Van G. Garrett recently visited the southern and northern regions of Ghana. In addition to studying at the University of Ghana (with its study abroad partnership with the University of Houston’s African American Studies Program) and other universities in Ghana, he climbed the country’s highest mountain, fellowshipped with Brothers and Sisters on the Coast, plains, and mountains, and he attended a naming ceremony in Keta, where he got his “new name”, Fui Koshi.
Van/Fui is the author of Songs in Blue Negritude (Xavier Review Press, 2007)
Five Questions with Van G. Garrett/Fui Koshi:
1. What inspired you to travel to Ghana, as opposed to another country in Africa?
I was inspired to travel to Ghana because I had read and studied that Ghana was a major "port of call" country in Africa; a major piece in the disturbing puzzle known as the Triangular Slave Trade. I wanted to see the tangible indicators that would provide lessons beyond books and lectures about my ancestry and slavery. This curiosity led to my enrolling in the African American Studies Program's study abroad program at the University of Houston, where I was awarded a Dr. Kwame Nkrumah International Study Scholarship, which made it possible for me to travel, learn, and experience Ghana.
2. How would you compare your learning experience at the University of Ghana to what you've experienced in the US?
I learned a lot from the professors from the University of Ghana and the professors and lecturers affiliated with the University of Cape Coast, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Through stories and proverbs I gained practical information about how daily living and education are inter-fused and triangulated in a myriad of conventions that stretch from the immediate to the less immediate; a quote that I especially enjoy (which I later discovered is etched on a wall in Fort Prinzenstein in Keta) is: "Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be a hero."
In a lecture entitled "Some Ghanaian Cultural Practices" presented by Professor Kofi Asare Opoku I gained a wealth of information about how Adinkra symbols and OKRA names (not "day names") are very significant in Ghanaian culture, and how a lot of nonverbal cues and sociolinguistic indicators are similar and/or dissimilar to those in the United States. Additionally, many of the lectures that I had also gave me more insight into the ills of slavery, and they helped me to better understand why my affinity for a place that I never visited was so strong; a premise Wole Soyinka terms "Saline Consciousness".
3. What did you know of Keta before traveling there? Had you read the tribute series of poems that we ran in January? Did the Keta you found meet your expectations?
I had a very limited amount of knowledge about Keta before I traveled there. I had read many of the poems by the Brothers and Sisters in OGOV and I found the language to be very powerful and rich with sensory details, just as I have found all of the writing to be very good in OGOV. However, one thing that I observed was that some of the poets from Keta utilized the page, whereas poets from other locales in Ghana utilized the white space more — relying on terse lines. I found the poetry from Keta to often read like prose poetry, but after visiting I found out why; there are unexpected stories, like the one about the witty slave escape at Fort Prinzenstein, built by the Danes in 1784, that require a writer to spend more time with his or her subject(s) to bring out or highlight the minute details. Given this fact, more treatment is often needed to fully paint or write a more well-rounded piece.
Keta exceeded my expectations. I was not there too long, but the people, just as they were wherever I went, were very friendly. I did a lot of photography there and I look forward to going back to do further research.
4. Could you tell our readers more about the naming ceremony? What impact has your new name had upon you?
One of the highlights of my trip was the naming ceremony. AAS and Galaxy Tours arranged for the students in the study abroad program to attend a durbar at Independence Beach in Keta. The entire experience was overwhelming, as I sat there with my colleagues enjoying the music, dancing, and the royal processional, I mean I actually fellowshipped with chiefs, queen mothers, and a queen. I even got to take pictures of Queen Sheba Ra III and shake hands with dignitaries from all over. As if that were not enough, I was "officially" welcomed to Keta. I was presented my kente strip, my necklace and my wrist beads and given my new name, Fui Koshi. It was an emotional time. I have never experienced that type of heart-felt appreciation from people who did not know me, but welcomed me as a family member and took me in as if they had known me my entire life.
I plan to use my new name (which means "firstborn male son on a Sunday") whenever I participate in something that uplifts and promotes the betterment of, and raises awareness of, the Continent. I love my new name. It means so much to be given a name in a land that was once distant, yet still very close to your heart.
5. Did you write "playing in the atlantic" while in Ghana or after returning home? More generally, did you find that you wrote differently in Ghana than you do in the US?
I wrote "playing in the atlantic" in Ghana, after visiting the slave castle and dungeon in Cape Coast. The day was emotionally draining, so our tour guides (Wisdom and TiTi) decided to take us to a remote beach so that we could relax and mentally unwind before we retired for the evening. I remember I sat for minutes trying to write a poem that just focused on the luxury of the beach and how it was so relaxing, but my mind could not disassociate all of the stories and less-than postcard like images that swirled in my mind like the cresting waves in the "Angry Atlantic".
I can't wait to see how my poetry will be affected by my travels in Ghana. I experienced so much that I am still trying to process it all. I thought that I would spend more time writing, but I spent more time "snapping" (doing photography), which will help me to focus more on picture-pushing details that I heavily rely on for the ekphrastic type of poetry that I write. However, one noticeable thing as it relates to my writing, as least with my latest poem, is that it is not written in the kwansaba form, a form that the last two dozens of my published poems are written in. I have a feeling my new poetry is going to be longer and more sensual.