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Father Ryan Reports from West Africa (VI): “New Year and Funerals”


Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society Patrick J. Ryan, S.J. is spending a month in Africa, a continent where he previously lived for 26 years. During his time there, he will be blogging about his experiences. Here is his latest post:

I arrived in Ghana where I lived for 15 years (1974-83 at the University of Ghana, Legon; 1990-96 at the University of Cape Coast) on the evening of Dec. 28. Friends from those days met me at the airport and I stayed in Accra until New Year’s Day. I always take any opportunity when I am in Accra to visit Stella Ansah, the widow of a good friend, the late Professor Paul Ansah (who died at the age of 55 in 1993). Paul was both a professor of journalism as well as a talented and acerbic political commentator. Several different military dictatorships in Ghana hated him as a result, and they were not entirely unhappy when he died of complications from diabetes nearly 17 years ago.

During the first four years I was in Ghana, I was the only Jesuit in the country, and my best friends were Paul and Stella. I did not own a television at the time but I would come to their house on certain evenings to watch the news with Paul and get his live commentary on what was going on. Together with Paul and a few others, I was an editorial consultant during those years for the weekly Catholic newspaper, the Standard. It was the only newspaper that would tell the truth about what was going on under the military dictatorship of Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and his colleagues (1972-79) and the so-called “revolutionary” governance of Jerry John Rawlings (15 weeks in 1979 and the whole of 1982-1992), and Rawlings’s subsequent elected civilian administration (1992-2000). When fewer restrictions were placed on journalism in Ghana–after a period when the Standard had been suppressed by the government–other newspapers took up the truth-telling function of the Standard and it went back to reporting weddings, funerals and confirmations.

I had hoped to travel 500 miles north for the “final funeral” of an old man who died last February, the aged father of my former student, Samuel Atarah, who is now a professor in the University of the West of Scotland. But transportation within Ghana at this dry, dusty and hot time of the year is difficult, and I am reluctantly reaching the conclusion that I will not be able to travel to the village of Kongo in the Upper East Region of Ghana for the final funeral on Jan. 9. Meanwhile, the lecturer in chemistry at the University of Cape Coast, who is a good friend of mine and of Sam Atarah’s since their student days, John Prosper Adotey, with whom I had hoped to travel to Kongo, has lost his own wife, Felicia (aged 43) of a sudden heart attack on Dec 29. I went and sat in condolence with him and some of his relatives and friends on Saturday, Jan. 2. Felicia and John Prosper have two bright children, a 12-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy. Arrangements for Felicia’s funeral are not finalized, as yet, but it seems likely to be on Feb. 5. Why the long delay? Many Ghanaian funerals take place a month or more after death. For better or for worse, funerals are the most important social events in Ghana, and there are many complications to be ironed out with Felicia’s family, given the unexpected nature of her death.

So the New Year has begun on a solemn and sad note.


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