Wednesday February 27 this year – a few days away – will record a seminal event in the in the intellectual life of the nation. At six in the evening of the day, Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia (please note the spelling of his name) will deliver the Fifth Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA) Lecture at PAWA House, Roman Ridge in Accra. The topic is “Creative Transformations in Contemporary Contexts: Pan-Africanism as a paradigmatic Strategy”. I can hear you groan under the weight of the topic and you are not alone. However, the best person to unlock the mystery within the topic is also the speaker on the night: Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia.
You will understand my hyper-excitement if you read this small fraction of Professor Emeritus Nketia’s CV: Professor Nketia has accumulated a long list of positions and achievements going back nearly 70 years. He was Acting Principal, Presbyterian Training College, Akropong-Akuapem, First African Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Professor of Music, University of Ghana, Professor of Music at UCLA, Horatio Appleton Lamb Visiting Professor at Harvard University, Visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore College, Distinguished Hannah Professor of Integrative Studies at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Visiting Professor at the University of Brisbane in Australia, Visiting Professor at the China Conservatory of Music, Beijing, Andrew Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh, and Langston Hughes Professor at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
He is the Chancellor, Akrofi-Christallor Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, Akropong-Akuapem, a Foundation Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain, and Ireland, Honorary Member of the International Music Council (IMC-UNESCO), Honorary Fellow Of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Honorary Member of the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA), Member of the International Jury for the Proclamation by UNESCO of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and Board Member of the National Commission on Culture, Republic of Ghana. Whew! There is more….
Of course, he is a composer, ethnomusicologist, and a writer. He has over 200 publications and more than 80 musical compositions to his credit. His numerous Awards include Cowell Award of the African Music Society, Companion of the Order of Star of Ghana, Grand Medal of the Government of Ghana (Civil Division), Ghana Book Award, ECRAG Special Honour Award (1987), Ghana Gospel Music Special Award (2003), ACRAG Flagstar Award (1993), ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his book on the Music of Africa, IMC-UNESCO Music Prize for Distinguished Service to Music, Prince Claus 1997Award for Distinguished Service to Culture & Development, the Year 2000 Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA for Life-long Devotion to African Studies, and DLitt (Honoris Causa) of the University of Ghana.
Now, here is an interesting twist; for many years before the 1966 coup most Ghanaians were confused by the apparent existence of TWO Nketias in our national public life. The two people appeared to be the same although pictures of them in the Daily Graphic showed there were two of them. There were indeed two of them. There was KWABENA NKETIA, the man we will see and hear on Wednesday. He was the Director of the Institute of African Studies and a leading public intellectual on all aspects of culture. The other was NANA KOBINA NKETSIA 1V, Omanhene of Essikado who was President Kwame Nkrumah’s Advisor on Cultural Affairs.
To add to the confusion, Nana Kobina Nketsia was at critical juncture the interim Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana and later the Chairman of the Council of the University. Nana Kobina Nketsia was instrumental in setting up the Institute of African Studies at Legon of which Professor Kwabena Nketia became the second director and the first African head. It is easy to appreciate how the paths of the two men crossed and were reported in public life as to understand that the two were very good friends in private. The confusion was such that even journalists often mistook one for the other.
Sadly, Nana Kobina Nketsia died in 1995 at the age of 79. There are proverbs in all our cultures that say the King does not die, and so when Nana Nketsia went to his village the people of Essikado replaced him with his nephew whose stool name is also Nana Kobina Nketsia V (the Fifth). It was a startling choice because the new Paramount Chief of Essikado is in every respect a true replacement of his venerable ancestor. He is also a university lecturer in history, an academic Africanist, a man with radical and iconoclastic views and above all a leader committed to his people’s wellbeing. Like his illustrious forebear, Nana Kobina Nketsia does not see “his people” to mean the good people of his ancient paramountcy but Ghana and Africa.
The two men, Professor Kwabena Nketia and Nana Kobina Nketsia will get together at PAWA House because Nana will be the chairman at the function at which Professor will be the main speaker. This will not be just another lecture but probably the most interesting exposition of the complex development and implications of pan-Africanism to be offered at a public lecture in a long while.
If this year did not exist scholars of pan-Africanism would have had to invent it. By an interesting coincidence, this lecture is taking place in the Golden Jubilee year of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. W.E. B. Du Bois, the pre-eminent personality of the pan-Africa movement in the 20th Century. Yesterday the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre in Accra and the Du Bois Planning Committee launched a yearlong series of activities to celebrate the life of Du Bois whose long life ended here in Ghana and is buried at the Centre named after him. We cannot possibly miss the Nketia and Nketsia double decker at PAWA House on Wednesday February 28. And, of course, there will be Atukwei Okai, Secretary-General of PAWA in his element as host of the whole intellectual and cultural Shebang.
This week’s book is a curious one. In 2007 the National Commission of Culture launched the Cultural Initiatives Support Union with a two million Euro grant from the European Union. Organisations and individuals could apply for funds from the scheme to undertake their cultural and artistic endeavours. Out of this came a lovely book, SISSALA NAMES AND THEIR MEANINGS by Chieminah Abudu Gariba, the Founder and Director of the Sissala Heritage Foundation. Mr. Gariba is a specialist in adult education with a keen interest in culture and cultural development.
The book is a compilation of more than 4000 indigenous Sissala names and their meanings. The names have been arranged into seven categories: philosophical, experiential, spiritual, episodic, descriptive, praise and ancestral. The book is not only for people from Sissala but anyone who has an interest in our different cultures and how they have evolved. For more information on the book and other issues of interest to Sissala culture contact firstname.lastname@example.org.