April 29, 2009


I have had several passports in my life but I think dancing is one of the most interesting.  In Togo recently to visit a friend’s family in a small place called Dadza.  It was sweet to meet the family again after a two-year absence and experience true African hospitality.  I can say without lying that when economically feasible, an African family will welcome you into their home as their own son or daughter and provide for every need that you have and you will be given the best seat in the house for the duration of your stay.  Lucky I was and have been to be at the receiving end.   On one day, a large funeral had been taking place for not one but close to ten people (this was done mainly to cut costs, not because many people died at once).  As such, the number of music groups performing was also multiplied such that at one part of this village was a group from such and such a town, opposite to them was another group from another village and so on.  Sometimes playing at the same time, sometimes staggering over the course of the afternoon.  Approaching the playing ground for traditional performances is always exciting, no matter where or for what reason.  I experience this everywhere there is music and dance happening outside.  First you hear the music, slightly muted and not quite discernable but you can catch bits and pieces of the instruments….luring you in.  Then there is the crowd which forms around the music/musicians/dancers.  As you get closer to that mass, the music becomes louder and clearer.  The drums more powerful, the singing more entrancing.  As an outsider, you are a little nervous, not sure of the protocol of what you are entering.  Eyes upon you, you find a place to sit or stand and then you are in it.  The drums are made for this environment and each beat fills your ears and shakes some part of you.  Putting that with the singing and the dance and you have magic.

    Now….after settling in you just wanna chill and enjoy the experience, be somewhat anonymous.  I want to take some video or pictures of these new sounds and dances but am never sure how people will react.  Some appreciate, some get annoyed at times.  But on this occasion I was asked if I wanted to film the proceedings.  Of course I agreed, but first was asked if I wanted to dance.  Not one to turn down a dance in this environment I obliged.  Now I feel a bit bad because I know I am going to shock the people, but they don’t know that.  The dance style is very similar to that of the  Ewe people in Ghana that I spend time with and I can do it quite well.  I know this, but the people do not.  They are perhaps expecting to see the foreigner dance like most do at first, a little off-beat, smiling, trying and looking a little awkward.  So when I stood up with my friend and did my thing, people shouted, people clapped and cloth was thrown around my neck (a sign of both appreciation and in some places wanting to marry a person).  My turn over, another person came to take me right away.  And another and another until I had to put a stop to it as I felt like my back would break.  That done, I felt free and had “entered”.  This process repeated itself several times over the day at each different playing ground.  So indeed, dancing can be a passport.

    Soon after all of this my parents arrived in Ghana.  10 years ago when I first came here I never envisioned my parents coming to visit me.  And for sure, my mother never thought this would happen 10 years ago, with my father just starting to recover from the brink of death with his brain hemorrhage, that now requires he use a wheelchair most of the time.  So instead of going on a cruise, they came to Ghana for two weeks, not sure what they would be in for.  They arrived fine (though luggage and wheelchair were a day late) and I became the tour guide.  Ma is taking pictures of everything.  I can’t keep track of how many pictures she has taken of schools and school kids.  She loves all things little from baby goats to baby people.  I am trying to remind her of some etiquette when taking pictures of actual people, as not everyone likes random tourists taking their photo. In defense, Mudder says she is taking a picture of the building behind the person. Anyhow, she has a lot of pictures right now.  The old man is taking it easy, mostly concerned about getting some food and not being to cold. Yes cold, as I write this I am shirtless in an air conditioned hotel room while he is asking for some socks and a blanket. We made an arduous 12 hour journey to the North and were received like royalty by my friends the Atindaana family in Tamale.  Went to see elephants, I gave them (my parents, not the elephants) some pito (alcoholic drink made from millet), had a flat tire at night in a stretch of road frequented by armed robbers (we were told this fact later) and then another 12 hour journey (6 of which were on a dirt road) back to Accra.  Ma’s hairline was kind of orange from the dust and anything white was that no more.


I don’t think she is overwhelmed yet.

    I’m trying to decide what she liked more…the elephants or the quadruplets.  First time either of us had ever met quadruplets.  The word cute doesn’t apply really.  The second wife of the Atindaana house is a mid-wife in a small village and helped to deliver these four babies.  A rarity in most places, but in the mother’s village, not always a good sign.  The parents were afraid that if they stayed in the village the children would die, from starvation and/or ill-wishes.  Some traditional beliefs maintain that such an occurrence brings bad luck to a family (and from an economic standpoint it very well can).  They were even considering giving them up for adoption (the mother and father have little education and no employment prospects).  Instead, the Atindaana’s took in the mother, the four babies and the mother’s little sister and have been doing so for the last 7+ months.  Now that is what I call hospitality.  2 girls and 2 boys.

Arriving back in the south of the country we stayed in the village of Dagbamete, home of the shrine of Torgbui Apetorku.  Using this village as a base we went to the village of Dzogadze for the official opening of the school project that I initiated 2 years ago.  Already you have seen the pictures of that.  I have to say it was a special day.  I’ll describe it succinctly.

Me in a traditional woven piece of cloth 6 yards long (something like a toga). A few hundred or so people of the village…chiefs, children and all in between under the shade of tress and palm leaf shelter. Numerous drumming and dance performances by old and very young (including kids that will  use the school block). Speeches by a chief, my mother (and a poem) and of course by me, urging parents to sacrifice for their children’s education as they will lead the town/country/world eventually. A presentation to me by another chief on behalf of the village and bestowing upon me the title  “Leader of the Children”(!!!). A song praising me and wishing me long life and prosperity. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the building. Many claps and handshakes.

And last but not least, me joining the Atsiagbekor group for a few dance styles, which surprised and delighted the whole gathering, as I had not danced here in Dzoadze since 2002 when I first came to learn this style of music.  The people (and myself) were happy to see I had not forgotten what I had come to learn.  It is no lie to say that because of that music, the building was constructed. All in all a good day with good vibes.

    The next day my mother’s mind was a blown I do believe. As the annual festival for the god Apetorku was starting that day, many other traditional religious groups had descended upon Dagbamete for the day.  Most striking of which was a group known as Korku.  Essentially, members of this group became possessed and engage in some quite amazing acts which I consider beyond the comprehension of most people..  They are most known for the vigorous cutting, slashing and stabbing of various parts of the human body (tongue, ears, neck, stomach, legs, eyes) with machetes/cutlasses and knives. I won’t go into it deeply here but I have studied it well, from a skeptical viewpoint in fact, inches away from the action and can assure you that those blades are indeed sharp and in no way are the people doing the act holding back.  It is almost as if they want the blade to cut them, at times speaking to it and asking why it is not cutting(!?)  But on that day at least, not one drop of blood was shed.  I had seen this before but my mother was flabbergasted and a little scared, especially when the ones possessed started to slice vehemently with a 12-inch blade at their own necks right in front of her and my father.  Now some of you reading this may be skeptical and that is understandable, but I will be happy to show the video footage I have.  Further, I’ll be glad to show the footage of the three fellows who boiled some palm oil, poured moonshine on it to make it flame, and then treated it like common water to bathe their arms, hands and chests with.  Of course, their drumming was pretty awesome as well.

    Now the festival is nearing its end…. the all night drumming sessions over, the many hundreds of people who have come to make their annual sacrifices and sleep in and around the village for the week are mostly gone, my parents have returned to Canada and I have about 10 days left in the country.  I’ll see what I can fit into that space and time.


PS..sorry for the low resolution connection via the mobile phone is slow.

APRIL 29, 2009
MAY 11, 2007
APRIL 21, 2007
MARCH 29, 2007
FEBRUARY 12, 2007
JANUARY 22, 2007
JUNE 10, 2002
JUNE 2, 2002
MAY 10, 2002