A competition winner response
I have a rich Ghanaian ancestry and heritage, which I’m very proud of. My father, Solomon Andoh Quansah’s family originated from Saltpond, the central region of South Ghana, but he was brought up in Nzemabo, a small village in the Western region of coastal Nzema, on the outskirts of Ghana. He got to know my mother, then Esther Sampson, who was raised in Atuabo, another village in Nzema. They both also spent aspects of their childhood in the Ivory Coast, which is in close proximity to the border of Nzema. However, my parents met up in London in the late 50s, where they would fall in love, marry and raise me after my birth in 1962.
My father was a pioneering radar/radio with the Black Star Line, Nkrumah’s state owned maritime corporate shipping line that took him and crew trading around West Africa, and the rest of the world in the early 1960s to 1976, when he died at the age of 45 of hypertension in Ghana. More than 30 years after my father’s demise, I came to appreciate the significance of his work with the Black Star Line, through discovering important objects in the shipping trunk he left behind, undisturbed in London with my mother; including many photographs of family members, wearing the Kente cloth, his naval uniform, letters, currency from around the world and an iconic sketched picture of the one of the ships, Nasia River. My father had once navigated this ship with Tachie Mason, the first Captain, Nkrumah and Marcus Garvey; all sketched in too. That discovery inspired me to develop an educational cross-curricular package for touring schools, and community groups in 2014, named ‘Unpacking That Trunk’. Through my own fictional story of Anansi, the Ghanaian mythical spider, performance poetry, an interactive ‘Call & Response’ activity, the use of a Kente print, a range of cultural artefacts for participants to handle, I interweave, for all to hear, the history of how pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey’s original Black Star Line ideology, in 1919 USA, impacted on my father’s work with the Black Star Line in Ghana.
On my mother’s side, my great-grandmother, Nwia-Amah’s history is celebrated in Atuabo for being a local Christian, ‘miracle worker’ of extraordinary healing gifts that once shaped the lives of many pre-independence Ghanaians, in the 1930s-to 1950s, who visited her including the then political attaché Nkrumah before his premiership. My mother had once given to me Mame Nwia-Amah’s old Kente cloth, with which I covered a wall in my old flat to draw inspiration for my work.
So, when I look at the image of the Kente cloth, number 1, it signifies an interwoven family history with patrilineal and matrilineal cultural legacies that have variously impacted on my personal life as well as through the work I do as a performance artiste, writer, and educator. It also connects me with the mythical story of how, Anansi, the mythical spider in Ghanaian folklore, weaved an intricate a web in the village of Bonwire, and inspired two farmers, Krugu Amoaya and Watah Kraban to recreate what they observed by weaving a cloth out of black and white fibres from a raffia tree, which they later presented, according to this myth, to the Ashanti Ashantehene, King Nana Osei Tutu. It also connects me to the symbolic colours of my great African continent, that Marcus Garvey once envisaged in declaring that Red, is the colour of the blood, Black is the colour of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong, and Green is the colour of the vegetation of our Motherland. Added to Garvey’s interpretation in the Akan tradition the other colours, namely, orange, mean royalty, black denotes spiritual growth, and white represents purity and cleansing rites.
I believe I deserve to win so that I would feel honoured to have the Kente cloth made into a cultural outfit that I would wear when undertaking the work I do in schools, at the British Museum and heritage sites around London and beyond. I would keep a piece for participants of my workshops and presentations to handle and appreciate so they too can experience their own creative journey of Ghana’s rich cultural history. We, in the Akan of Ghana, raise children communally so if I win this cloth it belongs to us all because knowledge passes down through storytelling for all who want to hear.
A selection of Kente and African print material, with a few calabash bowls.