Opinion: Profs. Nketia and Amu Were in a Class by Themselves by Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD

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Professor Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (1921-2019)

It is absolutely no coincidence at all that two of my greatest heroes and role-models, namely, Professors Ephraim Koku Amu (1899-1995), who also happened to have been one of my Peki relatives, and Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia (1921-2019), also one of my Asante-Mampong relatives, lived such long, rich and productive lives. You see, I was privileged to have partly, albeit briefly, spent two of my most critical formative years on the campus of the country’s oldest and foremost tertiary academy, to wit, the University of Ghana, Legon, and knew both distinguished personalities very well, primarily because both of these musicological giants had also taught and mentored my own late father. The latter had also served as the favorite teaching assistant of Prof. Nketia’s.

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Professor Nketia would also name my father as Technical Director of the then School of Music and Drama, presently the School of the Performing Arts. My father was, perhaps, the first Ghanaian to specialize in Stage-Set Design and Lighting Technology. Indeed, it was based on his inimitable flair for the technical aspects of the theater that the old man was offered a scholarship at the instrumentation of Professors Alexander Adum Kwapong and JH Kwabena Nketia, in 1971, to undertake graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison-Wisconsin. The old man never looked back; and perhaps wisely so, in view of the national train-wreck that was the Rawlings-Tsikata Revolution; which is also why not many Ghanaians among the younger generation know very much about this remarkable polymath.

At any rate, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, when my brother-in-law, Mr. Eric Kwabena Baning, whatsapped the news of the seismic passing of Prof. Nketia to me from Worcester, Massachusetts, I deeply suspected that Kwabena profoundly appreciated the leaden impact that this erudite human cultural institution, musician, poet, ethnomusicologist, thinker and linguist had on both my father who, by the way, was himself quite a remarkable musician, composer and church organist in his own right. It is also significant to note the fact that like Dr. Amu, my maternal grandfather, the Rev. TH (Yawbe) Sintim(-Aboagye), of Akyem-Asiakwa, Akyem-Begoro, Asante-Juaben and Asante-Mampong, had also been the fourth-grade teacher of then Master Kwabena Nketia, even as Dr. Amu would also instruct a fast maturing Mr. Kwabena Nketia at the Achimota College, the institutional antecedent of the University of Ghana. Not many Ghanaians also know that the future Prof. Nketia was once the Research Assistant in Sociology to the future Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia.

On the lighter side, there is a joke that my maternal grandmother used to tell us about how the future Prof. Nketia was so unprepossessing while growing up that some of his peers and classmates nicknamed him “Kwabena Ahoofe.” Interestingly, growing up, I wanted to look noble and reticently regal like “Kwabena Ahoofe.” As well, incidentally, it was in Asante-Mampong, in those days of the late 1950s a small town, that my late father also acquired his sobriquet of “Ahoofe,” which he later officially appended to his name, shortly upon graduating from Legon, as the University of Ghana is popularly known locally, with a Diploma in Music and Drama. Well, according to one of his former students from his Mampong days, who wrote to me from London, UK, about a decade ago – he had mistaken my writings to have been authored by the old man – my father acquired his “Ahoofe” nickname by way of an unflattering epithet lobbed at him by a colleague with whom he taught at the Mampong Technical School.

Thereafter, the old man resorted to sporting three-piece suits – his own father, Akora Gyimah, of Akyem-Asiakwa and Asante-Juaben, traded in suits and hats in Central Accra, which was how my paternal grandfather acquired the nickname of “London Opinion” – to school, even when he was scheduled to teach Woodwork and other sweat-inducing technical subjects and crafts. The future Dr. Amu would also train as a teacher with my maternal grandfather at the Okwawu-Abetifi Ramseyer Teacher-Training Center. Dr. Amu was about two, or so, years my grandfather’s junior. It is also interesting to recall that for my grandfather, the Professors Amu and Nketia of the later Legon years were kindred genius souls. Both were intellectual standouts among the members of their respective generations. My grandfather was also a musician, having been generously taught the art in Cape Coast by the Elder Rev. Laing, by his own account, so he fully appreciated the inimitable genius of both men.

Today, for most Ghanaians, Dr. Amu – for it was by the latter title that he was best known at the University of Ghana, both locally and globally – is most recognized by his landmark and perennial classic and unofficial National Anthem, namely, “Yen Ara Asaase Ni” (This Land Is Our Own). But for my grandfather, Rev. TH Sintim, Dr. Amu boldly and fearlessly distinguished himself when, as a tutor at the Akuapem-Akropong Presbyterian Teachers’ Training College (PTC), he wisely and foresightedly, in retrospect, defied the European missionary authorities of the country’s oldest teacher-training college, by proudly mounting the pulpit of the college’s chapel in an indigenous Ghanaian toga and delivering a major and memorable sermon. He would be promptly dismissed from PTC and spend a week with my grandfather, his old Ramseyer Center schoolmate, while mulling his next career move.

I also vividly recall Prof. Nketia, sometime in June 1998, mounting the pulpit and delivering a powerful and very comforting eulogy in the form of a poem at my mother’s funeral at the Akyem-Apedwa Presbyterian Church, and appellating the old lady as “Kumawuhemaa.” You see, I hadn’t known before that the name “Aniniwaa/Aninwaa,” which is quite common among my Akyem-Asiakwa relatives, was also the name of the Paramount (Aduana) Queenmother of Asante-Kumawu. I, however, knew that my mother had been given the name “Aniniwaa/Aninwaa” at birth because she was the elder of two twin-sisters.

*Visit my blog at: kwameokoampaahoofe.wordpress.com  Ghanaffairs

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