A Festival of Storytelling
In 2009 and in 2020, ChildsPlay International (CPI) worked in Osiem, a village of about 5000 mid-way between Ghana’s two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi.
At the height of Covid-19, CPI worked in the same village with Bismark Otchere, a local middle school teacher with whom we worked with in 2009. This time, however, the process of pulling things together was easier – everyone already knew how successful the 2009 Festival had been. Potential difficulties melted away.
But still, our focus shifted. This time, we were more concerned with passing on traditional local culture, embodied in the Akhan symbol “Sankofa,” a bird looking backward, contemplating cultural roots. The term’s Akhan translation is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”.
Ghanaian children learn about symbols (like Sankofa) by painting them and learning their meanings. In general, such symbols are called Adinkra – concepts or aphorisms used widely in fabric design, architecture, logos, and pottery. Adinkra are everywhere. Sankofa (one of innumerable Adinkra) embodies the values of Akhan culture, representing its essential prudence, and concern to take care of its own – even if, at a further remove, it might be responsible for a certain caution towards innovation!
For the Festival, children practiced traditional dance and song. Everything came together in a large evening celebration, with nearly a thousand people from several villages gathered around a campfire. The village king and queen presided. The crowd was summoned by “talking drums,” a traditional mode of communication that is becoming extinct (but is very much in the spirit of Sankofa).
But besides the song and dance performances, the key event was an elder relating Osiem’s origin story. It was thrilling. The audience was rapt and, later, there were suggestions that this oral history be written down. There was clearly a yen for an identity that was at “risk of being left behind.” In this spirit, paintings of Adinkra symbols were displayed in several villages as teaching devices
Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”