I must save my apologies for when I am repentant.

Awakening is a journey that has taught me to interrogate my conscience, and why I feel inclined to apologize for everything I am and anything I feel.

Sometimes, I carry myself like a black hole whose center resides where my heart should be, and my darkness stretches like shadows across the room. I speak to people who recoil at being addressed in a voice infused with power, by a woman without even the courtesy to fake a smile.

Once, my lips would have softened from guilt for their sake, and I would have burnt as much fuel as it took to generate yet another pleasant mask for their comfort. These days, instead, my eyes glow like burning coals and lock on theirs in a challenge that translates to “Try me.” I imagine they are grateful for my frames, like these are the only things stopping the rocks from leaping out to sear them.

I am slowly learning how to feel fully clothed when I am not wearing apology as a second skin, to continue being many things the world has told me I am not allowed to be.

There are matters I have ceased to question. Like how neither of us really requires an explanation for my anger, or my joy, or my emotions being in a state of transition where nothing I feel can be accurately defined. Like my freedom to be vocal, or silent, and silent about my choice to be silent; to roll up the window between myself and the rest of the world’s sense of entitlement to having an answer for every “why”. Like how none of these things are causes to be sorry.

I am learning that I must save my apologies for when I am repentant.


Afordzi (A Short Story)


Edem had breached her agreement. She was now suffering the consequences, paying her penalties through nausea, sweat and convulsions. She had already spent several hours going back and forth between her bed and her trash can, dry-heaving over the latter for minutes at a time. She felt like she was going to die.

Whatever was wrong with her was not a job for a physician, especially not an American one. The diagnosis was certain to be incorrect, her symptoms erroneously summarized as a reaction to an as-yet-unidentified allergen. There was no medicine that could intervene on Edem’s behalf. This kind of sickness could only be endured, not cured. So she waited, entertaining no anger and succumbing to the exhaustion. She would bear the cross, for she had brought it upon herself.

In the part of her brain that was still capable of rational thought, she calculated that she had perhaps twenty minutes more of this torture to sit through. She wished she would pass out and wake up an hour later, when there was nothing left to suffer but the residual ache of her diaphragm – but unconsciousness was not one of the mercies available to those in her strain of practice.

Yet, for all the pain and suffering, did she regret a single thing she had done?

Without a doubt, absolutely, certainly, not.


The bathroom didn’t look any different than usual. The toiletries haphazardly packed into the cubicles were perpetually threatening to avalanche. The half-drawn shower curtain afforded a glimpse of the shower’s floor tiles, upon which clumps of brown and blond hair were scattered. The puddles of water around the sink basins, contaminated with strands of hair, toothpaste and only-God-knew-what-else, were in the process of congealing into discolored masses of goo.

You had to love gender-neutral, communal bathrooms.

The tidiness of the bathroom had never been a prevalent issue in Paul’s mind. Whatever his purpose in there, the only thing that ever side-tracked him for a second was the mirror. He had an instinctive ritual of stopping and staring for a few seconds at his reflection whenever he came in, briefly absorbing his green eyes and curly, light-brown hair before carrying on with his business.

The image of his own face lingered in Paul’s mind as he walked into a toilet stall and neglected to close the door. Thus, it escaped his notice when the click of the lock sliding into place sounded anyway. With the automatic familiarity of a boy who had been executing the same motions quite literally since he was potty-trained, he unzipped his fly, pulled out his dick, and the steady spray of yellow-orange liquid began.


Penis detected. Activating automatic male urination sequence.

The deep, female voice startled Paul to his core. He jerked so violently that he lost hold of his penis before he had the chance to consciously pause the spraying. The stream of urine deviated from its graceful, arched course and splattered onto the toilet seat, in the very same moment that the seat itself instantaneously lifted without being touched, completely confusing the urine’s trajectory. Before Paul knew it, he’d been splashed on his face, arms and clothes. The stall’s walls and door hadn’t escaped the shower either.

Eugh!” he yelled.

Targeted urine stream no longer detected. Automatic male urination sequence paused,” said the voice. It seemed to be coming from all around the bathroom at once, vibrating in the very walls, floors and ceilings.

With his penis still dangling outside his shorts, Paul spun in every direction, searching for a speaker or hologram or something – any telltale signs of the source of either speech or telekinesis.

He confirmed, to his terror, that he was completely alone. Immediately, his skin transformed into gooseflesh and his mind went static. He grabbed the stall door and yanked it. It rattled in response but didn’t open. He gave the lock a rough jerk, but it remained fixed in place no matter how frantically he pulled and shoved.

Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.

Panicking harder, Paul continued to jiggle the hopelessly locked door.

Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.

Near tears, Paul gave up on the door and exhaled. He leaned his back against it, having forgotten that it too held droplets of his urine, which the back of his head and shirt were now soaking in. Despairing, he closed his eyes. His breaths had become quick and shallow. For several minutes, he was entirely at a loss for what to do, or how to even begin understanding what was happening.

Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.

Instantly, his fear of the disembodied voice with the weird African accent was completely replaced by fury and frustration. He pounded on the door behind him with his fists as he bellowed, “The fuck am I supposed to ‘sanitize’ with, bitch?”

In the most infuriatingly calm and levelled tone, the voice responded: “Processing inquiry.” Then, after a beat, “The user will find disinfectant wipes on the floor, to the right of the toilet.

Paul was initially so startled by the fact that he’d received a response at all, that he was unable to process its content.

It took a few more minutes for him to let go of the notion that this was merely a dream. He really was locked in a toilet stall, listening to an African Robot Ghost Woman trying to tell him what to do. This realization stunned him all over again, so that for even longer, he could only stand still and process.

Finally, when he made mental progress, he thought to himself: The ghost girl said there were wipes at the…

He looked down and, to his intense surprise, found a packet of disinfectant wipes exactly where the Robot Ghost Woman said they’d be. He could have sworn those hadn’t always been in here. (Not that he’d ever tried to find any before.)

With the sluggishness of a creature unexpectedly caught in viscous liquid, he bent down to grab a handful, lowered the toilet seat, and began to clean. When he was done, he dropped the used wipes into the toilet, then gingerly stepped back and waited. Nothing unexpected happened. He reached out and barely brushed the flush handle with his index, quickly snatching it away as though electrically shocked. Still, no unexpected phenomena. Finally judging it a safe action, Paul placed his palm on the handle with a little more confidence, and applied pressure. The urine and the wipe disappeared with a wholesome swoosh.

Without prompt, the lock slider slowly grated to the left with the squeak of metal-on-metal, and the door swung open. Paul whirled and bolted like the devil herself was after him. Fast as he ran, though, the bathroom door didn’t shut soon enough for him to miss hearing the voice say, “Initiating thorough self-sanitation sequence…

It would be a while before Paul recovered enough to realize he’d run off with his fly still unzipped and his penis still hanging out of his shorts.


Ryan was going to be late. Again. He knew it the moment he set his ass down to take a shit, fifteen minutes before his class was supposed to begin, in a building as far away from his dorm as it was physically possible to get, within campus limits. If he left this very second and ran, he’d probably just be able to make it. After all, it wasn’t a huge college. The problem was, of course, his desperate need to poop.

Ryan was a dumbass, and he knew it. How many times had Alison told him last night not to eat the spicy Indian food? How many times had she told him he’d be better off with some slices of pepperoni pizza or a bowl of Caesar salad? But noooo, he’d wanted the rice with the sauces whose names he couldn’t even pronounce, and the samosas which, after every bite, he’d had to chug cold water to keep from exploding into grains of White pepper. Instead of heeding Ali’s wisdom, he’d decided to be an idiot instead. Now, the universe was teaching him a lesson.

There were long periods of silence. Then sudden bursts of splrrrbrrrsplaplapsplrrr, like somebody was emptying thick marinara sauce very loudly down a sink. Ryan didn’t even want to look at the half-liquid mess of badly-processed excrement coming out of him right now. He just wanted all this to be over with, so he could go to class. His GPA was at stake.

Ryan was a pretty good student, but his tardiness was very rapidly working against him – not to mention his case wasn’t being helped in the least by the glares Ms. Martinez gave him every time he walked into the room in the middle of her sentences. If there was one thing Ms. Martinez detested, it was interruption.

Ten minutes had passed now, and that was enough time for Ryan’s nose to have grown used to the pungency. A few minutes later, finally, it was over.

He wiped his ass and rose, and then, carefully avoiding examination of the toilet bowl’s contents, he flushed in one swift, fluid motion. He turned to leave, but the door’s lock refused to budge.

Goddamn it! It was literally the worst possible time to get accidentally locked in a fucking bathroom! Imagine having to text an RA to come bail you out from the toilet. And if there had ever been a chance of redemption with Ms. Martinez, he’d sure as hell blown—

Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.

Holy fucking shit. Where had that come from?

For a second, he thought he was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence for him, and admittedly, he’d gotten slightly high last night. But his hallucinations never carried on until the morning after. And he’d bet his ass that even his subconscious wouldn’t know how to conjure up such a thick African accent. Nah, he couldn’t be tripping.

Ryan continued jimmying the lock, thinking maybe he unintentionally fumbled the first time. The door stayed shut, the lock remained immobile.

Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”

What? What was the mechanical voice saying? And where the hell was it coming from? Ryan looked around and found signs of neither person nor machine.

It suddenly occurred to him that this was a scene straight out of a spy film, and he was a suspect of some sort of heinous crime. Some intelligence company had clearly been monitoring his every move with surveillance equipment and was now trying to intimidate him into confessing. It was the thought of someone sitting behind a desk, watching him shit, that provoked his hysteria.

“Oh my God, get me out of here! Fucking CIA! I swear it wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything! Get me out of here!” he screamed.

He hadn’t truly expected an answer, so he was partially sobered when he heard the disembodied voice respond, “Processing request…” Then, a moment later, “Request denied. Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.

“Argh!” Ryan yelled. What was she even on about?

He ran his hands over his face, and tangled his fingers in his long, messy, blond hair. His eyes rolled up into his head, his natural response whenever he felt like he was losing his mind.

Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.

Kindly…flush again?

His eyelids snapped open, and his gaze settled on the contents of the toilet. He had flushed his excrement, but thanks to the sheer amount of initial shit and its weird solid-liquid state, even after the first flush, several tiny pieces of poop had resurfaced and were now floating about in the bowl, and the toilet water had turned a sickly yellow-brown. He was disgusted by the sight.

I could have gone my whole week without having to know what that looked like, he thought to himself. He inhaled and exhaled deeply as the stupid spy machine’s voice reminded him, “Kindly flush again.

“Okay, okay! I heard you the first five hundred fucking times! I’m flushing, God!”

He yanked the handle again, and the loud sucking mechanisms drained the toilet bowl of its contents. This time, the water that refilled the bowl was clear, and stayed that way. When the toilet once again fell silent, the voice returned.

Flush levels sufficient. Exit granted.”

Behind Ryan, the locked door opened itself up, granting unhindered passage out of the bathroom.

As fast as he could, Ryan sprinted to class, trying to avoid admitting to himself that there was zero hope of salvation with Ms. Martinez now.


Someone was knocking on Liam’s door at one a.m. It was a good thing for them that Liam never slept early. He had been in the middle of resolving the bugs in his latest programming assignment when he got up to find out who could possibly be visiting past midnight, and wondering if he’d have to call an ambulance.

Paul?” Liam asked, astonished. “What are you doing here? Don’t you, like, crash by ten every night?”

His friend seemed distraught and his face was filled with some other disturbing emotion that Liam was having a hard time defining.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Paul panted. “But hey, I have to ask you a favor. Can I, like, use your bathroom?”

“Use my bathroom?”

“Yeah. It’s, um, kind of urgent.”

Liam had one of the most coveted dorm rooms on campus – unsurprising, since he was an RA. Not only was it a single, but it also had its own unique bathroom, something Liam’s friends were wildly envious of.

“Bro, did you seriously just get up after midnight, walk past the bathroom in your hall, ignore literally every other bathroom in your dorm, cross the street to get to my dorm, and come all the way to the fourth floor, to use my fucking bathroom?”

“Listen, Liam, it’s complicated. Just, please, can I use your bathroom?” Paul looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown.

“Okay, whatever, weirdo. Sheesh.”

Liam stepped aside, and Paul rushed in.

Well if he needed to go that bad, why’d he come all the way here, Liam thought to himself.

Right before Liam shut the door, a black girl with an Afro and a curious mark on her cheek passed by on her way to the elevator, clutching a stack of folders. Liam recognized her. She was African. From Ghana, if he remembered correctly. Their paths crossed on campus sometimes because they had a major in common, though they hadn’t yet been in a class together. Some of his friends had, though, and they told him she was a computer science genius. From a distance, he’d always found her intensity intriguing.

Right before the door obscured his view of her, he thought he saw the African girl crack a half-smile. Since he couldn’t figure out what would have given her a reason to, he dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.


Edem had caught a snippet of the conversation between Paul and the RA boy as she was returning from her meeting with her CS partner. After working for hours, they had finally called it a night, assured that their presentation the following morning would not be a total flop-fest.

All day, she had been waiting for a letter from her teachers back home; those who had initiated her in the traditions of African Electronics and had made her promise not to misuse her skills. In addition to the consequences that were already woven into the fabric of the art itself, there were usually extra punishment doted out by the elders. She’d been preparing to receive hers all day, but so far, nothing had come.

Distressed and paranoid, she picked up her phone and called Fafali, the sexagenarian Anlo woman who was both her mentor and the elder she had the best personal relationship with. She wasn’t worried about the time; it might be late in Texas, but in her GMT zone, Fafali would already be up and on the go by now.

Fafali picked up a half-second through the first ring – she always knew when a phone call was coming – and didn’t bother wasting time with pleasantries.

“Let me guess: you’re wondering why you haven’t received notification from the elders, even though you know we are surely aware of what you’ve done,” Fafali said in rapid Ewe.

“Yes, Aunty.”

Fafali’s reply was saturated with impatience. “Well, for Mawu’s sake, someone had to put the fear of the gods in them! How can you be twenty years old and so deprived of home training?”

Edem was stunned. “Ah, Aunty, wait oo. You’re saying I’m not getting punished when I come home for the break?”

“Sweetie pie, your program wasn’t nearly severe enough to cause any brain damage. We’ve pronounced your distin resolved already. Cool your heart and go to bed, eh? It will not be good for you to be sleepy in your classes today. You better take your studies seriously, otherwise, you should really start getting fearful of returning home.”

“Yes Aunty! I’ll go to bed right now. Akpe lo! My regards to the elders.”

“Goodnight, eh. And may your afɔdzi never cause you that kind of stress again.”


Find more Spider Kid fiction here: On the Ceiling (a YA short story series) & If I Could Kill My Feelings… (a novelette).

My Thoughts: Kintu

Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi


If I had to summarize this book in a single word, I’d choose “epic”. Both the literal and connotative senses of the word are appropriate. I read this 430-page book in a single weekend, which, frankly, shocked even me. I had expected to have to dedicate a whole month to such an intimidatingly large book, but it proved me so wrong that when I started, I could not stop. Let’s not talk about how much I procrastinated with other responsibilities during those few days. No regrets, though, because Kintu is now one of my favorite books.

The book’s events spanned chronologically from the 1700s all the way to 2004, telling a long tale of individual characters’ interconnected life stories. The root of nearly everything is a common patriarch named – in case you couldn’t guess – Kintu.

The beginning portion of the story, which concerned tis patriarch, was impressively immersive. I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily I could feel the existences of Ganda (and Tutsi) characters from the 18th century. It would surely have taken a powerful combination of imagination and writing skill on Makumbi’s part, to make these characters feel so real.

The most complex character for me, I think, was Kintu himself, and his internal conflicts were at least as interesting as his actions. For instance, his bullish insistence on having Nnakato as a wife, and not Babirye. Nnakato and Babirye were twins; Babirye was older, and it just seemed absurd to everyone other than Kintu that he should want to marry a younger twin when the older was still unmarried. Kintu’s aversion to Babirye was so strong that I kept wondering at which point she was going to suddenly reveal herself to be a witch or demon or something. Honestly, at some point, I was just like, Chale, just marry the girl and continue with your life, eh? But Kintu’s bullheadedness was something else entirely.

Also, I liked that Kintu had a critical mind, through which I believe the book sufficiently explored the nature of the ages-old conflicts between what an individual wants and what that individual’s culture says s/he must have instead. Even in the 1700s, Kintu was aware of cultural ironies – for instance, how can a cultural system believe that twins were initially one in the womb and quarreled so much that they had to be separate from each other, and at the same time keep insisting that twin women stay together even through marriage? In Kintu’s opinion, if two beings have wanted to be separate since before they were even born, why are you insisting, now that they are grown women, that they still must not be separated? And I was like, well, he’s got a point there…

And then there was his sexual exhaustion, which I found wonderfully intriguing because I can’t remember ever having read a character with a problem like this before. Because Kintu was a Ppookino, he had women being offered to him as wives very often, so that his first wife, Nnakato, even had to draw up a roster that determined how Kintu split his time among them. But Kintu was an inherently monogamous man – his heart and love belonged only to Nnakato – living in a society that imposed polygamy over him, and it annoyed and exhausted him to have so many women to be obliged to sleep with. It was a curse and a trap unfortunately attached to his privilege, and it made me once again think deeply about the often tense relationships between individual interests and collective culture.

I also generally enjoyed being let into a vivid re-imagining of the operations of the Buganda kingdom and its politics, through fiction. Fiction is my favorite gateway into history (and most disciplines of knowledge, actually), and I feel like Makumbi has officially taught me more things in more memorable ways about a pre-colonial African society than any textbook ever could. This pleases me immensely.

Anyway, despite all of the super cool sub-themes in this epic novel, I’d say the main, over-arching one is juju. (Obviously not spoken of in terms of that specific word, it’s the closest I can get to what I mean.) Juju is how the thing upon which the rest of the story is based happened, because it resulted in a multi-generational curse upon Kintu’s bloodline by a Tutsi man. The nature of the curse was that it kept manifesting in different but eerily similar ways among the various descendants of the patriarch, until pretty much the end of the book.

I think all the lineage/descendant business was masterfully carried out. The way names were intentionally or unintentionally passed down, consistently mirrored those of the 18th-century characters from the novel’s first section, and it made the journey so wild. It was surprising, even, how anxious I got, any time a character with a name I recognized was introduced. My heart would start pounding in preemptive despair, wondering how the Kintu curse was about to strike this time. The way the curse worked was simultaneously patterned and unpredictable. The suspense was crazy.

Given that the book had so many characters, I was highly impressed by the fact that each main one still felt tangible and complete to me. A story that spans over hundreds of years is, I think, very difficult to achieve this with, but Makumbi did it so well. (Chale, so now what excuse does Homegoing have? Maybe it should have been at least 200 pages longer than it was.) Each character felt different and knowable, and their histories and explanations for why they were the way they were, made sense to me as a reader.

Lastly, one thing about Kintu that I appreciated was how “too African” the subject matter was. In this way, it reminded me of the feeling I had after reading Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ brilliant Tail of the Blue Bird. Kintu was uncompromising in how rooted it was in the locality of situations, people, stories, politics and family. It didn’t have to force any “international” issues or characters into the tale to make it more palpable to any literary market. Even the nationalist/identity distinctions it made were more African-originated than Berlin-influenced, and when it was Berlin-influenced, the narrative was self-aware of the fact.

Kintu. Is. Lit.


Conquer the Sky

We have mastered the art of running, only to be transported to a world where flight is the norm. It has turned us into full-grown babies, grasping at the talons of our elders, the majestic eagles.

As soon as we find ourselves suddenly airborne, we stutter and fall, betrayed by our own immature, half-formed wings. Ours, too, may develop into mighty propellers someday, if only we let them; if only we permit ourselves once more to be ignorant, infantile, and renounce, at least for a period, our independence – and not a moment sooner.

Because if we are content to be perpetual sprinters, if we cannot suffer humiliation long enough to become teachable once again, we will pound the earth with our soles until our dying days, while those we have often considered beneath us, the guileless youth, elegantly and effortlessly conquer the sky.



Akotz’ Volta Trip Jan ’18 (Part 4 of 4: Vakpo, Family Business, & the Return)

[Here are Parts ɖeka, eve & etɔ.]

Right after our sanctuary tour, my grandfather drew my attention once again to the sheer number of languages and dialects spoken in the Volta Region. He’d done it before, while we were still on the road, after he spoke with people from the car window. He did it again now, as we enjoyed fresh coconuts bought from a Tafi seller woman and her children outside the sanctuary. The woman and her family were speaking a language (Tafi) that my Grandpa couldn’t make head or tail of. He assured me that I could take a very short walk into the next closest village, and the next, and the next, distances comparable to the difference between Labone and Osu, and I would keep finding different languages being spoken.



After the coconuts, we finally went straight “home”, to Vakpo.

Vakpo itself was an exciting and spiritual experience. For the first time, I got to visit the reputable Ofori house, literally the first house to belong to my clan of Oforis – because before my great-grandfather, who established the house, there had been no one of my ancestry with this name. My great-grandfather, Kwasi Foli (you may recognize Foli as a legitimately identifiable Ewe name, as opposed to the Akan-sounding Ofori) was the first in my Ayigbe side to be baptized and Christened, and the wypipo renamed him William Kwasi Ofori. How did Foli get transformed to Ofori? Ask the wypipo, because me saf, I am not hannastending. I can’t tell whether it was their tongues or their ears that were defective, or if they were just so used to Akan names that they took the lazier option of Akanifying an Ayigbe one. Either way, neither Great-Grandpa Kwasi nor anybody else seems to have bothered to change it back, so here we are, Ewe people with a Twi last name. Anyway.


The Ofori Memorial House was built in 1935. My grandpa wasn’t born in it, but his next closest younger brother was. It was an 83-year-old house. That kind of blew my mind. It’s also one of the most reputable houses in Vakpo, because apparently, my great-grandparents important. In fact, they have a special altar-like construction in the Vakpo cemetery (which is right outside the house, isn’t that creepy?), set apart from all the other ordinary tombstones. The only other altar-like section belongs to the former Queen Mother of Vakpo – another thing which confuses me, since I know Ewe people to be patriarchal.

My great-grandma, Irene Ofori – originally Yawa Soamesi Kɔku – was originally from a neighboring village, Anfoega, which we passed through on the way out. We eventually passed through the village on our way out.

Kindly ignore the pesky white Jesus photo. Focus on the cute Ofori reunion!

It was phenomenal to be in Vakpo, in a house specifically built for and belonging to my own family. The room I slept in that night had first belonged to my great-grandfather, and eventually to one of his sons, my grand-uncle. My own grandfather certainly didn’t neglect to point out how privileged I was to get to sleep in my great-grandfather’s bed, because, honestly, how many people get to say that they did that?

Lunch/dinner the day we arrived was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Aunty Kate had pounded some of the softest fufu I had ever eaten in my life, and some of the most delicious fish light soup (I see you cringing but me and my pescatarian self like it like that). Most of the rest of the afternoon was really just chilling, talking with family, exploring the house, and looking at some of the oldest family photographs in existence.

The weather is really nice in Vakpo. I didn’t get bothered by any mosquitoes, the night air was cool, the village atmosphere is much cleaner and more peaceful than the city. I keep getting more and more convinced that I don’t want to live in a city.

The next morning, after some great ampesi, we made a few rounds through Vakpo, greeting some of my Ewe relatives that I personally had never met before. My inability to speak and understand more than five Ewe words has never been more awkward. Grandpa practically took on the role of interpreter for several hours.

Finally, before the long journey back to Accra, we went northward, to the Kpando fishing market. This part is funny because I had an event to be at in Accra that evening, and my family was already several hours behind “schedule,” so I was genuinely worried I wasn’t going to make it, but my grandfather seemed so set on me meeting Kpando fishermen that I could only shut up and roll with it. Now, look at God oo – we drove all the way to Kpando, only to find mostly empty river-banks. There was a boat being loaded with passengers wanting to cross the river, but that was basically it. Someone local explained to us that the fishers were still enjoying their Christmas/New Years with their families, and work was yet to resume. So, no time wasted, we sent ourselves back to Accra, and I was able to make it on time(-ish) to DecafLive! Won’t he do it!


So. That’s the summary of my Volta trip. It was lit.


Akotz’ Volta Trip Jan ’18 (Part 3 of 4: Tafi Atome, Sacred Ewe Monkeys, & Our Government’s Apparent Indifference)

[Links to Part 1 and Part 2, even though you don’t have to have read them before this.]

After Agortime-Kpetoe, we made our way to Tafi Atome to frolic with some protected monkeys.

It doesn’t appear to be common knowledge, but there is a Monkey Sanctuary in Tafi Atome. Seven different monkey clans live and move around in this protected, U-shaped forest, which curves around the human-inhabited village.

Before coming to the monkeys themselves, there was one intriguing stop we made during our trek deeper into the forest. We came upon a two-in-one tree. I’ve forgotten what type of tree the legit tree was, because it wasn’t my point of interest. I was more concerned with the tree covering it.

This was my first time seeing a Ficus aurea tree. It’s a kind of life-sucking, parasitical plant that grows around another tree. The Ficus itself is incapable of self-sustenance, so it only grows and survives by feeding on a different tree’s life force: the one it’s wrapped around. But the Ficus, in doing this, kills the original tree, and when that’s dead, since the Ficus has no more life to suck, it dies too. Isn’t this a morbid story? The teenage tour guide told us it was a metaphor for life, about how you can help your neighbor to survive and that same neighbor can eventually turn around and hurt, betray or kill you. It’s supposed to be one of those proverbial, philosophical distins the elders tell you about life, validated through nature.

I love forests, but two things get in my way of enjoying them. One is the fact that I wear glasses. The other is that I am deathly afraid of snakes. So it really doesn’t help when you’re walking through a thick forest, and the people in front of you start screaming, and then you’re hearing rustling sounds in the leaves and trees but can’t see where they’re coming from and you suddenly start remembering all the stories your grandfather told you about his primary school struggles, walking miles and miles barefoot and always having to be on guard since the most common afflictions in his community were snakebites on the heel and… I’m sure you get the picture.

We eventually got to a clan of monkeys, and the tour guide finally put my mind at ease by informing our party of how the snakes in the forest never bothered anyone when the monkeys were present. (Now I know that if I ever decide to live in the Volta Region, best believe I’mma have a couple pet monkeys with me.)

The monkey specie is known as Mona. Apparently, it’s the only specie in the Tafi Atome forest.

The little rascals were playful and greedy. Our tour guide showed us the proper way to feed them bananas and make the feeding game drag out for as long as possible. You peeled a tiny fraction off the top of the banana, then squatted and held it out firmly. The monkeys would cautiously come over, break off the exposed piece of banana, then run away to eat it. They were strong, with firm grips, so you slack noor, they’ve snatched the entire banana from you and run beyond reach, leaving you befuddled.

I don’t quite know how to describe the sounds the monkeys made. The most accurate I can get is calling it a three-way intersection between a human clearing their throat, a high-pitched cat mewl, and the caw of a crow. I do know, however, that when I heard a louder, deeper version of the same sound, I actually got scared. It turned out that it was being made by the Alpha Male, who had come out to join the fun. The Alpha Male was the only male in the clan – and I learnt this was the same in all the other clans – and it was much larger and more serious than all the other monkeys.

The Alpha Male’s dominance and aggression was fascinating to me; whenever he was eating, he wouldn’t allow any of the females to eat, until he was done. Nevertheless, some of the females just didn’t respect, and tried to grab some bananas from us anyway.  The pissed Alpha Male with the bruised ego always fought them until they gave it up.


Here’s a peculiarity about the Tafi Atome monkey: Nobody has ever found a dead monkey’s carcass in the forest. The only time a dead monkey has been found in the history of the village (at least since the sanctuary’s inception) is once, when an Alpha Male was trying to cross the street and a car hit and killed it. Aside that, nada. This, apparently, is not a normal monkey thing. In other sanctuaries in other parts of the country, the human employees and caretakers construct special cemeteries in which to bury dead monkeys. I’m sure Tafi Atome could have had one if they needed to, but it seems they don’t. Either the monkeys are immortal gods (which is a strange conclusion, since several of the females were pregnant and reproducing, yet the forest was never over-populated), or they have secret burial rituals that they understandably never want humans to be privy to. Super cool!

Our tour guide told us that presently, about 95% (or did he say 98%?) of the Tafi Atome population was made up of “Christians”, and that the remaining 5% (or 2%) were still “traditionalists”. Although I don’t know who exactly these traditionalists are, I imagine them to be old folks who are going to die soon. This makes me sad, particularly because in the Ewe context, one of the main reasons these monkeys are being protected is that they are considered to be messengers of the gods. It’s all connected to Tafian origin migration history, which, as is the case with much African history, is at least partly magical. The spiritual aspect is immensely important, especially considering why the sanctuary exists in the first place. Here’s the story, paraphrased from how our guide gave it to us:

When the European missionaries first came to Tafi Atome, they brought with them – as all the stories of “civilizing missions” seem to go – lots of violence. It seemed there was a rather specific violence directed towards the Mona monkeys. (I presume it was because the Europeans’ aim was to spread Christianity, and these sacred “messengers of the gods” were getting in their way because of how tied they were to local belief systems.) So, they apparently had to go. The monkeys were killed and their habitat was shrunk to accommodate for all the things the Europeans wanted to use the land to build. Understandably, this caused an ultimate monkey-human rivalry. In a community where, apparently, the humans and the monkeys used to live in perfect harmony – aside from the occasional theft from humans’ farms, which still happens – now the monkeys grew fearful and hateful of the humans and began reciprocating the violence. So, that’s the part about the role European missionaries played, which is my least favorite part of the story.

Next comes my second least-favorite part: the Americans. It appears, somewhere very late in the twentieth century, maybe eighties or nineties (my memory is shot, and I don’t seem to have enough sense to write important details down as soon as I hear them), some Americans from Peace Corps showed up in Eweland, and they were environmentalists, conservationists, all the -ists, and they were completely appalled by what was happening to the forest and the monkeys. It was these American activists that put a restriction on the Christian monkey massacre and established the sanctuary and made the protective laws currently being enforced. And get this: to this day, the government still has no part in the maintenance and governance of the sanctuary. Annually, some more Americans come to Tafi Atome to do maintenance and administrative stuff. For some unknown reason, however, none of them showed up in 2017.

Related: Things as simple as the provision of benches in the forest for tourists to just take a break from standing and trekking, are all left up to the Americans as well. The benches closest to us, when we got the farthest we would go, were ridden with termites, and my octogenarian grandfather could not sit down. Best believe he wasn’t one to blow off a chance to vocally highlight this problem. Granted, our teenage guide was not to blame for the termites. In fact, on his part, he was even trying. It turns out that the appointed Face of Tourism for the Volta Region had no clue the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary existed, and our guide himself had to call her up and inform her. The government has apparently been actively ignoring the sanctuary’s existence, and refusing to claim any worthwhile responsibility – monetarily, legislatively, everything-ly – and thus contributing to the sanctuary’s continued dependency on abrokyirefoɔ. Headache.



Akotz’ Volta Trip Jan ’18 (Part 2 of 4: Agortime-Kpetoe & Ewe Kente Origin Lore)

[Here’s the link to Part 1, although you don’t need to have read that before this.]

After our visit to this small kente shop, we went running around Agortime-Kpetoe, which is basically Weavers’ Central. Weavers work either individually – whether outside or in their homes – or in large, communal spaces furnished with looms and really long stretches of thread held down by heavy stones. I’ve never been to Bonwire or any other weaving center, so I’ve never even seen Asante kente being woven. I found myself glad my first witnessing of live-weaving was in the Volta Region. (It has a lot to do with my position on Twi-ification.)

One of the places we passed through in Agortime-Kpetoe was a “kete” training center, one of those large rooms with several looms. The signboard was right in front of the building, and naturally caught my eye because on it, I saw what I had been expecting for some time but hadn’t yet come across: the omission of the “n” from the word kente, in what I believe is more exclusively Ewe style.

We didn’t meet many weavers, because most people were on break from Bronya season, but we did meet the young man whose family business this particular institution was. For the purposes of this public post, let’s call him Mawuli. Mawuli and a bunch of kids (which could have been his own, but I didn’t ask), sat casually weaving even though they didn’t quite have to work during the holiday. I estimate the kids’ ages between 4 and 9. They were already pretty great artisans, skillfully navigating that complex loom, to the surprise of my mother in particular. Recognizing how impressed she was, they became so eager to show off their skills that they almost started fighting over the already-threaded loom they had previously been taking turns on.


The patterns Mawuli and the kids were weaving were incredibly vibrant and colorful, and apparently very different from what my Kumasi-raised mother had been expecting.

“Ah, is this also Ewe kente?” she asked.

“You are thinking of the style that is closer to the batakari…” Mawuli realized.

She acknowledged that that is what she’d always assumed to be real Ayigbe kente.

I think several people imagine it as more boring, less resplendent and eye-catching, than Bonwire kente. The vibrancy of what we were seeing produced now, as well as the burst of color we’d seen at the Ho retailer, did not compute with those erroneous notions. And even though I knew for sure I’d already gone on a rant about this during one family Sunday lunch, I began another one that moment. (Let me confess: I did a lot of research before I felt comfortable enough to write “Kuukua and the Killjoy Kente”. But it should be common knowledge that 98% of research done for a story ends up being irrelevant for that particular tale. The knowledge in a writer’s head thus starts eagerly pulsating, on the lookout for any opportunity to make itself relevant. This was one such opportunity.) I started talking plenty about how Ewe kente is actually far less constrained to fixed patterns than Asante kente.

Mawuli listened to our conversation with interest for about a minute, then said, “Let me ask you something. Do you believe that story about some spider who taught people how to weave kente?” He said it with what I think was thinly-disguised disdain. I don’t think he was a fan of Akan kente folklore.

I told him, “I know that story, but I also know the Ewe one is different. I’ve heard that what actually happened is that the Asante kidnapped some master Ewe weavers, took them to their land, and made them teach the Akans how to weave kente.”

At this he nodded, evidently pleased with my answer, and then launched into the more detailed explanation of the Ewe origin lore:

Very early on, some Ewe men discovered that the logobo tree (I don’t know what plant this is, or if it has another name, or what it looks like) had bark very suitable for clothing. They then began experimenting with it. This idea of being modelled after tree patterns is meant to account, in a sense, for the initial, straight-lined patterns of what many people, like my mother, assumed to be the signature style of Ayigbe kente.

Over time, the creativity, exploration and ingenuity of the Ayigbe peoples eventually led to the art form in its much more colorful, imaginative and flexible state, and yes, some experts were at some point kidnapped and transported to Asanteland. This cultural exchange, perhaps more accurately described as an interaction, gave rise to the issue of the conflicting language attached to the craft.

The final product, the wearable, woven cloth produced by the art, is meant to be referred to as “agbamevɔ”. The word ke(n)te is a word merely referring to the technique. Although Akans will tell you something different, the kete name comes from the Ewe language itself. The art of weaving is primarily composed of two motions: “ke” meaning “to spread”/”to pull apart,” and “te,” meaning “to tighten”. Because of the language barrier, the Ewes could only teach the Asantes to weave by verbally communicating through the language they had brought with them. The weavers explained that in weaving, you first “ke” then “te” then “ke” and then “te” – but the Asantes, not quite comprehending the nuance, started to call the cloth itself “kente,” some sort of adulteration of the two originally Ewe words.

Or maybe they did it intentionally because “agbamevɔ” was too hard or too foreign. Who knows?

Another thing that seemed to be a very deep matter for Mawuli was the issue of fixed patterns and names. You may know already that Asante kente motifs are quite easily recognizable, and that if you know their names (and meanings), you will find it easy to identify what kind of kente motif a piece of cloth is when you see it. Not so with (at least a lot of) Ayigbe kente. Mawuli passionately reiterated again and again that many of the unfixed, unidentifiable patterns we were seeing were just “new, innovative designs,” (quoted verbatim) and should be respected as such, to honor the ingenuity of its legitimate creators. He was an unbeliever in what seemed to him to be stubborn, haphazard and baseless methods of naming new kete designs – especially naming after people he believed shouldn’t have any right to them. I forget his specific example, but it involved some European man arriving in Ghana, being presented with one of the Ewe’s “new, innovative designs,” and consequently having the motif named after him.


I have to admit, had I been a master weaver whose original Ayigbe sweat and tears ended up being called something like Jessica Eleanor Wattford-Longhorn, I would probably hex someone. (No offense if your name is Jessica Eleanor Wattford-Longhorn or similar.)