The line is sometimes difficult to draw; high mysteries and concocted protective devices. My grandmother calls last Tuesday with news about being sued by the palace court. Her offence is keeping a dog in a village which forbids entry of dogs. Granny was fined 200 cedis and two sheep. My want for reason is discontent with a less perceptive response as: “dogs are a taboo here”. Why are dogs a taboo? Why should my lonely grandmother be fined for wanting some company as all humans do?
For the same reason mosquitoes nets were made, taboos are essentially protective devices. I would learn that this provocative taboo against keeping dogs as pets is not exclusive to Maabang, my village in Ashanti region. Our dear canine friends managed to get themselves in trouble also in many other communities across the central region. What did dogs ever do? A taboo, in its pompous free-floating capacity, may be useful for as long as it doesn’t get eroded by pointlessness. Let the palace elders in my village stick to their story of high mystery on the adversity dogs will bring to Maabang if allowed to live there. My research holds much comprehensible findings; not that I love taboos less but I love reason more.
Today’s dogs are paying for a spate ill-health of their ancestry. Rabies, a rather nasty disease, hit many communities in Ghana in the early days. This taboo, needless as it is today, saved lives yesteryear. Although unfair to my grandmother’s rabies-free dog as it is to groom jilted because his family has a history of poor mental health, people can be excused for panicking. I admire my ancestors for their astuteness in managing the outbreak and their inclination to prevent such future crises. Yet the time to let go a taboo is when it is bankrupt of reason for present justification. I trust health professionals and veterinary officers in Ghana to handle any case of rabies.
Why do Krobos not eat snail? I wonder. Our customs, believes and traditional practices make us, I know this. Upholding culture and traditional systems is essential to our continuity. Yet, it amazes me how our generation finds it easier to cling to what is petty like taboos against fluffy dogs whereas we watch our heroes, artists, festivals, songs and names and dance disappear. We are clearly unwilling to invest our time, energy and perhaps money when it comes to planning the festivals that tell our story, celebrating heroes who prepared the way, teaching indigenous songs that will uplift us and cross checking the right spelling of royal names. We are busy, we are modern, we are too advanced to pay attention to the core of our being. There is however time to propagate ethnocentrism, to discard indigenous dishes like “mpohonomu”, “apiti”, “akankye”, “adibiankyinwom”, “tumbani” and “mpotompoto”.
Perhaps it is time we employ taboos to meet challenges of our current social setup. Let us make "new taboos” against leaving elderly persons to be partly submerged in loneliness and partly in boredom. Let us make "new taboos" against forgetting our arts, our artists and our culture. We can use damage from offenders to build “canopy art centers” in communities. We must create space in the Arts for our elderly. My grandmother always has a new story. Why are we not encouraging the elderly to draw, play an instrument, write poetry and just tells stories as they wait around with nothing to do? Should it not be our business spending time with our grandparents so to enrich our life experience with whichever tales are yet to be shared? Should it be part of our school curriculum that we gather stories from time before us?
Four questions pretending to be two: what can arts do for our senior citizens and what can our senior citizens do for the arts? And beyond relevance of taboos and letting lonely grannies keep fluffy dog, what makes a people and what does not?