Azɔli Blewu

Azorli Blewu Ha Blewu, Ga nedi blewuu

Afɔ, abɔ, dusi kple emia azorli blewuu

Agbemezɔli dzie miele, Tɔgbui be agbezɔli

Dagbe-dagbe dagbezɔlie nye azɔli blewuu

Agbezɔli ya, de miezɔ nɛ blewu, adanutoe,

Agooooo, agbemɔzdie miele, azorli blewuu

Tɔgbui Tayitɔ be tayi meyina to o

Dewo nɔna dzi hedaa adanu ne tɔgbuiyɔviwo

Tɔgbuiyɔviawo fe susu nade ngɔ blewuutɔe

Azɔli blewuu, ... ga nedi, wua nadi

Tɔgbui Tayitɔ be yega le azɔlia dzi blewu

A few weeks ago, I commented on a submission to the Facebook challenge, 'The Afevia Challenge', a COVID-19 social media intervention. The challenge is a call to speakers of Eʋegbe to address the communication gaps caused by using English as the language for national communication and education response to the pandemic in Ghana.

I commented on one of the video submissions by Kekeli Adonu. She replied saying the song she sang was a song my father had taught her when she attended his school many years ago in Dzodze in the Volta Region of Ghana. Because I did not know her prior to seeing her Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised by her response. I began to reflect on how knowledge and memory travels with us and migrates through time and space. I realized that silence has a particularly important part to play in the memory dynamics, especially when we move; but then I also realized that memory is a ‘silent’ space where experience and its value is preserved until its time comes to move again.

I remember when I was in primary school, we were taught both in English and in the local language of the particular region we were living at any time. I lived in many different places because we moved a lot throughout my childhood. I learned to speak different Ghanaian languages and each language carries its own memories. I learnt to read and write Twi in P1 and P2 in Berekum where my father Edward Tordzro taught in the Teacher Training College. Twi is one of the many Akan dialects.

I remember in Twi I could hear some words that sounded and had the same meaning as in Eʋegbe. The word for truth, ‘Anokware’, for example, and the word for need are the same both ways – ‘ehia’. But other words and their meanings were swapped around like the words ‘wu’ for kill and ‘ku’ for death were swapped around in Twi as ‘kum’ for kill and ‘owu’ for death. I remember noticing that quickly and have kept the memory of it till now.

I also remember how after a few weeks hearing Twi spoken and picking up some of the language, I went home one day and complained to my mother in Eʋegbe, '...afiya, le sukua, Eʋegbe bubu ade ko dom wóle!', meaning '... here, at school they only speak a different type of Eʋegbe'. In my child’s mind, I did not see Twi as a different language from my native Eʋegbe, just a strange variation of it, and so it was easy for me to set out to learn and to speak it, read it and write it well. Because my mother taught me how to read Eʋegbe at home, I found it easy to learn how to read reading Twi. Soon I could read better than the native Twi speakers.

Then I learnt to read and write Aŋlɔ Eʋegbe in P3 and P4 in Keta, our hometown, when my father was away to study in the School of Education in Leeds, England and continued to the University of California. We moved because our father moved. The Ghana Education Service had total control over where we lived and how long we lived in any place. In Keta, because nobody spoke Twi, the language and its usage receded into the silence of my memory for two years because we had moved. We migrated and the language migrated into the silent caves of my Ŋutefe Ʋɔdriba memory dragon. Most of the songs and the stories in Twi migrated and stayed silent for two years.

When our father returned two years later, we moved with him to Kibi where he took up the post of the Principal of the Kibi Men’s Teacher Training College. I completed my primary school and middle school and started secondary school. Just after my first two weeks an Abwakwa State Secondary School, my father was transferred to Dzodze, where Eʋegbe is the local language. I was also transferred by my father, against my wish, to Dzodze Secondary School, and I studied Ewegbe as one of my main subjects. I had hoped that I would be left in Kibi as a boarding school student, as my three elder siblings were in different boarding schools in Ho, Winneba, and Cape Coast. And so my Twi gradually went silent for five years and gave way to Eʋegbe.

In Kibi we were expected to speak English in school and got punished for speaking Twi in class or on the school compound. The only time we spoke Twi freely in school was in the Twi lesson or during storytelling on Fridays, and so I loved Fridays. I also escaped punishment for speaking Twi because I was considered a non-Twi speaker, at least for several months until they discovered I was fluent.

For a long time, I kept my silenced Twi silent, to protect myself from being punished, while I heard and understood everything that was said in Twi by my friends. I even spoke with my most trusted friends on the way back home after school. As children, we stuck to speaking Twi mostly as an act of defiance just because we were punished for it. When my father retired from the Ghana Education service, he set up a school which was a conversion of his poultry farm barns into a primary and Junior Secondary school.

Have you ever discovered that words in your mother tongue occur in new languages you have learnt? Have you had memories you thought were no more existing awaked by a new sight and sound? How have you experienced a memory you created in one language migrate into another language? Have you ever kept any language you have spoken fluently silenced in your memory to protect yourself?