Kpabilongni, learning to speak all over again

I just spent the past three and a half days on a very brief village stay in Kpabilongni, living in my friend Thomas’s family home. Thomas’s father had 6 wives, and so he is one of 27 children. Those children have since had children, and there are even some great-grandchildren. Needless to say, the place is huge! The compound has 2 main living areas, with 18 rooms. Around holidays, the number of people in the compound will always exceed 100. The house is the hang out hub in the village; at night, you have many neighbors sitting together within the compound walls as well as a guaranteed Oware tournament outside.

And yes, the language was once again new. Kpabilongni is a Konkomba village, an ethnic group that holds its own unique traditions and language. So “Gi jio poa, alafee be, naaaaa!!!!” was about all I got. Lucky enough that the women I spent time with would probably be sherades experts; communicating through actions became hilarious!!

This short village stay also marked my two months in Ghana, on July 14th. Here are some firsts that happened to me on that day:


– Day on the farm in Ghana

-Time playing Oware.. and winning Oware!  (though mostly losing by a long shot)

-Time watching an animal get slaughtered (I was supposed to be the one doing it.. wasn’t quite ready for that step yet) and helping to chop it up

– Time eating intestines on a stick, and dog meat (Sorry Mom!!.. it was actually pretty delicious)

My intent on living with Thomas’s family in particular was the fact that his mother is the chairwoman of a women’s shea nut processing committee. I was hoping to spend some more quality time with women, experiencing their activities and some of what they do on a daily basis. My time so far in Ghana has been mostly alongside men. This is due to a few circumstances: the gender bias in the workplace, as well as the fact that more men speak English as men tend to have easier access to education.

This particular shea nut processing committee was set up by a Canadian NGO in 1999 to support girl child education. The idea behind the committee was to have every woman in the community work together in processing shea butter and soap to sell at the two local markets. Proceeds from their products would go directly into school fees for girls who otherwise would not make it to school.

As I sat with the group on Friday and spoke to them through Thomas’s translation, I got a feel for the numerous challenges that have pretty well stunted the entire initiative:

– About 70 women ended up joining the group, and even then many others in the village had chosen not to join.  Over time, most of them stopped participating in the group activity, leaving an increasing burden on the executive committee and a few other core members, amounting to about 20 people. This caused a significant drop in production.

– As women dropped out of the group’s activities, those who remained felt the pressure being too much, as they still had to fulfill their many other responsibilities such as farming, housework, cooking, taking care of children, and so on.

– The group received training from an individual of Dagomba descent, while the community is a Konkomba village. 1999 marked the end of a 7 year war between the Konkombas and the Dagombas; tensions were sure to exist then, as they still do now.  The women claim that they were intentionally trained poorly so that their products would be unable to compete with shea butter and soap produced from Dagomba groups in the market.

– They were not provided with any professional cutting instruments; the soaps would look less appealing as they were shaped by hand; making it once again hard to compete with Dagomba soaps that were well shaped.

– There is no grinding mill in Kpabilongni, which is essential to producing quality shea butter. The nearest grinding mill is 7 miles away, which is a very long walk to be carrying heavy bags of shea nuts. Although the community has applied through local government for a grinding mill, they are yet to have one (A grinding mill is useful for much processing on top of shea nuts, including all the staple flours).

The group even began to spend what funds they were making on other items rather than using the proceeds for girl child education. They were selling their product in the market then using that amount to buy and resell other items, so as to gain capital. After this process, they were using the funds to pay for other items in the community, such as broken windows and doors on the existing school, borehole repairs, and so on.

The particular NGO made its evaluation visit very early after the group’s inauguration, when these challenges had not yet had the time to mature and manifest themselves. Since that time, no one in the community has heard from them. I wonder how many other communities this same initiative was started in, and how many of the groups survived the various challenges?

I also learnt a ton about Konkomba dynamics and traditions during my stay, as well as a history of the 26 year and ongoing fight for education in the community that Thomas has been determinately heading (I will have a post on this one soon!). Feel free to call me about it any time – my phone number is still +233 54 683 8273!

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