Book Review

Many Ghanaians raised in the traditional family setting where more than one nuclear family lived in a home may be familiar with such past times as storytelling. Invariably, the eponymous hero of such stories would be Kwaku Ananse and his family comprising Okonore Yaa and Ntikuma. Unfortunately, however, such forms of traditional entertainment are dying away, especially with the incidence of western education and emigration. It was not uncommon to see girls playing ampe at the village square while others are engaged in storytelling and riddles – Agya rekɔ ogyaa me deɛbɛn?

Fortunately, Michael Ofori-Mankata, a teacher and story teller, as he describes himself, is one person who feels the need to preserve the tradition for posterity. He retells the stories in books. In Ananse’s justice, Mr. Ofori-Mankata writes of how the Ananse (the Spider) reprieves the Rat (Okusie) from the clutches of the Leopard (Osebo) who the Rat had just rescued from a trap.

The Hare makes a beautiful yellow spotted coat for Osebo who would proudly wear it and take strolls in the forest for a showoff of his new sartorial presentation. It is just at that moment that Dede Akai, the Queen of the Ga people decides she wants a new pet. To catch the pet, her hunters investigate the pathways of the various animals in the forest and dig a hole as a trap. The hole is covered with leaves and small twigs and made difficult to recognize. The monkey, always in the trees saw men digging the hole and warned his neighbors about it. In his attempt to investigate the veracity of the monkey’s warning Osebo falls into the trap. After several attempts by the Elephant and the Cobra to save Osebo fail, Okusie of all animals is able to rescue the great Krotwiamansa, the mighty one.

Instead of rewarding Okusie, Osebo decides to kill him to ensure that the news of his rescue never travels far. “The only way to make sure this story is not broadcast all over the world is to put you away. I am therefore going to kill you as painlessly as I know how.” Osebo tells Okusie who at this time is shaken and sweating profusely. As the Rat and the Leopard continue to haggle over life and death, Ananse arrives at the scene. Sensing blood, Ananse finds out the intentions of the Leopard and decides to save his friend Okusie. Osebo tells his story to Ananse who listens carefully and shakes his head. “Some story! Most incredible! This is fiction! Out of this world…,” replies Osebo. Ananse continues to express disbelief but both Okusie and Osebo insist on the truth of the matter. To prove the truth, Ananse demands evidence and that is for Osebo to jump back into the hole and come back. This Osebo does readily, but could not come back because Okusie blocked off the tunnel with a huge stone leaving Osebo trapped once again and Okusie going free.

This short story shows the wit and practicality of Ananse which is displayed in stories in which he features. Ananse stories also hold plenty of moral. They teach societal norms and orient both teller and listener about life in its pragmatic simplicity. In this particular story, Osebo seeks only to show his might and strength. It shows how completely consumed he is by his pride, selfishness and strength, but how unwise and unthinking he is. And society is full of such people. Ananse who could be described as the itinerant judge and lawyer in this story is an even frailer animal, but Osebo in his little mind is not able to see through his intentions.

The stories are also a reflection on the Ghanaian society. Just visit the chief’s palace and listen to an adjudication process. Witness the witticism of the prosecutors and the defenders who are all elders of the palace and probably do not have the benefit of western education. One can come back from such experience questioning the relevance of formal western education and its book-based and book-sourced thought process. It is what Kwaku Ananse provides: the wit.

In Ampoma and the Leopard, Kwame Atuo lives with his beautiful daughter, Ampoma in the forest in a lonely cottage. Ampoma and her father play games with the heads of animals her father kills. One as the father leaves for work, the Leopard visits Ampoma, alone in the cottage and demands to play with the heads of the animals. In course of play, Leopard sees the head of a Leopard which happens to be his wife’s killed by the hunter. His suspicions are confirmed and he decides to revenge.

Ampoma tells her father about the Leopard and the father advises her to tell the Leopard she does not recognize whose head it is, but the Leopard would not believe it and insists on knowing or else… . But Hunter Kwame Atuo would also be ready for the Leopard and so on the third visit he ambushes the Leopard who in the course playing with Ampoma attempts to pounce on the little girl. The Leopard receives a shot on his chest and dies.

According to the writer, moral in the story is simple: No matter how gainfully employed or engaged little children are they must not be left alone. In this world of danger and wickedness, it is not safe to leave children unprotected.

But then again, why would the Leopard seek revenge on the little girl instead of the father. After all, the Leopard is also a hunter who could have hunted Kwame Atuo. The truth perhaps is that people perceived to be strong and ruthless are also probably cowards deep within them. Why else would the Leopard prey on Ampoma?


Mr. Ofori-Mankata has retold Ananse and other folk stories in about 12 books with more in the pipe line. They include Hohore, Ananse’s Justice, Ananse and the Squirrel, Yaa Foriwaa, the Golden Forest, The Crab and the Elephant, Mister Minuuu, Ananse’s Magic Drum, Ananse and the Scarecrow, the Homecoming of the Cat, The Homecoming of the Goat and the Chipmunk and the Leopard. And they are all published by Ansaa Reads LLC Publishers.

Essentially the publications are targeted to children at various levels of education. They are an easy read, interesting and humorous and thought-provoking.

The writer taught in Ghana and at the United Nations International School in New York for several years. Now retired, he intends to make Ghanaian folktales his full time vocation. Like Dr. Seuss, Ofori-Mankata is not only children’s friend, he is also a preservationist of a culture that is nearing extinction.

He can be contacted at (973) 856-7804, and You may also visit the website at



Posted by on Aug 12 2012. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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