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BACK Playwright, Author, Screenwriter Tom DeTitta      

Ghana

For "Darkness Lifting." Commissioned by Habitat for Humanity International for their 25th Anniversary.

The Place:

Ghana progresses from desert in the interior to tropical rainforest along the coast. The village of Mansen was somewhere in between. Remote and primitive, when I arrived, the young children would crowd around me and want to touch my skin, most of them having never seen a white person before. The one telephone in the area was a few miles walk from our village.

Most people live in family houses that had as many as twenty-people in a small room sleeping four or five across on the bed, under the bed, and on every free space on the floor. Men often have multiple wives according to how many they can support and how much land they own. The wives help the men work the land.

It is a place of superstition and myth. Offerings are made to the Gods in elaborate ceremonies in which the whole village participates. In this particular village, a recent offering of gold to one of the minor Gods had been stolen: a frightening development for the villagers as they considered their fate.

Several years ago, Mansen had also been savaged by a wall of fire that suddenly and without warning, swept over the village like a tidal wave, leaving charred remains of people forever frozen in the positions in which they had been only moments before. For some people, the flame jumped over them as if determined to leave witnesses to the horror it had created. Though this event could likely be explained as a brush fire blown in at lightning speed from the hot winds of the Sahara, it was explained by many villages as punishment for their offering to the minor Gods being compromised through theft.

Christianity was brought to this place through the work of missionaries. These church services are an odd combination of European and African cultural influences; hard driving snare drums and bellowing trombones; a chorus singing unrestrained while wearing caps and gowns that look like they came from a Midwestern high school graduation.

The church is often called upon to address the problem of demonic possession, which is unusually common, especially in young adult women. Certain trained individuals perform exorcisms to drive away the spirits that cause those afflicted to dance wildly for days on end.

Everywhere, there is the sound of drumming. Often, the drums are for funerals, as diseases like meningitis and typhoid run rampant where too many people live on top of one another in the sweltering heat and squalid conditions.

The Process:

This work was done in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity International for the creation of a part of my play, "Darkness Lifting." I stayed in the village, in a house with no running water or electricity, and woke far too early every day to the sounds of chickens, roosters, goats and sheep.

I conducted interviews with the help of my good friend and native Ghanaian Victor Baidoo, who works for Habitat for Humanity, and who, at the time, lived with his family in the village. Victor would one day visit us in America, and spend days riding elevators in the city of Atlanta where the buildings were larger than he had imagined buildings could be.

We spoke with many men who had multiple wives, most of whom had realized the disadvantages of having to provide for multiple families, especially after the fires had wiped out their main cash crop, coco. We spoke with women who had been possessed, only to find salvation and a new religion after a Christian exorcism had been performed.

On the Ghanaian coast in the town of Elmina lies one of the castles where slaves were brought for transport to the new world. One of the hard questions I felt I had to ask was what people thought of the slave trade to America. Interestingly, there was no knowledge of this event with anyone I spoke to in the village. One woman said they had heard about a group that was living as a colony on an island somewhere, but she didn't know where.

My friend Victor explained that there was a tradition among these people not to pass on negative information from one generation to the next generation. If a people were conquered somehow; if they were defeated, that defeat ended with the generation who experienced it directly.

Around Elmina Castle, which is also near the university, another literate class of Ghanaians was living in full knowledge of the atrocities of slavery. The student tour guides described in graphic detail the horror of their ancestors as they were sold and sent to America.

In many of these small villages, I was told, when a person with black skin from America comes to visit, they are viewed upon like Joseph in the Bible -a man who had gone on a great journey and had become rich only to one day return to help his people. In fact, even the poorest African-American in the United States likely is many times richer than the average villager in Ghana who survived solely off whatever they could grow, kill, or sell in the market.

Is it best to remember or best to forget? This question haunted my writing of this section of the play. I decided to take a well-to-do African American woman and bring her anger at the racial injustice of her world into the village to see what happened.

The Play:

Darkness Lifting.

 

2003 Tom DeTitta