Stonewalling

And, if I may ask, why do the Akans of Ghana still insist on calling the governments of this fascinating corner of West Africa, “Aban”?

I ask because the origin of the word dates from our earliest encounters with the colonising Europeans when they managed, or at least influenced, our affairs from behind the barricaded walls of stone forts and castles on the coast. “Aban”, loosely translated, means “stone bastion”.

In fact, when the early nineteenth century King of the Asante, Osei Bonsu, returned to his imperial forest metropolis in the middle belt of the then Gold Coast  from his military expedition to the coast, he erected his own “Aban” in the center of Kumasi, and for a while this appeared to offer an alternative vision of Aban. Osei Bonsu installed Arabic Scholars from the northern kingdoms of Dagbon and Gonja in the halls of his citadel and proceeded to make it a center of intellectual inquiry (Bowdich described it as a ‘Palace of Culture’). Until it was burnt down by the British for offering insolent competition.

Thereafter, only one vision of Aban remained: a cold, distant, impenetrable, aloof, fortress of stone with its back to the sea (all the better to cart away the treasures of the land), and from which mighty men superintended over the affairs of tamed, overtaxed, subdued natives. Yet, half a century and one decade after the imperialists departed, we still hold on to the precious, oppressive, metaphor of, “Aban”.

What is in a name? Sometimes, everything.

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