My Extended Family

My grandfather Nene Nomo Akuffo of blessed memory was a very hardworking and versatile man. He was also a polygamist and married 2 women. Most of what i remember about my step grandmother and his marriage to her is hearsay but I some fond memories   of him.

Nomo Akuffo lived in Asesewa 9a town in the Eastern Region of Ghana known for its bustling market center) with his wife Abena Foriwaa and his family of five children. His children all loved him because even though he never had any formal education, he tried his best possible to make sure his children were educated.

The first of his children, Mary Akuffo, my mother, had to help her mother at the market to sell stuff in the morning before going to school. She usually carried burfloaf aka ‘bofloat’ on her head, in a head pan and sold to people who added it to ‘akasa’ porridge in the morning for breakfast. She then had to go help Abena Foriwa take her things to the market to sell before she headed out for school.

School was a couple of miles away and this was the only way her mother will agree that she go to school. Being a traditional society, albeit a man’s world, education of the girl child was not really a priority but she was determined to get an education and make herself a better person. Her father had imbibed in her the importance of education.

Nomo Akuffo was a very witty and funny man who used proverbs and anecdotes to drive home some of life’s important lessons. The one I strongly remember is ‘a stranger is like a brook passing through your life. What it gathers is what it will carry downstream.’ This is a proverb that is supposed to teach one about the importance of people as they come through your life. If you are good to them, they carry a good story about you to people and you make more friends with less effort.

He also said that ‘human beings are sweet but we do not eat human flesh’ which was to say that no matter who you come into contact with, everybody had faults and when dealing with them, it was important to discount that or take into consideration that now man is perfect.

Even with no formal education, Nomo Akuffo had a knack for documentation for future generations. He believed in documenting whatever he did. When he bought land, he made sure he had the papers for it. This has proven very helpful for us grandchildren especially with the property he acquired almost all over in different parts of Ghana, since he was a successful cocoa farmer who even had international laborers from Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

In all this, Nomo Akuffo groomed his only son, my uncle Joe to take over from him. Uncle Joe was the only male child in the sea of 4 other females. Even though he was younger than 3 of his sisters, his dad made sure he had the best of education and everything he wanted in life. He was the only person for whom everything was provided for so he could attend secondary school in Accra Academy, then a leading high school at the time. It was either Accra Academy, Achimota and Adisadel Colleges or Mfantsipim School which were the choice in prestige schools at the time. No expense was to be spared on Uncle Joe’s education.

After secondary school in Tema, Mary had to teach in a primary school for a while then went off the Nursing Training College because she had always wanted to be a nurse. Kate, her immediate sibling went off to Teacher Training College to be an educator. The rest of his children went into trading like their mother and he encouraged them with capital anytime they needed. Obviously, Nomo Akuffo did not stand in the way of his daughters. He let them choose what they wanted to do and supported them as best as he could and they sure made him proud.

Every year, he had a family gathering which he called ‘maintenance’ where all his family came together and spent time with him for about a week. For us grandchildren we could not wait all year round to go spend a week in the village with Grandpa Nomo Akuffo. If any siblings had a grudge against each other, this was where it was settled to face the New Year – the gathering was usually after Christmas or early in the New Year. It was for his whole family including his in-laws. It was also an opportunity for us children to get to know our cousins and catch up on what was going on in our lives. Nomo Akuffo ensured that the family bond was kept strong year after year.

The family gathering was also a time to strategize where the family was heading. The siblings had always remained a closely knit family and they had drawn their husbands into the family. It was as if the husbands were siblings too and as such there was a kind of freedom to associate and share within the family. Usually it was at these meetings that it was agreed that we the grandchildren would swap parents especially during holidays so we always had company and also did not or never lost sight of our heritage because there was a part of the year you knew were going to spend with your cousins in the village to experience all those moonlight moments that you read in books as a city dweller.

At these meetings too it was agreed who was going to foster whose children, that is to say that there were some people assigned specific responsibilities within the family which made them indisposed to take care of their own children and the rest of the family had the responsibility to step in. As my grandparents grew older it was obvious that they needed much more care and attention and as such it was agreed at one such meeting that one of my aunties will take the sole responsibility of staying with them every minute of her waking life. This meant that she had to give up her trading activities and take care of the aged parents. The family therefore decided to pitch in and contribute to raise her children; after all they were their children too. So you go into a house and you can not make out which children are the biological children of the parents and which ones were cousins because we all behaved like siblings anyway.

Another instance of fostering is where children were sent off to live with aunties to be raised almost right from birth. Up till date, I have cousins that when I say are not my sisters people wonder because they have been like sisters to me since infancy. My mother only had three boys and as such these gals were an added balance and interestingly, that is how some of us learnt about girls and how to treat them especially with all the emotional mood swings they have to go through. Imagine going through life without knowing anything about women and all that you knew were from books. What a handicap.

The African extended family, as described so far, also acts as a support system. In the modern corporate world, a young woman who goes to marry and gets pregnant will have to deal not only with the pressures of work and marriage but also of childbirth and child raising when the baby is delivered. A younger cousin from an auntie or uncle comes to stay with this corporate woman and acts as a child care giver or even baby sitter so the mother can go about her usual life. This is very expensive these days to employ somebody to do these duties and once you are in a close knit family, there is always somebody who is willing to step in and help rather than spend a lot of money sending the child to daycare everyday. All one has to do is take care of this younger cousin and either put her through school or help her learn a trade because at the end of the day whatever skills she acquires comes back into the family anyway. After the child is of age, she can also be independent and not depend on you anymore.

In recent times, Africa has become more westernized and as such old parents are sent to old people’s homes where they are expected to be taken care of and if the children have the time they go to visit on weekends or at the close of day during the week. Some school of thought that is traditionally African frowns on this practice touting the argument that your parents have taken care of you and you in turn ‘dump’ them in a home to be treated like children or even patients in a hospital.

But the proponents are of the view that, they will get better care there and that usually most people do not trust their family members and are afraid of being taken advantage of. These are usually Africans who have been western influenced and are more nuclear family oriented.

Well, for both sides of the argument, it is up to one to decide what one thinks is best for the parents and what one is prepared to do and can afford. The aged are repositories of wisdom and are like living libraries. The information gleamed from Nomo Akuffo has stayed with me, including some of the lessons my parents learned from his words when he was alive. Being close to these aged folk i believe is to have access to a whole lot of information on various issues in life especially in this era of information where knowledge is power.

With regards to the extended family system, it is here to stay and no matter what influences we acquire as Africans, we can never get away from family. That is why nepotism will never fade away no matter how much of a dinosaur we consider it to be. Family will always remain family and whether we like it or not, we are all related one way or the other. Therefore it is just as important to love your neighbor as yourself because you just might be treating your brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt or grandparent right.

Long live Africa!

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One Response to “My Extended Family”

  1. Michael Odwurah Amoako Says:

    A great lesson and food for thought.

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