Nana’s Story

So Nana takes them out to the courtyard and they sit down around her. The children keep milling about curious about the visitors who have come to see their aged grandmother. They see people come to the compound every day but this group has people looking all strange and some of them are carrying strange things but most of them seem to be carrying water bottles. Why do they have to be carrying water all around when there is water everywhere, one child asks her aunty as she takes his hand and he is told to shut up.

Nana, after her visitors have sat down asks for her cup to be brought to her. One of the members of the household goes into her room and comes back holding a metallic cup with a handle and Nana requests that it be filled with water for her. Ebow goes into one corner of the compound and fetches water from an earthenware bowl that is covered with a piece of asbestos slate. Ebow smiles at the incredulous looks on the faces of the visitors and explains to them that back in the day this was what rural folk drank from and the water from the earthenware pot that stood in the corner was the coolest water they could ever drink and any of them is open to try it if they are brave enough. They look at each other and shake their heads no. well, it is expected though and he hands the metal cup full of water to Nana who covers it with her hands, says a prayer, takes a sip, then covers it with a piece of cardboard and places it besides her.

She then addresses her audience. You are welcome to the land of our birth and inasmuch as Ebow has told me what brings you here it is still courtesy to ask why you are here so you have to appoint a linguist amongst you to tell us your mission here. Ebo is now my linguist and as such you have to find your own.

Dredd gets up to address Nana and tells her their mission and why they have travelled all this way. (here you can recount what the whole journey is about or just paraphrase it)

Ebow relates to Nana what Dredd has said and Nana insists that Ebow tell the group that they have just learnt a very important tradition in Africa that we just don’t jump into issues but we exchange some pleasantries first. Nana stresses that it is also important to do that so that there is no ambiguity about the mission of the guests. She says they will understand that better when she tells them the story they are about to hear about the coming of the Europeans to the Gold Coast.

So once upon a time the people of the coast lived peacefully and traded with other people inland for the things that they didn’t have. There were petty wars of expansion and petty rivalries between some states but this did not affect the general wellbeing of the people. There were established trade routes where those at the coast exchanged their fish and salt from the coast for foodstuff and other products that were inland and then the middle people as we called them also exchanged what they had for leather and cloth and nuts from the farther north.

There were markets established almost everywhere and good and services were exchanged pretty pleasantly and in the areas where the markets were situated the chiefs, who were the rulers of the land, exacted a small tax in the form of royalties for these trade items. Chiefs also had agents and officials who traded on their behalf. The bigger kingdoms had elaborate systems put in place for the smooth running of the kingdom’s economy. This was especially because when they conquered other states and incorporated them into the kingdom, these conquered states paid tribute, determined by the conqueror, to them and these had to be monitored and managed. The older kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai all had this system of economic management. This was employed by almost all the kingdoms and trade envoys passing through a kingdom had to make themselves known to the ruler of the area. This was very important else it was considered an act of war that traders will pass through an area without seeing the king of that area. It was also the case because most of these trade envoys were sanctioned by other kings and rulers of various territories thus it made it official to pay respect to the overlord of an area.

Nana looked at her audience and smiled to herself at how they were caught in rapt attention at her story. Every gaze seemed to be on her and it looked as if her voice had brought the whole evening to a standstill. Even the children had stopped milling about and sat in one corner of the compound listening in.

She continued.

Inasmuch as trade was mainly amongst Africans gradually the trade expanded and went beyond borders and over what we now call the Sahara. That meant that now people from the Sahara traveled all the way along the trade routes to find the source of the trade items and deal directly with the producers of the trade items. What we now call the Trans Saharan trade.

This meant that now the Arabs were involved in the trade too and as they traveled down along the trade routes they established mosques, which are their places of worship along the routes and also because of the large number in their convoys, they also established towns and markets to add to the existing markets. They were pretty aggressive traders and traded in whatever was the item of demand at the time. At the height of the kingdoms, gold became the main object of trade and that caught the eye of the Europeans and they decided to find the source of all the gold that found its way into Europe.

Since they couldn’t come by land like the arab traders, the Europeans decided to find a sea route to the coast of Africa and find the source of the gold. The Portuguese expedition, sanctioned by the king of Portugal, found their way to a place on the coast that they believed was the source of all the gold based on the stories of traders they had. They named this place Elmina and that is where we are now.

Well, I guess you must be tired now after your journey. I have given you the background to the coming of the first Europeans on the African coast at Elmina and will leave you to think about it and then will continue when you get back here tomorrow. You guys get some rest and make sure you sleep fitfully because you are back home.

Nana then called two of her grandchildren to come get her chair back to her room and she retired waving the visitors goodnight and hobbled to her room.

(The next day)

Nana looks out her window and sees Ebow coming with the visitors. She thought they would be coming later at sundown but it is obvious that they cant wait to hear the rest of the tale. Ebow leaves them in the courtyard and heads on to Nana’s room to talk to her. He explains that the whole group had decided that it was important that they hear the rest of the story before they do any more tours to any sites. He tells Nana jokingly that whilst they were on their way to her compound, most of the people had used their phones to check on the story as Nana had told it and it was indeed true what she had said about the wars of the states and kingdoms and also the Trans Saharan trade. Nana just smiled and asked Ebow if they had eaten anything and he could talk to his aunties in the house to prepare some koko for the visitors to which he replied that indeed they had been given breakfast where they had slept and what was in them wasn’t hunger for food but hunger for information and they couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the story. Nana then tells Ebow that she will go inside and get dressed and come join them in the courtyard but he should call his nephews to come get her chair and place it in the courtyard for her. Ebow departs to join the visitors.

By the time he gets to them, they are interacting with the children in the courtyard and are involved in playing a game of hopscotch that they children had been playing earlier when the visitors walked in. now some of them were involved in the game playing with the children as Ebow announces to them that Nana will be with them in a bit. Others join some other boys in another corner of the courtyard juggling a makeshift soccer ball made of pieces of cushion placed in a sock rounded up like a ball. They seem to be fascinated at the way the children just use materials around them to create play things. Two children are in one corner making tin cars out of discarded milk tins and the tyres of the cars are made from rounded plastic slippers cut out in perfect roundness by sharpened metals that are used like calipers.

In a bit Nana walks out of her room and walks down the courtyard towards the visitors. Being the oldest in the compound, almost everyone comes out to greet her as she walks past them to take her seat that has been placed in the spot she usually sits. Her grey hair is neatly combed and slick and she wears an African print dress that flows behind her in the wind making her look like an African queen heading to her coronation. She smiles at everyone as she takes greetings from her household. As they greet her they also add blessings wishing her long life and health amidst genuflecting to her.

Everyone quickly gathers around and they stand in respect as she walks to them and kind of greets almost everyone asking if they slept well and how they are doing this morning and then she walks slowly and takes her seat. Everyone sits down and then she asks Ebow, like she did yesterday, what their mission is and the reason for the visit. Again Dredd is the spokesman for the visitors and conveys to Nana, through Ebow, that they had really been intrigued by her story last night and that like the proverbial Oliver Twist they had come for more especially having realized via Google on their phones and computers that most of the story she had told them was true. They were intrigued and wanted more.

Nana laughs quite loudly as asks ‘so if it wasn’t for your gadgets and this Google, you will think whatever story I told you was pure lies huh..’ .  everyone laughs at this and they all chorus in unison ‘oh nooo!!’. Well I’m glad you confirmed the stories I have told you because these are stories that has been handed down to us through the generations and even though it was a long time ago, the substance of the stories still remains though there might be distortions here and there. ‘so yes I understand and I was just teasing you’, Nana says.

Yesterday I got to when the Portuguese first arrived on our coast. Well imagine what it looked like to our people to be on the shore and all of a sudden ships appear on the coastline heading straight for us. Mind you this were people who were not used to big boats just their small canoes for fishing and then also came these whitemen off the boats that had appeared on the coastline. They parked the big boats on the water and took their small canoes and then they came ashore. Our people just runaway thinking they were seeing ghosts. The people were so white and they had just appeared on the coastline and now they were on the beach. Somebody will definitely run to inform the chief on the arrival of the ghosts on the shore. The chief gathers his warriors around him to go see what is going on and then the first meeting with the whiteman happens. Through sign language the whiteman tells the chief his intention and that he bears gifts for the king. It is the gifts that have the people in awe because they were mostly things they had never seen before. This include mirrors, our people looked into water when they wanted to see their images and here was an object that you look in and could see yourself. There were bottles, made of glass, exquisitely shaped, there were several European goods that the Portuguese presented to the king. The leader of the Portuguese delegation nods to his colleagues when he sees all the gold ornaments adorning the king and his elders and they acknowledge they are in the right place. This indeed is the source of all the gold that has found its way to Europe.

Nana paused for a second to gauge the reaction of her audience. Then she continued. It was obvious that language was going to be a barrier but these white traders found a way of going around it. With sign language they managed to show their intention and as like how you came and I asked you your mission, the king asked their mission and they managed to communicate that they were traders and that their ships were full of such items as silk cloth, mirrors and European goods and they will trade them for the gold and other items that were available. But the focus was mainly on the gold. To this the king gave the Portuguese a place they could build their lodgings and these lodgings were what these days you call offices, where they conducted their trade. Gradually there came the need for these lodgings to be expanded to include storage so that trade went on all year round and when they ships came they just loaded what was in storage and left for Europe. Hence the forts and castles were built along the coast line to act as trading posts and loading bays for the Europeans ships. These forts and castles were also armed to defend against other Europeans into coming to take over the trade territories established by another European nation.

So a basic fort along the coast was mainly a trade outpost for the Europeans. Gradually as the business got good, more Europeans started arriving and though it started with the Portuguese, soon the Danes, Dutch, British, French, Germans and several others managed to find themselves all along the African coast using the Atlantic Ocean as a trade route to Europe and the west indies. These basic forts as trade outposts using had a storage room, living quarters and a meeting room. At the height of trading when the forts needed to be expanded, the Europeans built the castles which were big edifices that contained everything and even housed a battalion of military forces not only to protect their interests but also to fight against each other. That is when in most of the castles you find canons pointing out to the sea and at least one pointed into the town habitat of the people where once a while they fired off warning shots to keep the local people frightened and the rest of the Europeans at bay. It wasn’t just the other Europeans kept at bay but our people too were afraid of the booms of the canons and the cracks from the firestick rifles. Women will threaten stubborn children that the boom boom will capture them to put fear in the children and calm them from mischief as children were wont to.

Nana continued her tale but it was obvious that the old lady was getting tired and needed to rest. Well at least now you know the story of how the European ancestors came to our coast and have been coming ever since. another day we will continue with how some of these people went to town to interact not with nananom but with the local people and how they took wives from amongst them to live with. Nana then called her grandson to hold her hand as retreated to her chambers leaving her guests in the courtyard after bidding them farewell.

**This is part of a story I wrote to be published in a book The Ship That Returned**

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