Gift Giving and Taking: How we destroy good things

To refuse a gift is highly unfriendly and may even be considered as an insult

We all love gifts. It may be a simple token like a pen or something as big as a house. Giving and receiving of gifts remains one of those complex activities that have been handed down over millennia by generation after generation of the human species. It is a distinguishing feature of the human being that differentiates us from other species.

In many African cultures, the giving and receiving of gifts is an integral part of our rites of passage – from the outdooring of a new born baby, through initiation/marriage rites to death.

In Ghana almost all the ethnic groups expect some gift or the other in all their relationships. It is unthinkable to call on a traditional ruler without certain prescribed gifts. In the Akan traditions, schnapps, livestock and money feature. Similarly with the Mole-Dagbane groups of the North, cola nuts, food items, livestock and money also feature. These are standard courtesies and no one would dare think of them as bribes. The word even hardly exists in our vocabulary.

To refuse a gift is highly unfriendly and may even be considered as an insult. The solemnity in giving and receiving of gifts in Ghana can be seen at funerals of all the ethnic groups, but especially the Akans.

People attend the funeral because of you, the individual they know, but they give “nsanwa” to your lager family, the “abusua” through you.

The giving and receiving of gifts have served us well and any attempt to throw the culture away would be a subversion of our spirit of sharing and volunteerism.

It is a spirit that also relied on strict moral precepts which had harsh retribution towards those who would take things belonging to others (stealing); taking over and above your entitlement (cheating); using false pretences to possess (defrauding). Other than that who cared? It was considered one’s good fortune if one received a gift. Nobody begrudged such a lucky person.
Concepts of bribery and corruption never came up. Who would regard sending gifts to a chief to ask for a stool or skin or even land as anything but normal acceptable protocol?

But you are not allowed to steal, (ewi in Twi, julor in Ga, barawo in Hausa, tayiga in Dagbane); cheat (esisie in Twi) and defraud (darga in Dagbane), etc. Such people are outcasts and shunned. A gift acquired not through stealing, cheating or defrauding is therefore honourably acquired

But arising out of the angst and weltschmerz of post-independence Ghana, interpersonal relationships now rely more on the patronage of governments and the bureaucracies that run the state/government machineries.

Graft, comprising stealing, cheating and defrauding has seeped in, creating an entirely new ethos, now roundly condemned as corruption. Gifts cease being the benign protocols society knew them to be and society is the poorer for it. Society needs the altruism of giving to nurture sharing and caring.

In this Election Year in Ghana, this very noble tradition of sharing and caring is under threat, mainly from politicians who feel they will benefit from attacking it and journalists who feel their careers would be enhanced by deriding it. It is a pity and a shame because it exposes the classic axiom of cutting your nose to spite it.

It is on record that Ghana’s first President Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was once a beneficiary of a land gift and so was Ghana’s ceremonial President in the Second Republic, Mr. Edward Akufo-Addo. Other Heads of State have received one gift or the other. Politicians are at the forefront of gift taking and giving. They give gifts and receive gifts.

As a presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo receives gifts in cash and kind to support him – or are they bribes for favours? And by the way did he take any cash gifts from ex-President Kufuor to prosecute his presidential bid in the last two elections? Allegations on that have not been fully addressed.

And to our journalists. Many of them have made it good from the gifts they have been receiving from admirers and foes alike. Some are genuinely admired and receive favours from their admirers; others are feared and loathed and have even been accused of blackmailing antics. A few years ago, Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby made reference to the “black polythene bags” being passed on to journalists. It attracted a few jeers, sneers and chuckles, but never fully interrogated, but perhaps the time has come for journalists to come clean on the gifts they have been taking ever since the 1992 constitution gave them the powers they have been freely wielding in Ghana’s socio-political firmament.

To round up, they (the politicians and journalists) are baying for the blood of President Mahama, but in reality what crime did he commit? Put against the traditional yardsticks determining the validity of a gift – stealing, cheating and defrauding – the President is as clean as a whistle.

Our politicians and journalists must beware. In their rush to score political points they may end up destroying some of the best traits bequeathed us by generations of caring and sharing forebears. Ghana would be the poorer for it…

By James Brew/Freelance journalist

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