Language, culture and God’s voice
…A chat with Efo Kodjo Mawugbe
Story: Nii Laryea Korley
Mawugbe, That’s an Ewe expression meaning ‘God’s voice’ and if you do not yet trust in what effect names if you do not yet trust in what effect names have on us, then het to know that a well-known man in the arts in Ghana who bears that as his family name feels highly inspired by it because it always urges him to go out and achieve clear-cut results.
The positive results 56-years-old international award-winning playwright and acting Executive Director of the National Theatre of Ghana, Efo Kodjo Mawugbe, can claim for his life include a deep knowledge and appreciation of Ghanaian and African culture and a strong desire to see them adequately promoted in all his endeavours.
“I always remember that my name has God in it and it makes me full, it makes me fearless,” Efo says, I use my name as a focal point to assert myself and do the things that I know I must do,”
Something Efo knew he must do, way back in his youthful days, was to learn to speak, read and write some Ghanaian languages other than his own native Ewe. Opportunities came his way, he availed himself of them and he is extremely fluent in Ga, Various Akan dialects and Ewe.
“Knowing the language of a people helps to understand them better. You are able to grasp issues from their perspective and able to delve deeper into their culture.”
It is that sort of understanding that made Efo a favourite judge to many television viewers during the first two editions of TV3’s Ghana’s Most Beautiful Pageant. He make critical observations, asked incisive questions and contestants felt visibly uncomfortable whenever the microphone was passed to him to speak during shows.
Though he was absent as a judge during the third edition due to a health situation that kept him hospitalized, he was greeted with rousing cheers and applause when he was announced as one of the judges in the last show. “Maybe they missed something about me while I was away but being on Ghana’s Most Beautiful for me, is like being tasked with making sure that only the best in the cultures represented come out. I love my culture and know my culture. What I don’t like is the culture being misrepresented.
“If it is something Northern, for instance, you cannot come and fool me with it because I would be able to tell which dance or drumming is from which part of the north. If it is an Akan thing, I know what is Fante or Asante or Akuapem, “I have a wealth of knowledge about our culture because a have travelled around the country and worked in some of the regional capitals. I also read around the subjects to be tackled and each programmed and consults real authorities on specific matters.”
A matter Efo feels strongly about these days is the embellishment radio presenter bring to the news in Ghanaian languages. With his love for languages, he contends that those embellishments are not bad but they are out of context.
According to him, the root of embellished language is from the traditional palaces where the linguist, to show that he is really good, must come in to polish what the chief says. “There is nothing wrong with that but when you are talking about journalism, reportage or news that is an entirely different area. There you are not in a chief’s palace or at a durbar addressing people where they are looking for your verbal artistry. With the news, you are there to give facts so just deliver the facts.
“People are not able to go to the facts because they don’t write down the news. Those local language speakers on the radio, especially the Akan speakers, are guilty of this. Since they don’t write down the news, they try to summarize and then use their own understanding and embellishment to make the news longer.
“The news is sacred and let us give it the sanctity it deserves. The embellishment rather greater fun and takes your mind off the subject matter. It is not good enough.”
Efo Mawugbe’s plays include A Calabash of Blood Aluta Contunua. The unbending Branch, in the Chest of a Woman, Constable No Rank, G-Yard People, Take Me to the Altar and Tata Amu.
Last year he, won an award in the ‘English as a Second Language’ category in the BBC World Service and British Council international Radio Playwriting Competition. The winning work was The Prison Graduates, described by the judges as ‘hysterically funny.’
In the Chest of a Woman has already been published and is a must-read for Senior High School students studying literature. Despite being able to read and write some Ghanaian languages, the married man with six children has not penned anything in any local language.
“English has a wider readership and that’s why I choose to work in that language. In talking about the preservation of culture, of which language is a very serious component, I know I must think seriously about putting something down in the local languages that I can speak and write.”
Several issues about arts and culture constantly roam in Efo’s mind. He likes the Friday-wear thing but thinks it is possible to take it to anther level and make it an all-day-wear thing.
One of the matters he finds disappointing is the lack of adequate support for the arts by subsequent governments. Citing the South African Umoja stage musical that was presented in this country few weeks ago, Efo said it was a great example of what a people can do if the state invests well in the way we do not utilize cultural agreement signed between this country and other nations.
“Every year, countries like Japan and Korea send down cultural groups to tour and we bear the costs of feeding, ground transportation and accommodation when they are here. The same protocol exists for us in those places once we are also able to send groups there. We don’t do because we always say there is no money for air fares. We would be a better nation if we get to understand what we can make from exporting our arts and culture.”
Efo has done and continues to do what he can to uplift Ghana’s arts and culture. He is probably still listening to God’s voice to push ahead on that road.
Graphic Showbiz Page: 8 Thursday, July 1-7, 2010