In the 1920s women had no rights and their marriages were arranged to suit the needs of families. Dowries were paid to the groom’s family in cowry shells, the currency at that time. They still are, but the cowry shells are now more expensive due to their scarcity. Some families still demand cowries, despite their cost, or their cedi equivalent. Men had as many wives as their status allowed and all the ensuing children belonged to them, not the child’s mother. This also is still the case. Men and women ate separately too. As some men, over time, gradually adopted Christian practices, they had to release all their wives save one before they could be baptised. However, all the children stayed with him! The spare wives returned to their fathers in the hope of marrying again. The emancipation of women is a key issue being addressed by Ghana Education Service and supporting NGOs today. There is a Girl Child Officer in District Education Offices and families are encouraged to recognise the rights of the females in their communities. Girls are still less likely to continue their education past the age of 15 and are at risk of sexual abuse and early pregnancy from a young age. Some VSO volunteers work with groups of women helping them develop skills, including cooperation, so they can make money and develop their self-worth within their communities. Locally that has involved a successful project to grow, harvest and sell ground nuts in village cooperatives.
Life for the missionaries was not easy, as you would imagine. The descriptions of their journey from the Upper East across to the Upper West to set up the Mission are amazing. All types of travel are described, a motorbike being the best of them. The roads were completely washed away which was disastrous in the dark on some occasions. I hasten to add that this same road is in a similar condition today! A missionary with Diphtheria was taken on a moto back to the Upper East for treatment, in torrential rain. The journey took many uncomfortable hours, some in the dark, and the moto careered off the road and steeply down into a swollen riverbed. Miraculously, he survived the journey and the illness!
Medical advice and treatment brought the missionaries closer to the people, initially…….along with football, of course. They were saving lives. Sometimes the treatment of a patient was a simple task and the recovery was immediate. Miracles can happen. Gradually, people were drawn to the Mission for a wide range of reasons, sometimes as a place of safety. Many were baptised as they were dying. The people who steadfastly rejected the words of the missionaries disputed much of the work and evidence of success that resulted from the efforts of these men. They claimed that the people died as a result of the baptism, even though the patients were at death’s door already. It is still common practice for people to return to their home town or village to receive “traditional treatment” from a fetish priest or other. Teachers ask for permission to take leave for this purpose. For some it seems to work, for others the ailment becomes worse and they hope for a late miracle at the nearest hospital. The missionaries managed, with difficulties, to recruit a skeleton staff of a doctor & sisters to nurse patients. Eventually the hospital at Jirapa was built and the permanent church building in the year of my birth, 1954.