Kenkey

“We should have used our independence anniversary to tell some old, old stories because we have a lot to learn from the early years of independence. Ironically, when fewer people were educated and more people were technically poorer than now; when houses were small and cars very small and few; things seemed to work because leadership at all levels accepted its responsibilities. That is the key,” Kwasi Gyan Apenteng- ‘Tell Me the Old Old Story’- ‘The Mirror’: Saturday, March 10, 2012.

In my article headed ‘Kenkey Has Shrunk in Size’, which appeared in the DAILY GUIDE of 28th July, 2011, I stated, “The definition given in this book (Kari Dako’s: Ghanaianisms- A Glossary) for ‘kenkey’ is ‘staple of fermented, steamed corn dough’. This definition, however, appears too lean or scrawny vis-à-vis the varieties of kenkey, the different methods of cooking it, and its overwhelming popularity on the Ghanaian menu.

“There is the Ga-kenkey common among the Gas and enjoyed nationwide; there is the Fanti kenkey also enjoyed nationwide and having its popular production ‘headquarters’ in Yamoransa in the Central Region; there is the Asante (Effiduasi) kenkey which is refined (no husk) and usually sweetened; there is ‘ade-bi-a-nkyene wo-mu’ (reddish – the result of sprinkling of palm nut soup)

‘Kenkey’ has a tinge of history, tradition, sociology and politics. In the past, when Ashantis were ‘fasting’ during a funeral celebration, one could eat ‘kenkey’ and that would not constitute ‘eating’. It was rather abominable for one to eat corn-on-the cob during this ‘fasting’ period.

When we entered the University of Ghana in the mid-70s, there was an attendant (steward) in the   dining hall of Commonwealth Hall, popularly called ‘Akosombo’. Whenever one was late for dining and missed the main menu for the day, he would approach the student and offer the advice, “Food finis, ‘kenkey’   dey: you lack?” (Food is finished, ‘kenkey’ is available; do you like it?) The striking paradox was that he talked as if ‘kenkey’ was not food.

‘Kenkey’ hit the political arena when in the Parliament in the Third Republic (Limman’s  administration, 1979-1981), Honourable Kwaku Baah (MP) carried some balls of ‘kenkey’ to Parliament  to complain about the shrinking size of a ball of kenkey for the same price as the previous year.

Let me tell you an old, old story. My mother used to prepare ‘kenkey’ for sale in her village with a name that sounded like Formosa (the former name of the Portuguese island now called Taiwan).  She could have been called ‘Maame Dokono’, if ‘kenkey’ making had been as popular then as it is now, with the President showcasing its sale and purchase.  In the early 60s, when I was a schoolboy, I would assist in the harvesting of the corn, the drying of it and the removal of the grains from the cobs. We would collect the cobs and put them beside the public pit-latrine. Other people with corn-cobs would do the same; so from one’s home to the latrine, one did not need to arm oneself with any material to wipe one’s excretory organ; when there was no cob by the latrine, one could still enter the latrine and pick a used cob and use the portion that appeared ‘clean’ to clean one’s rectal orifice- that was the hall- mark of community- living.

The grains so collected would be soaked overnight. The following morning, a smart one would be dispatched to the miller (about 4km away) to get the grains milled -and I was very smart. The dough obtained would be set down to ferment overnight. A portion of the dough would be warmed and then mixed with the fresh dough in a big basin. A number of people would sit around the big basin and scoop portions of the dough into corn leaves placed in one palm. My mother would also be doing the same, but have her eyes on the ball each person scooped. There were no scales to weigh the quantity scooped, nor were there any measure for the size: one could only categorize them as ‘small’ ‘sizeable’ or ‘big’.  We would make balls that were sold for ‘kapre’ (one penny or 1d or one pesewa or 1Np); ‘sempoa’ (three pence or 3d or two and a half new pesewas or 12212′> Np) and ‘taku’ (six pence or 6d or five new pesewa or 5Np). The sellers were quite few, and we would comb the village with our wares. When we were growing up and I was ‘unbeez’ (unemployed), I would be given a breakfast of a ball of kenkey, the ‘taku’ worth and this could last me the whole day for a game of draughts at the railway station till I returned home at dusk for the evening meal.

The President was reported to have visited the Maamobi, Nima and Mallam Atta (mallatta) markets on Tuesday, February 28, 2012. As the report broke, the President had made the ‘unannounced familiarization visit’ to these markets to get firsthand information on the prices of commodities. That was in the wake of media reports that food prices had gone up at those market and that a ball of kenkey was selling at GH¢1.00. The president bought a ball of kenkey at 50Gp at the Nima market. The Castle (Christiansborg), the seat of government, may not seem as active as it really is to a casual caller at the place. However, life there may be boring, monotonous, pedestrian, repetitive or humdrum -with the President receiving or despactching envoys ; signing documents ; giving oral and written instructions to ministers and government functionaries … so a President  whose private  life is curtailed  may decide to ‘stretch out’ a bit , and visit a few markets in  Accra to ascertain the price of ‘kenkey’. After the ‘kenkey’ purchase, we were not told about the prices of other commodities. 

‘Kenkey ‘may be sold at 30Gp for a small ball, 50Gp for a mini- sized ball, 70Gp for a medium-sized ball or GH¢1.00 for a big or max- sized ball. Or if for political reasons, there may be ‘controlled price’ for kenkey at 50Gp check to see if the size has not shrunk.

Listen to this old, old story: During the French Revolution of 1789-1792, when the peasants complained about the shortage of bread, the Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis  XVI , baptized as Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, is alleged to have said insouciantly, “Let them eat cake” (Qu’ils mangent de la brioche) .This is refuted by some researchers; but there is a similar story in Chinese culture where  Emperor Hui, of Jin,  on being told there was  a shortage of rice, replied, “Why don’t they eat meat”?

PS: I have a question for Prof. Agyekum: What is the difference between ‘anohwam’ and ‘anohuam’?

When I was teaching Twi in the primary school at Anyinasu and later at  Babaso, near Ejura in the 60s as a pupil-teacher, I tried to distinguish between Asante-Twi and Akuapem-Twi  or  Fante, and I am sure you did too. More grease to your elbow.

By Africanus Owusu- Ansah

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