Atukwei's secret triplets with GAW

Three years ago today, around his 70th birthday, Prof. Atukwei Okai gave birth to triplets with GAW. Atukwei has been married to GAW for many years and they have many children of fame but the triplets came at the time when no one expected the celebrated poet to have children.

I have forgotten now whether GAW is the first wife or it is Beatrice.

Characteristic of the professor who redefined poetry and challenged the status quo, he unashamedly flaunted the triplets in public with a naming ceremony that would be the envy of a Hollywood star.

The guest list read like the roll call of the crème de la crème of art lovers: HRM Abiasuman King Nii Tackie Tawia III, Ga Mantse; ably represented by Oblempon Nii Kojo Ababio V, Paramount Chief of Ngleshie Alata; Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Dr Joyce Aryee,  Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu, Comfort and Albert Ocran, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, Kafui Dey and J.E. Allotey-Pappoe Jnr, just to name a few.

His lawfully wedded wife sat, unsure of the reaction of the public to the exposure of these triplets.

Mrs Okai knew the first wife well and cooperated with this ubiquitous, yet non-existent rival. The evening was calm, with a light breeze as though divinely ordered to calm tempers for the event. Though not visible, his first wife’s presence could be felt within every inch of the space where the ceremony was taking place.

The fontonfroms spoke, praising the Ga Mantse and their proud son, Prof. Atukwei Okai. Against the traditional background in a contemporary setting, the triplets were brought forth and named: A SLIM QUEEN in a palanquin, A PAWPAW on a mango tree and The ANTHILL in the sea.

   

These collections of verses and chants for children are said to have come at long last to fill the long-starved world of our children with music and fantasy, beauty and joy. But have they? Three years since the historic launch by the author with purely rhythmic effect than any other living poet, I have not heard these verses and chants ricocheting off the walls of our classrooms through the lips of our children chanting:

I do want to go to sea

For all the fish I must see.

I do want to sting the bee

Like an anthill in the sea.

Verses that challenge our children to stare missions impossible in the face and say I'm possible. Instead of saying, it is impossible to see all the fish in the sea, to ask, how can I see all the fish in the sea? Instead of waiting for the bee to sting them, to say I want to sting that bee and turn it into something useful.

 Indigenous writers not only capture the familiarity but also fertilise the young minds and propel them to imagination and creativity. In the Slim Queen in a Palanquin, our familiar tradition of Kings and Queens riding in palanquins is portrayed and the linguist role is vividly carried, telling us the bright future of the children and the contemplation of the unknown by the parents.

I see a slim queen

In a palanquin

Watching the linguist's

Libation and sparkling gin.

The linguist says that

Every man is a pilgrim...

Some children listening

Are smiling;

Their parents are grim.

My favourite, Kruja-Kruja is so beautifully crafted with poetic rhythm and the children of University Primary School delighted the audience with their performance. It was not until I read the biodata of Atukwei that I realised where the inspiration came from. The man is from the North! He was educated at the Gambaga Native Authority School and Nalerigu Middle Boys' School in Northern Region.

 

Kruja-kruja...

Kru jang-jang...!

Kruja-kruja...

Kru jang-jang...!

Kru Ashetu...

Kru jang-jang...!

Kru Meimuna...

Kru jang-jang...!

Kru Yakubu...

Kru jang-jang...!

 

We are moving...

Kru jang-jang...!

Keep going round...

Kru jang-jang...!

Till full circle...

Kru jang-jang...!

We are heading home...

Kru jang-jang...!

ShKru jang-jang...!

As stated by Prof. Atukwei Okai, "The content of most of the children's books on the market in the late 70s did not reflect the peculiarities and complexities of the African world, neither did they reflect the beauties, aspirations and dilemmas of our native environment." Non-African peculiarities and images still dominate our children's books today, mostly in private schools.

"We must teach our people to think; because we have it all, all it takes for us to emancipate our soul and our psyche. All that of course is dependent on education, the correct type of education," he added.

 

Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, then General Manager of Graphic Communication Group, in a review of the books, said the author had "set at ease the minds of the children to move away from those objects and symbols that they may never see or appreciate and replace them with those thing that are so close... which define our being and self-esteem."

Books do not merely introduce children to poetry, but focus on concepts and symbols they are familiar with, which excite their creativity and make them feel at ease in their own compositions.

 

Mrs Mould Iddrisu, then Minister for Education, expressed gratitude to Prof. Atukwei for thinking about the children of Ghana and giving the future generation a legacy based on cultural values.

Three years today, are our children benefitting from these cultural values?  President  John Dramani Mahama in his 2014 State of the Nation Address emphasised the patronage of indigenous goods.

The President has given the political direction; set the policy objectives for patronising indigenous creativity and productivity. It is up to technocrats to rise up to the challenge and make this a reality.

The writer is General Secretary, Ghana Association of Writers and author of The African Agenda

 

Email: wilaa@hotmail.com

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