A couple weekends ago some fellow ISEP (my international program) friends and I attended a chief’s funeral per invitation of our traditional drumming instructor, Dr. Kuwor.
He was taking the advanced drumming and dance students to the funeral to perform, and had room for some international students to join for the experience. In fact, based on how much he charged us for transportation, we probably funded their trip. Which is fair, because we got to be a part of an amazing celebration.
On the bus ride there (Leaving at 5, so Ghana time 6, am) I got around 1 hour of sleep until I heard a cowbell. The students behind me at started hitting a cowbell and shaking a “shaka-shaka” which is a gourd with beads around the outside. Next thing I knew, the guy next to me, Leni, pulls out a drum and starts playing. The whole bus is in song.
Well, except the pod of internationals observing quietly.
Even when we stopped (at a bush) to use the bathroom, they did not stop.
This was quite enjoyable for me, as I love music. But also a little uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to join in.
The funeral took place in the village that the chief was over which was located in the Volta region of Ghana. It was a three hour drive. The layout of the funeral was similar to an elaborate outdoor party. There was the main area, with huge tents and performances, and then there were paths leading around buildings and homes. The streets were filled with venders and guests. Many people had custom made clothing out of a fabric with the chiefs picture, and the dates he lived. Wearing that clothing is traditional funeral behavior for those close to him…however I wonder what happens to the outfit after it is worn.
When it came time for our group to perform, suddenly the international students started to feel like we were a part of the group. The Ghanaian students were very cordial and nice to us, making sure we had a place to sit and see the performance. During their performances they came and grabbed us to come dance, teaching us the moves. I couldn’t really get it but, of course, danced anyway. They forgave me for not doing better.
In my basic drumming class, we learned the beat behind “palango”(unsure how to spell this) music. When teaching, the professor says “Where.are.you.MyFriend” to the beat. This is the traditional way of calling the beat. He said the response to it was a different beat, called “I’m Here”.
He then had half the class play “where.are.you.MyFriend”. while the other responded, “I’m here”.
On this funeral I couldn’t help but feel the pull of this beat between the international and Ghanaian students. Although it’s seemingly obvious to say that the Ghanaian students have as hard of a time relating to us as we do to them, this mindset didn’t come naturally to me. As we drove back from the funeral I noticed the Ghanaians and international students talking and laughing. I myself was talking to the drummer next to me, Leni, whom I hadn’t spoke a word to the whole way down. We talked about his love for drumming since before he could walk. This reminded me of my brother.
Leni was happy to talk to me. Where once I thought he didn’t want to talk to me because I was so clueless about his world… I realized that he actually wanted to talk and he didn’t know what to say. I think this is true for many Ghanaian students, especially those who don’t see many international students.
I was happy to make this connection with Leni and other Ghanaian music students. Even if it was minimal, I have become more confident starting conversations with other Ghanaians. That was worth the money and long bus trip.
Our cores, our souls, what makes us who we are, it’s the same. When it comes to people of different cultures, we just need to take a new path to see each other.