I thank God again for Roger Bacon: for with this magnifying glass, I get a little glimpse of the rainbows, walking the streets of Ghana. I cannot see the full vibrancy of the cloth, its wondrous intricacy, as portrayed in the photographs, but I think I get a good intimation of it, especially when the tutor tells us of his time in Ghana; seeing the people wrapped in kente cloth, talking in a group, cocooned in iridesence. He told us of the first time he saw someone apparelled in the cloth, in an Accra street; how he stopped and watched, until he could see the woman no more. I sit back and think of a rainbow that walks.

Blind
Blind
Sometimes, in my darker moments – we all have those, whether visually impaired or not – I curse the word scotoma. It was caused by an eye infection which scarred my retina, when I was seven – I’m forty now. But then I recall the blessings I do have – and the dark cloud passes on, gone to overshadow someone else.

I will not let Scotoma,
Be my conqueror.

I sense the rich intimacy of colour in the photographs. On one page, it seems like an intertwining of green, red and orange; on another, the fusion of cherise, yellow and orange. These are the colours that come out strongest to me. A golden hue seems to permeate many of the cloths. I am told there are other colours within the design, interplaying – but I cannot see their happy skip and jump.

He told us of the morality within the cloth, as well as its history. For each weave signifies something – a kind of textile literacy: the cloth that teaches, as each one comes with a proverb. Certain weaves denote attributes such as Conciliation, Harmony or Hope. We were told of one called Akokobaatan, Mother Hen, which symbolises motherhood and parental care. Wrapped in beauty, the wearer reminds himself and others, of what they should aspire to.

If I can afford a telescope, I’m going to Ghana! Never really had a desire to go to Africa before, but now I want to go! To go to Kumasi – which he told us is the heartland of the Ashanti – to the Centre for National Culture, to watch the weaver at his work. He has infused me with his talk of watching a weaver there – as well as at Accra airport. Second time I’ve mentioned Accra, so I should say for those that don’t know, that Accra is the capital of Ghana – I’ve only just learnt that myself myself! To watch the masterful co-ordination of hand and foot, as the weaver sits at his loom. Then on to watch the potter; after the potter, the carver: then hopefully, to a performance of dance with drumming.

I will not let Scotoma,
Be my conqueror.

Imagine going to Bonwire, the great hub of kente manufacturing. I would like to sit in that place and listen to the sound of the looms, which comes from all the courtyards and balconies, throughout the village. Sounds of yesteryear, echoing today, emanating tomorrow.

Sometimes, when there is a book with enlarged print, I’ll try and read it. I’ll find a place of diminished light, as my eyes can take in more visual information in the darker setting. But with this kente cloth, no light or room change is necessary! As I turn the pages, it goes dull when there is a page of script, then re-brightens as kente glows again.

Since this accredited course in African Studies began, I’ve been toying with the idea of translating a short article or two about the sub-Saharan societies, into Braille! I learnt it as a child, after the first anger at my visual impairment; as an intellectual challenge, when it seemed my learning days were over. Looking at these pictures, is spurring me on to the translation idea!

I will not let Scotoma,
Be my conqueror.

I love to sit back and listen, while he reads poetry about the people – and from their archive of folk tales. My eyesight isn’t as good as yours, but my imagination works just as well! Through listening, the use of this magnifying glass and the sailing in my head, I begin to dream of the country that holds his root….

The goldsmith by the crucial anvil, fashioning the ring the young man will give to his beloved; the annual, all-night firelit reading from an ancient Koran, outside Larabanga, the oldest mosque in Ghana; the woman, expert in clay, making the item to hold the blessing of water; the farmer, pouring a libation on the field to Mother Earth, who they call Asase Yaa: the field now ready for planting…

Can’t wait to get back home, to share this art with my teenage daughter. By enlarging the images and print on the computer, we can explore the use of kente designs on hangings, handbags, swimwear, cushions, jewelry, rucksacks and on an assortment of clothing: head, body and footwear. Wouldn’t mind a cushion or two for the sofa! Or big ones, that you can slouch in! My daughter might go for a rucksack. Anyway, I’ve got new ideas for my birthday requests! Maybe to share this new knowledge with Sylvia also, who comes from Trinidad; a carer for one of the Association members. She may know of kente, but if not, I’ll share what I’ve learnt; as the tutor told us that many from the Caribbean region, have their roots in Ghana: in the Akan grouping, that the Ashanti are a part of.

I dream of sitting by a streetside cafe – known as chop bars – in the evening, eating jollof rice with peanut sauce, washed down by a cold ginger drink: sitting and listening, while the African night passes by.

If one day, on an autumn or winter street, you see a white women with a white cane, wearing a woolen hat, coloured red, yellow and green, with a black star, you’ll know its me. You’ll see that I did go to West Africa: to that country of the dream called Ghana.

I will not let Scotoma,
Be my conqueror.

© Natty Mark Samuels, 2017. African School.