RE: Beggars at Kofi Annan's funeral

RE: Beggars at Kofi Annan's funeral
Source: Ghana || Ahmed Yussif
Date: 14-09-2018 Time: 12:09:21:pm

Certainly it is not the best of sight to find beggars invade a somber gathering of both local and international dignitaries to bid farewell to a colossus of a nation’s son, who, obviously most wished could be around for a bit longer. A person like Kofi Annan, who spent his life working hard to make our world a better place, needs a reprieve, at least on a day that we assemble to send him on his way “home”. The enormity of the battle against poverty cannot be displayed in a rather embarrassing manner than what is said to have happened during the funerals.

Unfortunately, I only saw a bit of what happened on TV. I could not make time to watch the live telecast on various channels. I am not sure I would have the full compliments of all that happened at the venue on live television, including the sideline issues that prompted the writing of the article captioned above.

My brother shared the article on our family whatsapp group platform with the accompanying picture, with a rather stressful expression. Let me state that I come from the family of  “string puller beggars” referred to in the article. We are a family of Griots hailing from Dagbong. We are the Gongyes. You can find members of the clan in all facets of the Ghanaian life; from education to health and business.  

Gongyes, like other families of Griots across West Africa, are not beggars. Neither are we as poor at least, to have to beg to earn our living. We are vessels of culture and traditional history. In our native Dagbong, we educate and entertain the royal courts and the nobles. Our presence in outdoorings, weddings and funerals are mandatory for people who hold a stake in our society. In other words, a true royal or a noble of Dagbon will fill belittled and humiliated not to have our presence during their important ceremonies. Let me add that, unless for a non-indigenous religious reason, a Gongye performance is a must for the remains of a royal who dies before they are buried. Therefore, it is not a need for money that, under normal circumstance triggers our presence. 

Obviously, the writer of the article found the conduct of the Griots strange and appalling and could not think of any good reason for that than poverty, and therefore called them beggars. This is a case of cultural unfamiliarity. The first time I learnt about societies in Ghana keeping dead bodies for months before burial, I was totally shocked. But with education, I got to understand their need for that. Just like other cultures where cremation, rather than burial is the norm.

One challenge we have as a people is our seeming unwillingness to learn about our nation and its varied cultures and traditions. The writer cited the presence of those “hordes” during the funerals of many other prominent Ghanaians. The question is, did he bother to investigate their backgrounds a bit? Did he try to find out whether they could not do anything else to earn their living? This hasty conclusion and public ridicule only goes to show the mediocrity that many people complain of in the journalism environment.

Many of the foreigners would have found such encounters with those traditional musical groups uncomfortable. That is natural. But those amongst them with much more exposure would not have been surprised at that. Why? In Ghana, if someone invites you for a party, you might just think of taking multi vitamins to increase your appetite, because you know you are going to have a lot of food and drink for free. In some cultures, you will need to carry some cash or organize some food to take along. But the latter case does not, in anyway indicate the economic situation of the host.

The author’s attempt at blaming all that happened with the musicians on the dire situation of poverty in Ghana is rather a lame apology of his refusal to research his article. Perhaps why not blame it on security and protocol. Obviously, these people could have been stopped from reaching the venue of the ceremony, if they were such a terrible embarrassment.

I will conclude by urging the author of the above article to learn more about our culture and avoid situations where he shows his lack of understanding of issues he writes on.


Ahmed Yussif

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