Promote African Cultural History – Kofi Ayim urges
By Ukachi Uwadinobi
FOR A SHORT WHILE, the early morning downpour had threatened to disrupt the highly celebrated annual Harlem Book Fair. Luckily the rain didn’t last long and as it fizzled out, the dark blue image of the sky soon took on a brighter outlook thanks to the emerging rays of the sun. The venue for the occasion was the New York Public Library on W. 135 Street and Lenox Avenue housing the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. In the lobby, participating exhibitors enthusiastically greeted attendees as they arrived and showed them dozens of brochures, pamphlets and program listings they could choose from and books on African Literature to peruse and buy if they desired. Kofi Ayim arrived early for his speaking engagement in the American Negro Theatre, one of a number of auditoriums in the Schomburg Center. The awareness of the African culture and the emblems of its rich customs and traditions, especially among the youth in the U.S. African immigrant community, are at risk of extinction, Ayim, author and editor of New Jersey-based African newspaper Amandla, lamented during his hour-long presentation titled: “The Akan Of Ghana: Aspects Of Past And Present Practices.” The Ghanaian-born author shared fascinating perspectives on anthropology, astronomy, sociology and religion underscored by culturally embedded practices that the West often-times disdainfully characterize as primitive, dangerous or outside the realm of human civilization. Those things, which are merely artifacts, Kofi argued, are no more of a symbol to our native African culture as the leaping Jaguar trademark on the hood of the British luxury car is to the United Kingdom’s auto manufacturing identity.
Mr. Ayim spoke at length about the Akan of Ghana, his ethnic birthplace, and the ancestral relationship they shared with Ancient Egypt, including some cultural phenomena that explain the Akan belief system around the concept of solar mythology — for instance, the moon as the mother of the sun — among some mythological concepts discussed in his book. He occasionally drew applause from the audience when he talked about how the Akan culture confers a preeminent status on women as highly valued-members of the Akan ethnic clan. He averred that the Western society’s concept of family differed sharply from how the Akan of Ghana viewed family. There’s no such thing as “half-brother or half-sister,” he said. He added that “your mother’s brother, and not your father’s brother, is your uncle, ” to underscore the strong matrilineal element of the Akan culture. He also noted that your father’s brother is called your father, too, and not referred to as “uncle.”
To most people in the audience — none natives of the Akan of Ghana — the cultural concepts Mr. Ayim shared were undoubtedly amusing and perhaps hard to grasp and yet very fascinating to know. At the end of the presentation when Mr. Ayim fielded questions from the audience, I was curious to know if the Akan ethnic group had a presence that was felt and visible in modern day Egypt, given the historical origins of their cultural ancestry. Mr. Ayim emphatically said, No! The significance of the ancestral history and cultural heritage, lamentably have been eroded by the ubiquity and pervasion of Western pop culture through social media. An African American in the audience asked to know how the African American community could be exposed to African cultural experience. Dr. Kofi Boateng, a director at Harlem Development Corporation and a prominent voice in the Black community answered the question with useful information and advice. He said that in New York City, different social and cultural events — weddings, naming ceremonies, burials, African ethnic community meetings, among several — are practically held every weekend around the borough by different groups within the African immigrant population. Dr. Boateng noted that the African cultural functions provide meaningful opportunities for African Americans to become acquainted with the African culture, and more important, foster educational dialogue and cultural integration.
Kofi Ayim was dressed in the colorful Ghana traditional outfit Kente often worn on special occasions. His books also were on display outside the auditorium and some of the folks in the audience bought copies, which he autographed. Mr. Ayim took the occasion to inform the audience about a radio talk show that he hosts every Saturday on “Jersey Ghana Radio.com” between 2 and 4 PM and urged them to tune in or call into the program with questions and/or comments.