that has become a thorn in the flesh of Accra and other major cities across the country.
What is the way forward? This is where my cry and lamentation come in. Communal life is calling and knocking on our doors. It will make people feel that they belong and it will make people feel loved. When you feel that you are part of a community or you can pour out to someone when you have a challenge, it makes you feel loved and belonged. Do you miss the communal spirit? Do you miss the communal love? How can we bring it back? Does the government have a role to play in this? What about the church, mosque, traditional leaders? Communal life is one of the previous things ancient civilisation bequeathed to us. Our forefathers cherished it and enjoyed absolute peace. We have sacrificed it on the altar of modernity and westernization and today, the centre is weak and things can no longer hold. We have not fallen apart yet. Let us re-look and re-examine ourselves as citizens and leaders and help bring back the kind of life which once provided respect and dignity of humanity.
I say, Bring back the communal life – My cry; our wish.
By Josephine Dake-Abraham
The writer is Information Officer, philanthropist at heart, simple and working with her husband in mentoring the youth.