Saturday, 1 October 2011

Freakish Brain Gain

 Adwene nko, nyansa nko(the mind and wisdom are not twin born)
- Akan(Ghana) Sages

Nyansapo, the Adinkra(Akan) symbol for  wisdom
Jack London’s immortal “ Call of the Wild” and its riveting imageries of howling dogs could well have provided the context. In this case however it was the Accra of the 1980s. The wind will howl like a zillion demons baying for their nocturnal dinner as we sat at our Momma Ama Otwiwa’s feet on the seventh floor of Nkrumah’s Flats at Lartebiokorshie, Accra. Ghana was caught in a revolutionary fervor. Some of the central figures of this revolution lived a floor below and in the other block across us. Ama Otwiwa will spin her yarns about Kwaku Ananse the master trickster who in reality was a hallowed sage(thanks for the education Nana Nketsia V); that was how we occasionally spent those numbing curfews. In this particular story Agya Ananse will wage a war on the mind. Intent on becoming the smartest dude in the world he employs shenanigans to collect the brains of all human beings and stores them in a kuku(pot) . His next task: find a place to keep the brains where no mortal can have access. Agya Ananse settles on an arboreal location of dizzying height. The great pot with its prized content is strung over Agya Ananse’s belly; in order that his eyes will keep an eternal and ever alert watch.  A conundrum emerges: how to scale the tree. Several attempts fail.
Then the loquacious Ntikuma, product of Agya Ananse’s loins emerges. “Papa… cannot climb the tree that way.” “ Firi ho….abofra bone(get away….bad boy)….wo nyansa ye ahi?(what wisdom do you have?).” Ntikuma persists. “ Papa just place the pot behind you.” Ntikuma had cracked the puzzle. So someone else could think better than Agya Ananse after all. In a rage Agya Ananse smashes the pot. The moral: Tiriko nko agyina(One head cannot sit in council). Clearly Akan thinkers had pondered about the mind for millennia; trying to map out its form and function. In Western thought this cerebral wonderment is reflected in British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s “ Ghost in a machine” phrase which wrestles with the absurdity of Cartesian dualism on the mind’s independent career vis-à-vis the body. In our times the mind has come to the fore in discourses on immigration from the global South to the global North. The case is being made that far from causing a brain drain this movement of some of Africa’s finest minds must be seen as a brain gain; these immigrants have gone to drink at the fount of knowledge where they went. I discussed this with a faculty colleague Charlie.
I will call it a freakish brain gain. The costs have been enormous in my experience. My Dad has five brothers and a sister. In the madness of Jerry Rawlings revolution(was it rather a convolution? It seems all the ills that era sought to deal with have returned; evolved; mutated) I lost two of my uncles and my only direct paternal aunt(Auntie Millicent) who simply migrated. And several other relations of the Som/Amoah Ebusua(Clan). True they have thrived intellectually, professionally and materially. But that gain must be weighed against uncles and aunties I never know personally; cousins who are strangers to me and cannot speak Akuapem Twi; a new generation born and raised in the Diaspora and alien to the rites, rituals, world view, wisdom, lore and legends of their most recent ancestors who they never knew. How will the Som/Amoah Ebusua ensure its continuity in the 21st century and indeed will the Ebusua of yore be the same in its underlying logics as that of this century? More brutally will the Ebusua survive as the shaper of identity; as the social safety net; as the transmitter of ancient wisdom?  What a freakish brain gain!!!!

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