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Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Uncle Kofi has been left behind

In Akan culture, it is very unlikely that you will hear someone say, "_______ is dead" in exact translation. The reference to death is too difficult to face and confirm so other phrases will be used instead. One that stuck out to me suits this situation: "m'wofa bi na ɔaka [waka] baabi [bææbi]" My uncle has been left behind somewhere... But it's really strange for me to state the truth, and post it.

My Uncle Kofi is dead.

My mother and father divorced when I was very young. I, in turn, lived with my mother and eventually, my mother and stepfather. My stepfather was the blessing God prepared for me before even my conception. He was my "Wofa" (uncle) for a few months and before I knew it, I found no hesitation in calling him Daddy. He just became my Daddy. He made me tacos for my 6th grade project on Spanish culture. He cooked the best nkrakra (lite soup). He called it Canadian soup. He hasn't made it since I was 11. He made us listen to countless African gospel songs. So much, I believe I was converted to the Christian faith at age 10 after listening to Sonny Okosun nonstop for 5 hours. My Daddy gave me what I always wanted, a family. With his presence, I got a chance to be a big sister to three younger siblings. Because of him, I got a host of aunties, uncles, and cousins that came with fun outdoorings, Thanksgivings, and weddings. My mother's family doesn't live in the States; I didn't get too involved with my biological father's family as I saw my father on occassion. My "Daddy Uncle Joe" gave me a childhood, a life seasoned with true family memories. I love him for that.

With Daddy came Uncle Kofi. Uncle Kofi was the uncle you didn't want to cross but didn't want to ignore either. His flamboyant personality was something to be amazed at. I remember when he came from Canada to live in the States for the first time. He was tall and lanky and wore his pants belted above his waist. He, at least he thought, was the best dressed Ghanaian in Northern Virginia with those hiked-up pants. He would sleep on our living room floor, talk on the phone for hours, and enjoy Nickelodeon with us at night. He started to go to church with us and was quickly immersed in church activities. People loved this guy. He wasn't shy, he spoke his mind, and was especially conversant with the ladies. He eventually became a prayer warrior and his arresting tongues-speaking was the highlight of the children's room on Friday nights. My parents are Pentecostals and part of the Pentecostal-Ghanaian-way-of-life is to attend late night services on Friday. There, people will join to hear the word of God and pray for hours on end on various things. That will sometimes include a deliverance service where the pastor/elders will lay hands on church members. To children, it just looked like a fun fest that allowed you to shout in someone's face, pour oil all over their head, and force them down with a passion. Since the kids weren't allowed to bother the parents in the main sanctuary, we would have our own fun in the children's room. There was a role for everybody. Someone was designated to be the pastor; a group of kids were the elders; the stronger kids had to be the people who stood behind the members who were supposed to be pushed down; there were the kids who needed prayer to begin with; we had ushers to lay the blankets on the kids who fell down; the general congregation who would be in the background making noise; and then there was one person who got to be... Uncle Kofi. That one person was lucky as heck because she got the chance to prance around and yell out tongues in rapid speed. She was the one who had to bring up songs for the congregation and she was the one to institute when "the falling thing" began. That person was me. I was the only one in Sunday School who can do Uncle Kofi's "boo-da-ka-boo-da-ka" tongues in rapid, raspy speed to perfection. I knew all of his favorite songs. And I was the most dramatic when it came to praying for the kids during "the falling thing". I knew all of this because I was fascinated when I watched Uncle Kofi in church. It seemed that he knew who God was, how God worked, and how to get Him to work for others. The guy was a force to be reckoned with. Later in life, when I first spoke in tongues, it sounded nothing like his, but I couldn't help thinking of him. And how proud I was to have come to know God the way he did.

Uncle Kofi eventually married, had children, (son named Lord and daughter named Shekinah Glory. No joke.) and moved to New Jersey to start his church. I never knew how serious his diabetes was. Every time I saw him he did seem a bit tired, he was graying, but he always was on his phone and he was always on the go. And he would sleep on our living room floor when he came over and will be on the phone at 4 in the morning praying "boo-da-ka" on the prayer line. He was my Uncle Kofi, little brother to my dream of a daddy. The playful, fast talking uncle that everyone loved to have around.

I will remember you. And not just for your tongues. I will remember how much my daddy loved you; you were all he had in this country. 

Ghanaians know how to honor the dead. It has been reported that Ghanaians would go into debt to bring on a huge and magnificent funeral. The size of the funeral shows the "care" and "respect" for the late relative and since funerals are an open occasion, they need to be big to accommodate those who randomly want to attend. I have been to few Ghanaian funerals in my life but they were never of close relatives.
Now that I am in Ghana, I've been invited to almost 3 funerals, parents of my colleagues on campus. I didn't go because 1: I do not like funerals. 2. I don't know these people personally. 3. I never have black or red ntoma to wear. 4. These funerals can go on all day. 5. I just did not plan to attend a funeral whilst in Ghana.
But today, I write with grave, strange pain as it is the first time I have experienced the death of someone close to me and close to the family that I love. I will not be home to attend this funeral and to mourn with my family and my step family. To hear the loving words that people will say and I know they will mean. To see that old church family again that raised me along with my Uncle Kofi. I will instead, sew a black cloth here, travel to Kumasi to visit my step family and mourn with them in representation of my mother and my father. The baby of the family, the cherished of them all... is gone.

Damfira due! You lucky man, now you and Sonny can sing along in God's presence.


For us by us said...

Great post. The reality of death is not necessarily difficult to face, rather death as it it regarded in the west is not present in Akan culture. Implying an individual is "dead' goes against a cultural maxim that views existence as a continuous journey with many stops along the way. Ceasing to exist in the physical does not mean you cease to exist in the spiritual. Saying a person is "dead" cuts short a person's whole existence and does not account for their eternal presence in the spiritual realm.

Ama Kyei said...

Well said and best put. Thanks for the learning tip; there's so much to learn and understand about our Akan culture:)

Yedei said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yedei said...

Hey Mabe! This was a great post! I'm sorry to hear about your uncle. My condolences. What struck me though was how you were able to accurately describe the West African church experience through the children's eyes. It's the same wherever you go! lol. Great post!

Ama Kyei said...

@Yedei, thanks! I don't think I did describing the "West African church experience through a child's eyes" justice given the stories and memories I had. But yes, the whole account of the "falling thing" still makes me shake my head at wonder at how amazing kids are... My Uncle Kofi would have been proud of us if he ever walked in on us. But then he would have made us stop and actually start practicing speaking in tongues.
Thanks for the condolences:)

Anonymous said...

Mabel, my deepest sympathy for you and your family. Not being able to attend someone you love so dearly funeral is painful...I know… I was not able to attend my grandfather's funeral. May he strengthen and keep you during this difficult time. Luv u.Aretha

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