By – Emmanuel Kwamena Davis
It was a stale five o’clock morning. A morning coloured with the dusky blueness of a new day shouldn’t have been stale—after all, it was barely used and considerably promising. Akwesi, my newborn cousin would be christened that morning and I found myself confused about my inappropriate stolidity. I was neither excited nor sad. Emotionless, I think, was close to what I felt. Why? I know as much as you do. And it was this seething emotionlessness, seated somewhere within, that sprinkled the atmosphere, my space, my morning with an unwelcome staleness.
It was at my grandmother’s house, the naming ceremony. I was, like a drifting wind, navigating through the motions of meeting family members: the known and the yet-to-be-known, as it is in any typical Ghanaian extended family gathering. “Oh! I am the brother of your mother’s father’s sister’s” Blah Blah Blah. They’d start with a familiar smile, wide and overly stretched, indicative of a familial bond. It wouldn’t have been so much of a mental exercise simply identifying their connections to me if they didn’t have to make those remarks in dense Fanti statements. Their ease with the indigenous language always made me feel weak but sharp spasms of shame. I did understand my mother tongue to an intermediate degree, but I had to think hard before I could weave what I thought was a classic statement. I wasn’t that bad. No, actually, I wasn’t so good. Using bad as a reference to measure my linguistic proficiency in Fanti leaves me without the word to quickly qualify those who can’t spin a sensible phrase in their indigenous language. Thus, I wasn’t so good. Just okay.
I sat comfortably, somewhere in the middle lane of an L-figured living room; it was a little stuffy and thickly silent. I watched how right across the room, there was scurry and laughter, chatter and gossip but it didn’t evenly diffuse to where I was unless you gave it some attention. Amidst the local Gospel music, a flashily dressed mother decorated in white scampered in; rivers of perspiration making her face a lustrous reflecting surface for the yellow lights. She had the widest grin; obviously, her plump round cheeks besmeared with oil enhanced the facial reflection all the more.
Gently and slowly, a lanky figure emerged from among the prattling folks clustered around a table, round and swathed with a white lace tablecloth. The whiteness of not only the tablecloth, but also, of the guests’ clothing made the Fanta resting atop the table sparkle with a flaming orange colour; the brilliant lights may have played a part too. A white plastic spoon on an off-white saucer, a glass of water and a folded white handkerchief were arranged across the table’s length. The figure, an aged yet muscled man, wrapped with a shimmering white cloth, heavy and heavily elegant, took a few paces forward. Bundles of the cloth he wore were gathered over his left shoulder exposing his wrinkled, drooping right pectoral, and the remainder was allowed to run down the length of his body, his left hands loosely holding on to it.
“God, can’t you tell him you’ve heard his prayer?” an uninvited thought rolled by.
“Whew!” I exhaled.
Should Mr. Andorful, the ebusuapanyin, had known my train of thoughts, he would have probably said I was either demon-possessed or I had some witchcraft in my eyes. After all, why should you itch at a prayer? And it was this persistent scratchiness and pinching itchiness that made me question and ridicule: my thoughts, mumbled and my words, unheard.
A long, winding prayer. The long, winding prayer of a traditional Ghanaian old man. It’s excessively wordy, lullaby-ish and enduring, organized into multiple introductions.
“O Dependable God, the God who speaks and it is. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God who parted the sea for his children to walk on dry land. The God who sneezes and the mountains quake. The Seer of all seers. The Creator of the heavens and earth. O majestic king, seated on your throne in the heavens, with the earth as your footstool. Are we not like aimless ants in your sight? O we will exalt your Holy name. Only you can cover the sun with your little finger and roll the sky like a carpet. Your white beard floats across the sky as clouds. The roaring oceans obey your thunderous voice…” the ebusuapanyin eloquently began in an enriched and proverbial form of Fanti, his cadence, soft and slow.
And that is how it mostly starts. Soft and slow, as though God was a woman, continuously batting her eyelids and flipping her hair at the wooing compliments of the prayer. A little into this literary construction of sophisticated flattery, his statements are punctuated with a united and resounding “Amen!” from the audience. The baritone voices giving an echoing and vibrating intensity to it. The prayer moves on to thank God for yesterday, for yesternight and calls out one or two happenings—whether significant or not—however, if he wants God to deem him a grateful person, he may go as far back to the beginning of the week.
“…Because of your abundant, amazing and surpassing grace, when we slept like babies throughout the night, you watched us. Some died in their sleep, many did not see the light of today, but O Lord God you never forsook us. You blinded the prying eyes of witches and protected us with your angels. We thank you for the rainfall for the past week and how it has blessed the labour of many farmers, and now we can eat and enjoy the good of the land. By your loving kindness, you have made the fish come closer to us and we have been having plenty, too much fish to eat. God, we will thank you forever…”
After naming a number of past ghastly occurrences and mentioning some potential others, he dunks them in the royal blood of Jesus. And it is at this point that the Amens become quicker, pounding shouts elevated with emotions, some stretching it all the while.
“Aamiin oo” the audience, in a unified rural accent responded.
As rhythmic and musical as it is, it seems rather rehearsed and properly timed, perfect and harmonious interjections of Amens. Maybe they did that to stave off sleep, a natural state of rest, which turned spiritual at church or during a lengthy prayer. I, meanwhile, would yell my Amen in a distinct and dragged manner, signaling the prayer to round up and find somewhere to sit. Sadly, it never works.
The Amens, I suppose, meddle with the energy of the supplicant and possibly open up his vocal cords pushing his fanciful words down his tongue effortlessly.
Anyway, this is how I kept myself ostensibly focused—by finding the humour in the ebusuapanyin’s prayer—hoping that the next Amen would be the last.
“Whew!” – YA
Fb: Kwamena Davis