This engaging interview with Carolyn Kumah's mother and her friends was recorded on October 9, 1999. The interview details their upbringing in Ghana, motherhood, and life. It interview features Mrs. Tina Kumah, Mr. Thomas Mensah, and Mrs. Christie Bonsu.
Interview by Carolyn Kumah
(As the interview begins, food and beverages are being served by Mrs. Kumah and I, and the interviewees eat and drink throughout the entire first section.)
EE stands for everybody.
Christie: My childhood in Ghana as far as I can, I can remember. I was born a long time ago so I wish (laughter) I can remember.
Carolyn: What year were you born? (laughing)
Christie: I was born in 1946. Yeh, that's a long time ago (laughing). S-o u-m what I can remember so far, I have a very good childhood, you know, at the beginning. I have a parents that are very strict.
Christie: My mother was a trader. My mother worked with the UAC motoes.
Carolyn: How many brothers and...
Christie: Brothers and sisters? We are ten in all. Only three brothers, one died and seven girls.
Carolyn: How did he die?
Christie: He died by drowning.
Carolyn: That was when you were young?
Christie: Yeh, not that, I wasn't young. He was youngest, say he drowned at the age of twelve.
Carolyn: He was just playing with his friends?
Christie: No, they went to the beach. It was ahh, six March, ahh yeh, six March, Ghana Independence Liberation day. That day was the six March, Yeah, and he went to the beach without telling anybody where they were going.
Christie: Yeh, so then. Then my mother was just sitting there and the friends came in with the his clothes.
Tina: That's sad.
Christie: And then ahh, the moment my mother saw the friends with my brother's clothes it dawned on my mother that this is what has happened. And she asked them, "Where is the owner of these clothes?" And his friends say they were standing there. This one say, "You talk", this one say, "You talk", this one say, "You talk," you know, something like that.
Tina: How old were you?
Christie: Until they, one of them come out with...
Tina: How old were you then?
Christie: E-h, how old was I? Well, I was about twenty. I was in my twenties.
Tina: Oh really? Oh wow.
Christie: That was my younger brother.
Thomas: Didn't your brother learn how to swim?
Christie: They go to the beach. They, they go to the beach all the time in the water, but I do.. I think he got, he was caught up in a strong wave, you know so and he couldn't. And there were, people tried to save...
Thomas: Oh, oh, okay.
Christie: There were swimmers there who tried to save him but they couldn't.
Thomas: There are no lifeguards at the beach?
Christie: No, no, in Ghana we don't have lifeguards at that time. Maybe by now they have lifeguards but at that time they never had lifeguards.
Tina: At that time they didn't, they didn't have lifeguards.
Thomas: Because I remember, ahh, the swimming pools I swam in, and even, I was telling you earlier I did scuba diving. Did we have lifeguards? There will be no swimming without, if, they wouldn't allow us to swim when there is no, this thing.
Thomas: But there was one, something interesting you said about your, ah, I mean your family. You were, you were ten. We were eight. Okay, I wonder how our parents managed to cope, you know, with it, okay? My dad was a brain surgeon and then, my, my mom was a midwife, okay? S-o we had our aunties in the house, you also have other people from the family who were trying to help because, my mom alone couldn't have done it. You know, my mom alone couldn't have...
Christie: But you know that in Africa, everybody get involved with the child raise. It's not your mother and father business alone. Though, they are the one w-h-o...Everybody, yes, everybody help.
Thomas: That is the beauty of our system okay, because society was very safe. It's not these days where you see people, we have child care problems and so. You know it's a big compound, we were together, but each person was for himself. At that time, urbanization was not at--this--point--now where okay, it was more of an extended family. Now, we see nucleated family. Okay, you move to a big city, okay? We were in a city too, but it wasn't as big as, you know, New York--here. So, we had someone taking care of us, you know, cousins, brothers, and so. S-o, there was nothing like babysitting, you know, as we see it as today, okay...
Carolyn: Right, there was always a family member...
Thomas: Like Auntie Christie, my parents were also strict okay? We have to, from school we gotta go to music classes. Okay, on the weekends, we have to take, ahh, even piano classses. That's why I'm good on the, you know organ these days. You know, you see the last time I, we went to piano recitation. So, when I play over there that is where I learned it from. It's been a long time.
Carolyn: You grew up in Accra?
Carolyn: You grew up in Accra?
Thomas: I grew up in Accra. I was... actually, I was a city boy okay, because I grew up in Accra. I went to school in Koforidua in Cape Coast. You know, and then I came to University of Ghana, you know, and did my first degree there. And then, I had a scholarship, you know... Well, my dad, he's been coming to, you know, my dad have connections in U.S. So we have, we spend several you know, we have vacations in the states. I mean, maybe when I was young, but I couldn't remember, they told me but most of the time, we go to Paris, you know. We like, because part of my part of my relation comes from, a-h-h, Togo okay? S-o, we were fluent in French. So we spent our vacations more in Paris...
Christie: Par le vu france?
Thomas: Ah we, je, je pa france, je pa france.
Thomas: Yeh, and then what happened was you see...
Tina: Okay, okay, do you understand this...
Thomas: You see this picture? This is me, at Eiffel Tower, okay? This is when we were at Ifil Tower.
Tina: Isn't that where you met your wife?
Thomas: Sure! That's where, you know, that's where, I was on a business trip, and then, the parents were also on board with us. S-o we met, we, and then we flew on the same flight and then we went to ...
Carolyn: How old were you when you met her?
Thomas: Ahh, I was what, twenty-nine?
Carolyn: And how old was she?
Thomas: Ahh, she was about, ahh, twenty?
Carolyn: Why does everybody have such a big difference in ages?
Thomas: Ha? I, I don't know but, it, it never really bothered me but it looks as if, okay, u-m ahh, women are more mature than men. Ahh, so it's always good to have the air, not that the man is dominance but I believe for the same age, you know, a twenty year old man and a twenty year old woman, the woman is more mature.
Carolyn: Yeh, I agree.
Thomas: Very. No. no. no. no. You know, and then ah, it's because I have seen, okay, I told you what my... and then, apart from what my mom did she was very active in Independence movement. She was organizing women. So know that when we came to the United States during the Martin Luther King, the 1963 Civil March in Washington, I was there!
Thomas: Okay? I was there! And then, s-o if you see...
Christie: How old are you? How old do you say you are now?
Thomas: Huh? I'm fixty-six.
Carolyn: WHAT! What's your real age? (laughing)
Carolyn: What's your real age? (laughing)
Thomas: Oh, my real age is fifty-four but I always tell people I'm fixty-six. You know, it is very important that that our childhood was, in spite of everything it was nice. Church-going was, you know we didn't have so many choices. Things were planned for us. We follow it.
Christie: We didn't even complain because that's life; that's the way it is. S-o, you don't even know better, o-r, to argue that I'm not doing this, I'm not doing that, a-h No, I want to do this, I want to do that. Because that's the way, to us that's the way it's supposed to be. Your parents said, whatever your parents saidyou do it.
Carolyn: Did your parents treat all of you, you and your sisters and brothers equally, or did they...
Christie: Of course equally! They don't treat anybody less than anybody.
Carolyn: They weren't more strict with the girls than...
Christie: You know, can I tell you a funny story? One day, ahh my, one of my, sisters asked my mother, "Which of us do you like best?"
Christie: She just sits down there; she didn't answer so we repeat the question again.
Christie: Then she said, "The one that was given for me free."
Christie: Yeh, she said, "the one that was given for me free, that's the one I like best." Because for all of us you have to go through labor and everything to have that baby. So, it's no joke! But the one that was given for her free, then she doesn't have to labor over it- that's the one she likes best.
Christie: So, you have to figure it out. That's my mother.
Thomas: But Carol...
Carolyn: And how's your father?
Christie: Oh, my father is always there. You know, always in the background. when it comes to our education my father make sure everything is paid. In my family, between my mother and my father when it comes to our education, my father is the full brain behind it. Our fees are paid, and everything is set and ready. But when it comes to our everyday life- clothing, shoes- everything is my mother.
Carolyn: Mhm. What did your father do for a living?
Christie: My father is a welder as a profession. Yeh. You know, my mother take care of our everyday needs- clothes, shoes, school uniforms, everything- that's my mother's line-food, everything. And when it comes to education too, that's my father's you know? One don't wait for the other to do next or consult the other to do next. They know what they're supposed to do, they go. Everybody do their part. You see, they don't wait for each other. My mother is a trader so she is financially very independent. She don't wait for for my father to do anything in the house. What's supposed to be done, my father, my mother go ahead and do it. My father too what is supposed to be done as a father in the house or a man in the house he go ahead and do it. See...
Carolyn: So what, were you the oldest or...
Christie: Yeh, I'm the oldest.
Carolyn: So you were expected to discipline and take care of all your younger brothers and sisters?
Christie: I don't... , as a matter of fact it looks like they rather take care of me because they do everything. I'm the oldest so I can say I'm the lucky one because they have to do everything. They wash dishes, they wash clothes. I'm the oldest, I don't do that much.
Tina: In our family it's just the opposite. The older ones are the ones who do the the chores more because we are older, like Auntie Mercy. Auntie Mercy is really my aunt but was raised by my mother. So she was like, more or less, the oldest.
Tina: So she did a lot. When we were younger, she would do the wash. She would wash our clothes and stuff. When, once we get old enough to do it too, we took over, but she always played the role. When when my parents were out, she was the one who would take care of our needs as my mother would.
Tina: You know? So, but at the same time, she got a lot of things. When we were younger, my daddy worked for the P&T in Ghana. He was...
Carolyn: What's the P&T?
Tina: The P&T is Post and Telecommunications.
Thomas: That's a postal service.
Tina: He, that's after he came from the war. He was in World War II. And he was in World War II as the communications specialist so he knew the Morse Code. You know. They used to do the Morse Code on... in Ghana radio, not t.v, radio, and he would just sit down keenly listening to it. He used to tell us what that meant. Yeh. So, after the war, he was let me tell you a few stories about the war.
He said one day when there were a few of them like, I don't know what they call the groups of soldiers and the leader?
Carolyn: A troop?
Tina: A troop. There were a troop of them. They were some, they were in Burma. They were fighting on behalf of the British against the Japanese and they happened to go. They were on their way somewhere and they saw Japanese soldiers with their guns and stuff and so, they had to hide in a ditch. They wound up hiding for three days. They ran out of food and everything you know, but they had to hide otherwise, cause the Japanese outnumbered them. So they couldn't fight, it was useless to fight. So in a a situation like that you have to hide, so that's what they did. He also told us some weird stories and some I didn't even know soldiers did. He said, they captured some, some enemy troops. They (laughing), what they did was incredible. I couldn't believe they did such a thing. He said they would make soup, a big pot of soup. And they used to tease, they were with Nigerians. The Ghanaian soldiers and the Nigerian soldiers were together, they were sent away to the same area so they were together. They are the West African squadron or whatever. He said they used to make a pot of soup with regular meat and, tease the prisoners of war. Make believe they were eating person, one of them.
Tina: Yeah (laughing), one of, I said, "Daddy, how could you do that?!" He said, "It was all part of the thing, it was all war.
Tina: Warfare. So it frightened them. It made them very frightened so they don't attempt to run away because they will tell them that one was trying to escape, so they had to have him for dinner. And so, they believed that Africans were cannibals anyway. So, if they believe that, why don't you cash in on that?
Thomas: I told you my dad was also went to Burma. Yeah, he was in the second world war, you know, And he was even when we were home anytime (laughing)... His his idol was this guy, this French guy, General Digal. So anytime we did something, he say, "I'm General Digal!" You know. (laughing) So that was it. He was also in the war. I think the war...
Christie: Did he come back from the war before become a brain surgeon?
Thomas: Oh sure, after the war then he went back to... Since you've said it, I might as well, you know, continue. He went to royal school. He got a scholarship to got to England to practice medicine over there. Yeah, so that was it. Yeah, thank you, yeah, thank you. So that was it. He was also in the war. Okay, that time because British, I mean West Africa was the English speaking was pre... predominantly under the British colonial rule all the British colonies went to fight on British behalf in the war yeah, so my father was also in the war, okay?
Thomas: They did it! They came to our country. Look at how they did to our this thing. They took our gold, they took our diamonds...
Tina: No, no, it was the British who took our gold...
Thomas: They're all the same!
Christie: America no, they are not the same.
Tina: ...not the Americans. With the gold thing it was the British.
Christie: No, they are not all the same.
Thomas: The British settled in America. It's British who settled in America
Tina: At least America did something for us!
Thomas: They make British, they settled in America It's the same British, why do you think, 1776 they drove them away. America won its independence unilaterally because the British wouldn't go. The same thing with, we throw them away. Nigeria was the same thing.
Tina: Listen. No, no I'm talking about... you're talking about gold. They didn't, Americans didn't take our gold it was the British. You know the guy was married...(?)
Thomas: There were American companies there!
Tina: The gold were taken from all the West African countries.
Thomas: Sure, American companies are everywhere. Look at South Africa! Look at how they've left the country. Even look at Nigeria.
Tina: Well... Nigeria had all the oil. South Africa is the British, once again it's not Americans.
Thomas: They are not, they all look alike, they're all the same. They're all the same.
Christie: Don't say things like that.
Thomas: They're all the same! They're all the same! They are all the same! Okay, they're all the same. And Carol, when you did your PhD. you'll find out that they're all the devil. [laughter].
Tina: No, no, no, you gotta say the facts. Oh, no that's not true. That is not true. [laughter] I think America is better than the British, in the sense the British well, I guess we ought to be grateful to them for bringing us, the knowledge of Christ, you know, religion, meaning, you know, they taught us...
Thomas: No, no, no, no, no. Don't start an argument! Don't start an arargument! Okay, in our culture
Christie: Don't even, don't even go there.
Thomas: Don't even go there! Let, in our culture, okay? in our culture...
Christie: Wait, wait
Thomas: You grateful?!
Tina: No, no I personally, I feel grateful because I think...
Thomas: for what they did to us?!
Christie: They're not the only people who brought...
Thomas: They brought the Bible in their hand and behind them they have the dagger! Okay? And the white man never told us who God is.
Carolyn: That's true.
Christie: They lose identity, they lose it they even say something, Obi ntsire akwadaa nyame! We knew God before the white man came! We knew Christ before the white man came!
Tina: Oh there is no proof of that. Okay?
Thomas: No, we knew God! We have our own religion!
Tina: They didn't know God. Africans were worshipping their sticks and stones.
Thomas: It is all cultural domination.
Christie: Well to them is God!
Tina: Oh, it's true!
Thomas: It is all cultural domination... Somebody conquer you, it makes you to put the way you dress, you throw it aside, the way you talk you throw it aside and you take their language.
Tina: What do you think ahh, N-o! That's how we, we found Christ by, the British!
(plane flying overhead)
Thomas: It is conquering! And Carol you know that!
Christie: The British are not the only people. The British are not the only people who bring Christianity to...They never brought, we have our God.
Thomas: Come on.
Tina: The Portugese were the first person, people to come.
Christie: Listen, Listen, Listen!
Thomas: No, no, no, no, no.
Tina: But the British people were the ones who brought the knowledge of religion and Christ.
Christie: They are not, they are not!
Christie: No! They are not the first people! They are not the first people!
Thomas: We know God!
Tina: We knew God but we didn't know Jesus Christ!
Thomas: We know God, okay!? They have different things.
Thomas: Look at, look at the Catholic church!
Tina: No, we didn't know Jesus Christ before they came!
Thomas: They have statues in the church statues of...ahh, Mary, Jesus, the angels and it's okay. But when you come to my ancestral home and we have a little statue just to remind us that we are... these people are interceding for us on behalf to the superior being which is worse?
Tina: You know, we don't need those things, we need Christ to intercede for us!
Thomas: So why do we have the statues in Catholic churches?!?
Tina: Wa... Catholics don't worship the statues!
Thomas: We don't worship the statues either! Interception!(?) The same thing!
Tina: They're only articles of, symbols of, of...
Thomas: Interception!(?) The same thing!
Christie: The same thing! The same thing!
Carolyn: It's the same thing.
Thomas: The same thing! (doorbell rings, mailman) The same thing! The same thing! So, that is what we are saying that, okay...
Christie: If you are thinking about this seriously it's the same thing. You know, if you're thinking about this seriously about these statues you see it's the same thing.
Tina: The statues... you can not put those statues and Christ in the same category. Christ is...the vehicle upon which we are going to go to God with. Those sticks and stones that our ancestors used to worship, they put some, some of them put objects, uhh, may...sometime it's just some kind of rock...
Thomas: This is Western cultural domination! What you are
Tina: I am grateful to Them...No, no I am grateful to them
Thomas: THEY Brain wash you!
Tina: for bringing me the knowledge of Christ!
Thomas: That's why we are suffering like this?
Thomas: That's why we have to fight for
Thomas: our own land?
Tina: I'm not suffering! I think....
Thomas: That's why we have to fight for this?
Tina: No,no,no,no,no, they brought us the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We knew there was God BUT we didn't have those sticks and stones couldn't... couldn't help us! You remember I told you once that I was arguing with Mr. Adjaye because he, he said umm... when he goes to Ghana, his little village where he comes from, he would, everytime he goes he would have to buy a sheep and slaughter the sheep and make a sacrifice into the Densu River.
Tina: So, I asked him one day, he used to... that was a priority for him. As soon as he gets to Ghana he's gonna buy the sheep, they will slaughter it and put the, the blood in that Densu River. I said, "What is the purpose of doing that?" I said "If you think that Densu has powers, because they're worshipping the river! But when you go to Aduajiri, it's one of the poorest little villages in Ghana. It looks very ahh... there is no modernization, very few modern things there. The houses are dilapidated, the people are...don't have the means to, you know, do certain things that you and I can do, so I said....
Carolyn: But there's a lot of poor people here that use C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n-i-t-y to--remain--positive even though they have nothing.
Tina: No, no but what am I... my point is that, if you, if you think that it is very important for you to slaughter that sheep and put the blood in that Densu River, because it's a god or something that you're worshipping why is it that place so desolate? Why doesn't that God from that river, do something? Why doesn't...why don't you guys strike oil, or find gold, something that will help you?
Thomas: But what you are saying that...
Tina: What the hell is the purpose of...
Thomas: What you are saying that the Christian god...the Christian god has been giving ahh, ahh, the white people things?
Tina: No, no, I....
Thomas: The white people take the things. They ROB us of everything we have!
Tina: Oh, don't say that! I believe...
Thomas: That is white people. They ROB us. They came to Africa with the Bible and they have a dagger.
Tina: You can't say that. They'll throw you out of this country. You see it's people like you...at the hand. Okay, Nkrumah said it, Obafemi Awolowo said it! Azikiwe said it! Okay, Jomo Kenyata said it! Okay, all these people! They know the white people!
Tina: Listen, you are here right? And you don't want to go back to Ghana because you don't sound like you ever want to go back. But you sit there...
Thomas: Ghana!? I travel to Ghana every summer! I travel to Ghana every summer! Listen, but, [laughter], but do you wanna go home for good?
Thomas: Sure I wanna go...I wanna... we wanna fix things. Okay, we wanna fix things.
Tina: You're lying. You wanna fix things.
Carolyn: Don't we all wanna go home for good?
Tina: He, he doesn't wanna go...
Carolyn: Auntie, auntie, aren't you gonna go home for good?
Christie: Yes, I'm gonna go home for good!