The Atwa Kodzidan: a unique African storytelling theatre tradition and architecture in Ghana.

Author:Kwakye-Opong, Regina


Storytelling as an art form has existed in Ghana for an undetermined number of years. This significant art form has been with humanity for as long as our forebears decided to preserve their moral norms as well as providing the required entertainment that will relieve them of stress and boredom. Wilson (1998) relates "In many cultures there are strong traditions of storytellers who recite myths or legends from the past, or teach lessons by means of stories, to a group of listeners". Traditionally, storytelling in Ghana exemplifies the communal ideals of the society. It is a means by which morals are taught and inculcated into the society. In the opinion of Gyekye (1996), these communal beliefs "are those values that express appreciation of the worth and importance of the community, those values that underpin and guide the type of social relations, attitudes, and behavior that ought to exist between individuals who live together in a community, sharing a social life and having a sense of common good." When philosophically decoded, storytelling becomes norms and virtues that educate and inform society for its wellbeing and economic growth. Examples of such communal values are caring for other people, providing mutual assistance, interdependence, solidarity, reciprocal obligation, and social harmony.

Apart from these significant traditional values, storytelling performances have influenced theatre architecture. By its circular nature during performance, this form permeates even the way indigenous houses, and consequently, theatre buildings such as the arena stage are designed; with an open central area, the courtyard, enclosed by the rooms around it. Similarly, storytelling has a narrator who sits at one side of the stage while the participatory audience or chorus sit very close in front of him, and in most cases creating a somewhat circular formation.

The aim of this paper is an investigation into the import of the theatre architecture at Ekumfi Atwa, the Kodzidan, as well as the socio-cultural values in the storytelling sessions performed to enhance communal integration. Ekumfi Atwa is in the Central Region of Ghana, but it must be noted that the Central Region of Ghana is actually not in the central part of Ghana as the name implies. Just like the Eastern Region which geographically does not constitute the eastern border of Ghana, the Central Region does not occupy the central geographical position of Ghana. Central Region geographically occupies the coastal part of the country; this coastal part is rather in the southern-most sector which borders the Atlantic Ocean.

Ekumfi Atwa is about 108km west of Accra, the national capital. Ekumfi is the larger traditional area and Atwa is the community. According to Akyea (1968), "Atwia is a small village with a resident population of just over 500 people. These people are the heirs of a rich tradition of storytelling, and are splendid actors in their environment." It is, however, noteworthy to state that the population size is no longer the 500 indicated by Akyea almost half a century ago. The population has grown tremendously and by our estimation, the town should now have a population of about 2000.

The name of the community is spelt in several ways, including Atwa, Atwaa and Atwia; but for the purpose of this study, we would use Atwa. Atwa is historically noted and revered in Ghana for the Kodzidan, a unique performance space architecture which was constructed largely through the inspiration of the renowned playwright Efua Sutherland, who was a friend to Nana Okoampah Baah IV (maiden name Adjoa Mansah Baah), the late Queen mother and at the same time chief of Atwa. Nana Okoampah Baah IV, according to the oral tradition used to narrate Ananse stories on the then only radio station in Ghana, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) radio station. Through her narrations, she was said to have popularized the Ananse story song "Kweku de onsurooo, Kweku de onsurooo, Kwekuee ..." (Meaning, Kweku is brave). As a folk hero within the context of Ghanaian storytelling tradition, people have a lot to learn from Kweku Ananse, hence, the use of such performance art to inculcate moral ideas in the society. As a result of that, Efua Sutherland, who had keen interest in such traditional performance acts, became passionate in Ekumfi Atwa as a place with storytelling tradition. This point is buttressed by Assam (2009):

As an associate research fellow of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and was to undertake fieldwork into innovative ways of formulating an authentic African theatre, Efua Sutherland met and immediately became acquainted with Nana Adjoa Mansa's talent as a towering traditionalist and adept performer-- cum--orator, on the premises of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in Accra where the latter had been regularly engaged in a highly entertaining evening storytelling programme on radio, popularly known by its signature tune: "Kweku de onnsuro ... " to wit, "Kweku {Ananse} says he isn't afraid ... " Another account also indicates that the two met at the Calvary Methodist Church in Accra and struck an acquaintance. Information gathered at the Atwa community indicated that the song Kweku de onsurooo was a composition by Nana Okoampah Baah IV. According to some distinguished Ghanaian musicologists, the song is considered as folklore and would therefore be difficult to link its composition to an individual. In that case, it would be safe indicating that the song was popularized by Nana Okoampah Baah IV when she used to host the storytelling session on Radio Ghana. In the opinion of Arkhurst (2007) Kodzidan, The Legacy of Efua Surtherland 'The Ekumfi Atwia House of Stories, popularly known as Kodzidan, was built to provide the right model for a national indigenous theatre.'

According to oral tradition, the Kodzidan attracts a substantial number of visitors annually including Professor Esi Sutherland-Addy, a lecturer at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, and a daughter of Efua Sutherland.

Theatre Architecture and Performances

Theatre architecture is always influenced by the type of performances and the targeted audience. The latter; however, takes prominence...

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