Naa Korkor Leeyoo Watson-Nortey
Naa Korkor Leeyoo Watson-Nortey
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Naa Korkor Leeyoo Watson-Nortey

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Literary Analysis Of ‘Kpaa’ Songs. A Didactic Legacy Of Oral Performance. A Case Study Of The People Of Teshie, Accra, Ghana.

Naa Korkor Leeyoo Watson-Nortey

African University College of Communications, Adabraka, Accra


The unwritten literature of Africa is usually viewed by many as unrefined. The study focuses on an oral form of literature of  Teshie among the Ga people in Ghana. The study dwelt on the literary analysis of ‘Kpaa[1]’ Songs which is performed during ‘Kpaashimo[2]’. It throws light on how it can be merged into the context of literature by revealing the use of poetic devices such as proverbs, rhetorical questions, metaphor, personification, imagery, repetitions, allusions, alliteration and assonance. The study further reveals the immeasurable wisdom and knowledge found in ‘Kpaa’ songs as well as its importance in terms of teaching the culture of the people of the Ga in Ghana. It further reveals the didactic qualities of the songs. The focus of the study is on the performance and the songs that are used. The songs were recorded and analysed as poetry.

Keywords: Ga, Kpaa, Kpaashimo, Didactic, Performance

  1. Introduction

The settlement of the Ga is flat grassland often very short of water. The sea is its southern boundary and on the north, the sharply rising scarp of the Akwapim Mountains separates the hungry plain from the well-rained-upon forest country with Twi-speaking tribes. Along the coast are series of lagoons of various sizes. These have always played an important part in Ga life. In the past they were often raided by inland people for their salt, and their easy fishing made them valuable before the Ga learnt the difficult sea-fishing which they practice to date.

To the town from west to east are Accra, Osu, Labadi, Teshie, Nungua, Tema and Kpong, all seven sea-side places. Each town owns a strip of territory stretching northwards, and each has its own independent government. Warfare with the Akwamu, Ashanti and others united the Ga towns into one army, but the alliance was purely military and their government are still essentially separate, though all of them are represented on the modern Ga State Council.

In the Ga community, the High Priest rules the community. Otherwise known as the Wulomo[3], he relegates the duties of the High Priest to two lesser priests who are the Chief and the Queenmother, (Mantsε and Manyε respectively).

In August comes another set of ceremonies grouped around the reaping of the sacred corn and incorporating some of the features of the Homowo feast, a festival celebrated by all the people in the Ga Traditional Area. The various Ga towns, that is Accra, Osu, La, Teshie, Nungua, Kpong celebrate Homowo in series. The festival is celebrated to remember the exodus of the Ga people into the present location. The day is full of merry making. During the festival, various singing groups perform; an example of these performances is the singing of ‘Kpaa’ songs in the ‘Kpaashimo’. This form of performance by its nature is satirical because it praises right attitudes and customs in the society and ridicules the ills and wrong practices of people in the same community. Apart from this oral form, the Ga people take pride in other forms of oral art performances.

2.0 Statement of The Problem

Oral literature has been in existence among the Ga. Among the Teshie, Kpaashimo is the spice of the Homowo[4] festival. Apart from storytelling, ajenuoloo and others, Gas always enjoy listening to Kpaa song texts and occasionally, watching the performance as well. Although some people leave this performance to the preserve of the primitive and uneducated people, it will be seen and learnt later that, it is a misconception. Considering circumstances surrounding the performance, Finnegan (2007) takes on board the potentials of tonal languages and drumming, and the time factor, musical themes, interludes and contributions from audiences to prove that there are “no clear boundaries between composer, performer and audience, between analyst and artist, between the local exponent, the inscriber and the interpreter of texts” (p. 137). Most Kpaa songs contain messages which are taken with little or no recognition. In the light of the above, the study sought the need to investigate in order to identify and analyse the same song texts and recommend measures to promote Kpaa songs among the Ga as long as Oral Literature is concerned. On p. 200, Finnegan argues that “to understand what have in the past been regarded as ‘oral texts’, we have to go beyond just the ‘words’ and just the evanescent moment, into a host of multiplexities.”

3.0 Objectives of The Study

The performance of Kpaa songs popularly known as Kpaashimo is gaining recognition in several Ga communities and nationwide as a whole. It is therefore necessary to put it on a pedestal worthy of documentation and in effect protecting its performance. The objective of the study is to:

  1. Unearth the manner with which language is used in this oral performance.
  2. Identify the hidden meaning of words used in the song texts.  
  3. Expose the hidden didactic nature of these song texts.  

4.0 Research Questions

The study will be guided by the following questions:

  1. What language is used in the oral performace of Kpaa songs?
  2. Are there hidden meaning in the words used in the song texts?
  3. Are there any moral lessons to be learnt in these song texts?

5.0 Literature Review

African Literature was mainly oral until the Twentieth Century when Written Literature became more common. In the olden days, when there was nothing like sound systems, ‘jama’ was used as a means of providing music during festivals and funerals. This aspect of culture was portrayed through singing.

Ruth Finnegan defines the term ‘Oral Literature’ by confirming the contradictions which exists within it. Finnegan (1970) argues that oral literature is by definition dependent on a performer who formulates it in words on a specific occasion- there is no other way in which it can be realised as a literary product.

Oral literature like Written Literature comes in different forms. These include stories, drama, riddles, histories, myths, fables, legends, songs, proverbs and other expressions used frequently to educate and entertain the society. Oral literature does not only entertain but it also educates at the same time. It was used to teach the younger generation to learn about culture and beliefs.

Field (1961), says that the Ga tribe is unique. Therefore, Kpaa songs and the Kpaashimo performance, an aspect of oral literature makes Teshie distinct from other tribes in the country, Ghana.

According to Finnegan (1970), Africa possesses both written and unwritten traditions. The former are relatively well known. The unwritten forms however are far less widely known and appreciated. Such forms do not fit neatly into the familiar categories of literate cultures, they are harder to record and present and also easier to overlook. The significance of performance in oral literature goes beyond a mere matter of definition: for the nature of the performance itself can make an important contribution to the impact of the particular form being exhibited.

Until recently, some scholars did not consider oral forms as literature (Okpewho, 1992). The etymological definition of literature lays emphasis on the written tradition and consequently neglects the oral tradition. Most African, particularly those at the south of the Sahara depended solely on the oral tradition since they did not acquire any form in the art of writing. Scholars therefore conclude that, these people had no literature. However, Angmor (1996) shares a different view. To him, ‘the indigenous counterpart of modern art of literary culture lies in the oral traditions of the people’.

An important feature of African oral traditions is their close link with music. Poetry exist almost exclusively in chanted forms as songs, and among West African people with tonal language (for example, Ga), much poetry is recited in musical form rather than spoken.

Literature, society and culture have something in common. Oral forms in Ga like ‘Adaawee’ and ‘Amejo’ involve performances; music and dancing, and the song texts can be analysed as folk-peotry. Kpaa songs and the Kpaashimo performance among the Teshie is no exception as it plays an important role in the lives of the people in Teshie. To these people, no occasion succeeds, especially their annual festival Homowo, without Kpaa songs and Kpaashimo performance can be described as the ‘soul’ of Homowo in Teshie.

6.0 Theoretical Framework

The study used the Rhetorical Theory by Aristotle and The Situational Theory of Publics by Grunig.

6.1 Rhetorical Theory

All kind of usage of language comprises a certain amount of element of persuasion in them. The classic rhetoric theory was to know how this element of persuasion works and how it can be effectively utilized. In simple words classical rhetorical theory developed from the thought how the language works for people. The classical rhetorical theory does not have its universality like other theories, the major reason for that is people just identified this theory. It existed since men began to speak. Aristotle identified that three elements are needed for an effective communication which are; The Speaker, The Speech, The Listener

And he spotted that some kind of change can be brought to the listener by the speaker through the speech. This is how the first theory of communication took its initiation.

Rhetoric is often considered as an art, which studies how the things that are said or wrote made changes in the person who reads or hears it. Thus it studies the effectiveness of language. The rhetoric was an important aspect in ancient western education, especially for the effective oratorical persuasion in fields of politics law etc.

The rhetorical education mainly focused on five canons which are Inventio (Invention), Dispositio (Arrangement), Elocutio (Style), Memoria (Memory), Actio (Delivery)

In Ancient Greek it was very important to have a good ability for persuasion through speech. They followed a system of democracy and in a democracy it is important that you are possessed with worthy communication ability because you need to talk and impress people for getting our rights. Whoever talks and impress more people will have the support of more people and whoever have the support of more people will be the leader and he can rule over others. Later all the great leaders in of the world are bestowed with ability of rhetoric and they made the people to persuade upon their ideology by knowing how the rhetoric theory works among people.

During the Middle Ages rhetoric was taught in universities as one of the liberal arts. By the 16th century people began to identify rhetoric as a field of social or human science. Thus classical rhetorical theory has its story as old as the story of any language that present today in the world. The history of rhetoric itself is the history of classical rhetorical theory. Rhetoric cannot be meaningful without understanding the classical rhetorical theory and to know about classical rhetorical theory we need to know about rhetoric. The reason is that both are more or less the same.

Kpaa song texts, though performed as songs come with some elements of persuasion. It embodies the three elements for communication. This is to say that, it has a speaker, the performer who calls out the song, the message which forms the lyrics of the song text and the listener who are the audiences listening and enjoying the performances.

The messages to larger extent, come with elements of persuasion and are arranged in an orderly manner. Kpaa songs and Kpaashimo performance has style. The songs are arranged in an order of call and response. The leader calls out and the refrain is the response.

6.2 The Situational Theory of Publics

 James E. Grunig of the University of Maryland developed the Situational Theory of Publics to put meaning into the term ‘public’, which is one of the two key words in the phrase ‘public relations’. Public mostly refers to the general public or the greater number of the population, other times, the plural term ‘publics’ refer to the groups for which public relations programs are planned especially journalists, employees, consumers, investors, governments, local communities and members of associations and non-profit groups.

In contrast, J. E. Grunig distinguished between stakeholders and publics and used the two concepts to segment the general population into categories that help communication professionals identify strategic publics and to plan and evaluate public relations programs. Grunig reserved the term ‘stakeholder’ for the general categories of people who are affected by the actual or potential consequences of strategic or important organisational decisions and for our study, community and society decisions.

Dewey and Blumer agree that, publics arise around problems that affect them. Having identified that problems affect them, publics organise into groups to persuade organisations that cause the problem. For the purpose of this study, publics put pressure and persuade leaders in the community and local government through kpaa song texts and the kpaashimo performance.

6.3 Application of Theory

Relating the Situational Theory of Publics to the study, as argued by Grunig and Repper, the STP conceptualises stakeholders as a way to describe relationships, the kpaa song texts similarly are aimed at building relationship by correcting the ills of the society. In identifying the ills of society, if further corrects and makes society better.

Groups are formed and managed by leaders to champion the cause of the community. This is done by chanting the songs which are mostly themed on community building, human nature, the lust for power and patriotism. Situational Theory of Publics, being a public relations theory states that practicing public relations would depend on a situation and how active a group’s involvement builds publics and in this situation a community and a nation as a whole.

The lyrics of the words form the basis of persuasion as found in the Rhetorical theory by Aristotle. Lyrics are filled with metaphors, proverbs, allusion and more, all aimed at persuading individuals in the community not to relent on focusing on the benefits meant for the entire community.

A framework designed for the study, presents the Kpaa song text and performance as a didactic piece of performance. It further maps on to the contents being filled with proverbs, metaphors and allusions forming the basis of the lyrics. As these song texts are performed, stakeholders, who are also the members of the community listen and identify and lapses in the development of the society. In effect, they are entertained and persuaded at the same time to resolve the ills and injustices in the society. This further inculcates participation, patriotism and involvement; all aimed at development.

Below is a framework for the study coined out of the Rhetorical Theory and the Situational Theory of Publics.

Oval: PROVERBS, METAPHORS, ALLUSIONS,Oval: THE KPAA DIDACTIC PERFORMANCEKpaashimo among the people of Teshie is very educative. It is a moral teacher which straightens the crooked ways of the society. It also brings out the history of the community through the songs which are sung by the performers.



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[1] A type of song performed by the Ga in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana

[2] The performance of Kpaa songs is termed as Kpaashimo

[3] He is the High Priest in Ga Tradition. He performs leading role in all traditional affairs. However, he is not the chief. Chieftaincy is hereditary but being a High Priest is not.

[4] The annual festival celebrated by the Ga. Literarily meaning ‘Hooting at hunger’.