Science to the African is a cultural experience – Kofi Asare Opoku
By Kwabena Opong
Presec, Accra: Professor Kofi Asare Opoku, former Vice President, Institutional Vision Advancement at the African University of Communications in Accra, Ghana has declared that science to the African is a cultural experience that meets the basic needs and understanding of the environment in which he lives. Professor Asare Opoku made this declaration at the Engmann-Klufio-Datsa Commemoration lecture at the Presbyterian Senior High School at Legon, Accra. October 15 This year’s lecture themed, Standing on a stone: Indigenous knowledge and contemporary education in Ghana was premised on the Akan proverb that says, before a blind person can throw a stone at you he must be standing on a stone. Prof. Opoku Asare declared that Africans over the years have garnered a body of scientific knowledge that should be the foundation upon which to build.
The renowned professor of African Religion and Ethics remarked that the state of education in Ghana appears to ignore the body of knowledge and wisdom embedded in our cultures and traditions. It is therefore important for policy makers to rethink their stance on indigenous languages. Our ancestors acquired “knowledge about the climate, agriculture, animals … and about spiritual realities without which they wouldn’t have been here for others to claim to have discovered Africa.” They attributed to a creator things they did not create and acquired knowledge through questions and inquiries. For instance, they recognized the importance of the circle as a symbol of security, continuity and the universe. It is that perception that informed the traditional African architecture of round huts and buildings – fi hankra. From the concept of Adinkrahene – three concentric circles – often printed on cloths, our ancestors also learned of the universe as a field of energy. Their idea of environmental conservation was based on the fact that land belonged not only to the living but also to the dead and unborn. The use of taboos – which days to go and not go to farms and fetch water from the rivers – as well as the prevention of farming activity on certain forest patches in towns and villages are all forms of reservation and conservation for sustained climatic conditions that support farming and other agricultural activity. Building around rivers was considered a taboo as well but its conservation credentials are clear.
The lecturer, a veritable source of knowledge about Africa’s scientific experience, educated the audience, largely students and old students of Presec about things normally taken for granted by Africans. Africans knew how to tell the time before the white man arrived here and our fisher folk had superb knowledge of maritime science. The ancestors gave names to plants and exploited their medicinal properties. Coming close to home at his alma mater Presec, Prof. Asare Opoku submitted that the school’s mascot, a baobab tree represents wisdom and versatility. Odadeε, another name for the baobab tree, is the adopted name of anyone who was educated at Presec. The tree was considered a source of wisdom because it is one of the few plants that can live for as long as 2,000 years. Its bark can be processed into a cloth; in the past it was used as a sacred placeto bury the dead; and its leaves edible. The seeds of the odadeε tree is also processed into shea butter, a healthy fatty substance used for the skin, cooking and as medication. Other plants such as Tweapea used as a chewing stick possess medicinal properties. Tweapea contains a liver cancer prevention chemical.
The knowledgeable speaker referring to Kenyan writer Ngugi W’a Thiongo posited that the European colonial experience was a cultural bomb that eliminated the belief in ourselves. “We are inheritors of a body of knowledge that is very important … . Our past constitutes an inspiration. Our past is not a wilderness but is a foundation of our knowledge,” Prof. Asare Opoku commented. We have to take our culture and traditional beliefs seriously,” he added. He quoted Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah as saying that an educated person must seek to improve on his learning for the benefit of others to buttress the point that learning must always be beneficial to society.
Prof. Asare Opoku appealed in his conclusion that Africans must speak their local languages and backed up his appeal with a proverb, “One does not borrow someone else’s teeth to smile.”
Among personalities that attended the event were Prof. Emeritus Kwabena Nketiah, the renowned musicologist, Prof. E. V. O. Dankwa, formerly of the Ghana Law School, and Rev. Dr. Markwei, the national president of Presec old students association, Odadeε, and a number of old students.