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  • Ms N-E Casely-Hayford

Ethereal Beings Behind the Beans

- Ms N-E Casely-Hayford


Afɔ gbɔmɔ fɛɛ gbɔmɔ yɛ agbojee mli, kɛ hegbɛ ko ni damɔ ŋmɛlɛ koome nɔ. Gbɔmɛi fɛɛ yɛ jwɛŋmɔ kɛ henilee, ni no hewɔ lɛ esa akɛ amɛkɛ amɛhe ahi shi yɛ nyɛmi suɔmɔ mli.

(All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood).

At least that’s what Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states. Perhaps the last word “brotherhood” ought to be amended to personhood to create inclusivity…

The question is, how equal in dignity and rights is life’s path for the Kooko growing communities of West Africa? How much acknowledgement do these communities get for providing the world with a product that speaks a trillion languages? What responses can be extrapolated from the above queries?

I’ve often wondered whether the grand matriarchs who have passed on into ancestry ever visit the Cocoa farms they left behind for younger relatives. I’ve pondered over what their thoughts would be regarding the land that they themselves had inherited to till and toil in the hopes that it would be a legacy of absolute benefit to the generations coming after. I imagine what our conversations would be should I be granted the opportunity to have verbal exchanges with them. I concluded that they would be utterly appalled at the state of affairs for Cocoa growing communities as they currently stand.

My journey onto the Chocolate Has a Name (CHAN) platform was quite by accident; it was through the invitation of the Ɛse ne Tεkyerεma Foundation that I found myself on the Africaniwa platform. I initially attended as an observer, however, on my second visit, I was speaking about a couple of my ancestors; a very pleasant accident indeed. What a year of learning it has been. I have always believed that certain places we find ourselves in are hardly coincidental but destined although we are unaware of this at the initial stages. It is upon reflection much later when one considers the trajectory of one’s journey into a particular space that something inside then makes an experiential connection. As a descendant of a Cocoa growing community whose cultivators have often wondered what happened to their beans once it left the farm, I feel it only fair that these ethereal beings that nurtured the cocoa beans are remembered somehow. What better way to do this than through the work of Chocolate Has a Name.

In many respects, CHAN pierces the veil of ethereal mist that somehow creates the myth that only well-known confectionery conglomerates such as Cadbury, Nestlé, Hershey Company, Morinaga Company, Chocoladefabriken Lindt Sprungli …, Ferrero Group, have cultivated cocoa to create the chocolates and other sweets that they sell worldwide. I am certain that when anyone hears the above names they immediately associate them with the conglomerate world of confectionary. Can you imagine how many entryways of opportunity and affluence are available for people bearing either of these well-known names? – Innumerable! A heritage, I daresay, that may be transferred for generations. Question is, where are these companies getting their cocoa from? Let us not forget Ghana’s cocoa processing board that created the Golden Tree Chocolate. My first ever taste of chocolate occurred when I was six or seven years of age, during my very first visit to Ghana with my mother and one of my siblings. Since then, my palate has been spoiled. In my opinion, I am yet to find a chocolate that matches my first ever taste of the nectar of the goddesses.

I was catapulted back to that time when I had an impromptu emergency invite to speak about the work being done in Tarkwa Breman. It is a project dear to my heart. Chocolate truly does have a name.

If historical dates are to be believed, it will be one hundred and forty-four years since Tetteh Quarshie a blacksmith of the Ga-Dangbe ethnic group brought back from Fernando Po (now known as Bioko in Equatorial Guinea) cocoa beans to cultivate on his farm. A journey that was facilitated by the Basel Missionaries with whom he worked for a while. He is said to have shared the beans with other farmers who in turn planted the beans on their farms.

How would I go about commemorating generations of Cocoa Growing Communities in Ghana? Generations from 1879 to Date? Just imagine a wall plaque containing the names of every single person in Ghanaian cocoa growing communities. Tetteh Quarshie’s name perhaps with the inclusion of the Basel missionaries, would be among the first names to be engraved on that wall. As a relative of Tetteh Quarshie’s a few times removed (maternal connections) I have often wondered what said wall plaque from 1879 would look like. Where would it be placed? Would it be as vast and as lengthy as the Chinese wall? Would it be viewable from space? Who would supervise the engravings of these names, their districts, etc. etc. etc. of cocoa growing communities? Would the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON), the UN headquarters in Africa get involved with this very important commemorative wall? Or would the whole General Assembly be getting involved to back this up or put obstacles in our way? Would copies of these commemoration walls be positioned in prominent places around the globe? Where in Ghana would this wall be positioned? Would Ghana insist that it is her right and not United Nations’ then have her most accomplished as well as start-up blacksmiths play a prominent role in the sculpting of this wall?

With all the above swirling around in my mind, I remember the first time I visited my grandmother’s farm. For a child whose formative years began in an English county’s concrete jungle, my grandmother’s farm turned out to be an absolute arboretum of magical wonder. It is where my passion for flora was born. Opanyin Nnaa Merley Payne, or Aarttii (Aunty) as everyone called her was an entrepreneur extraordinaire! Known to many as a Griot, a medicine woman, a healer, a doula, and educationalist, she was also one of the council of elders in matters of enstoolment, births, deaths, nubility rights and very much more. Also hailing from generations of a cocoa growing community. The remarkable thing about my grandmother’s farm is that it was a remarkable place.

Aaatti’s farm also had a plethora of citrus fruits, banana trees, apentu-plantain and apim-plantain trees. Other items growing on her land were several species of mangoes, yͻͻyi (African Velvet Tamarind), and other wonderful fruits, too many in fact, to list here. Then there were the different varieties of yams including an assortment of vegetables, herbs, even trees whose wood could be used for drum-making, stool-making plus an assortment of furniture.

Madam Veronica Nnaa Merley Payne (Opayin or Onupka Nnaa Merley Payne) is one of the names that ought to be remembered where chocolate is concerned. My goddess of a materfamilias’ name and titles would be engraved on my imagined wall of tribute – several miles long and many more feet high. The national wall-plaque would not just be situated in a specific place in the country. No, at the entrance of each cocoa growing community would be a plaque that would map the generations of family members who participated or are currently participating in the cultivation of cocoa.

I wonder whether anyone has ever thought of this? If yes, why is it not being implemented? What material would be used to create these walls? Material for longevity. Would it be made of wood? If it is carved in wood, it would have to be would that can withstand the ravages of termites and the elements. Perhaps it would be forged in metal/iron. What about glass, hmm, stone maybe, who knows? Feasibly, each region would use the materials that are prominent in their area.

In my eyes, my grandmother was a goddess in possession of numerable superpowers. The fact that she was involved in community affairs and often had to problem solve was amazing to observe. Problem solving occurred through the medium of storytelling and performance. It was this other worldly woman who taught me to recall the journeys I go on in my dreams. It was through her tutelage that I learned to live in my imagination without any feelings of guilt. She declared this a healthy place to be.

Should I ever come into some money, I will be visiting my grandmother’s village to gather as much history as I can and commission a wall on which will be mapped the names, deeds and titles of Ancestors gone before; then include current relatives who believe in continuing the legacies that were left by wise women before them.

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