The Bulsa Heritage and Cultural Society (BHCS) and the Plan for a Bulsa Cultural Museum
“Cultural matters are integral parts of the lives we lead. If development can be seen as enhancement of our living standards, then efforts geared to development can hardly ignore the world of culture.” – Amartya Sen
Some objects of the new Bulsa collection
Often, when the word culture is mentioned, many people’s minds turn to drumming, dancing and other rituals performed during special occasions such as festivals, traditional marriages and funeral rites. Believe it or not once upon a time, a chairman of Ghana’s then Commission on Culture had described culture as “something we do for leisure!” This short sighted perception of culture is still prevalent today and is a serious threat to our individual and communal development efforts. It is important to recognize that although drumming and dancing are important aspects of culture, they are by no means the defining elements or the most important. In other words, they do not tell half the story of culture. This fixation on drumming and dancing portends trouble for our future growth and development. Here, I wish to direct a few questions and inquiries to the Bulsa in hope of broadening our scope, for as we say, when a stone is falling from the skies, everyone covers their own head (Tain dan nyini won cheena, wa meena a tuk ka wa zuk).
First, I would like us to answer a fundamental question: who are the people called Bulsas? Or who is a Bulsa? This question is crucial because a faithful and true answer to it is also the definition of Bulsa culture. For those of us who are literate, the question may cause us to think about the different narratives on the origin of our people but that is not where the answer lies. The answer lies in the ideas, values, beliefs, rules, and material dimensions of the Bulsa people. It is through these that we derive our sense of self. These are the things that define us as a people; that set us apart from others and that enable us to relate to other people and to coexist with them.
Culture and Persona: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Each of us draws a major part of our sense of ‘self’ from the cultural group in which we grow up and are socialized. Research has demonstrated that culture tends to create and support ‘basic personality types’. Cultural factors influence lifestyles, individual behaviour, consumption patterns, values and life goals. Without a proper understanding of who we are, our self-respect, personal confidence and self-esteem suffers. Stories of Bulsa outside Buluk who were embarrassed by their Bulsa origins or who were intimidated by their more confident and culturally assured colleagues from other parts of Ghana are almost proverbial. In fact, such episodes are still being acted out today by many Bulsa all over Ghana. The main reason why people try to hide their ethnic identity is that they are ignorant about who they are! Thus these our Bulsa mates may have no idea of who or what a Bulsa is. They feel overwhelmed because they have lost the security and support of their native culture and are not able to integrate into another culture. A person in this state is often at risk of poor mental and physical health.
Many of us reading this may scoff at our less self-assured compatriots and would beat our breasts and say: ‘I am proud of my Bulsa roots or I am proud to be a Bulsa’. This however does not solve the problem. Without a proper understanding of the values, customs, ideas, beliefs, and material dimensions of our culture every one of us will feel intimidated at one point or the other not because we are not proud of our origin and identity but because we are not sure we can say anything about ourselves beyond the rhetoric that we are ‘proud’ to be Bulsa. How can we even be sure it is pride that we feel when we are not sure of what we are proud of? More importantly, how are we preparing our future generations to understand their culture and to be culturally assured and thus proud of their identity?
Having served as a teacher in at least three different schools in Sandema between 2003 and 2009 I have made certain observations that trouble me. When you ask a student to make a simple sentence, you are most likely to hear: “Kofi is a boy” or “Ama is going to school”. I once asked students to describe their best friend and everyone started with something like ‘The name of my best friend is Kofi, Ama, Aku, Mensah, Kojo etc’. When I asked them what about Adjuik, Amoak, Abuuk, Ayomah, Akansiing, Awogtalie, Atangbain and co, everyone burst out laughing “Ah master paa, how can our friends be called by such names”. Ask students to write any story they know and you will read titles like: ‘Ananse and the pot of wisdom’ or ‘Why Ananse lives in the roof of the house’ etc. Nobody remembers Asuom, Apiuk, Akalaasing and the other heroes of Bulsa tales. Of course in all these, we cannot blame the students. Their textbooks, readers and teachers alike all teach them so. Where are the Bulsa educationists? Are our teachers parrots who simply repeat what they hear or read from the textbooks for the pupils? No they are not. I can attest to that because I know many teachers who are making great efforts to adapt and modify what their pupils learn. I salute their individual and school based efforts.
But as a people, what efforts are we making to ensure that our children can actually learn something about their origin and culture that will give them the confidence and self-respect that they need to fight for their place in this world? Are we just waiting to be subsumed by other ethnic groups? No we cannot afford to. But without an understanding of who we are, through an understanding and appreciation of our culture, we will never be able to live fulfilling lives. We will always feel uncertain about ourselves. We will never be able to achieve our personal let alone communal goals.
This quote from UNESCO succinctly captures the spirit of my brief thesis.
“Deep in our hearts, we all understand that the quality of our lives depends, to a great extent, on our being able to take part in, and benefit from our culture. We instinctively know, with no need for explanation, that maintaining a connection with the unique character of our historic and natural environment, with the language, the music, the arts and the literature, which accompanied us throughout our life, is fundamental for our spiritual wellbeing and for providing a sense of who we are”.
Culture Enables and Drives Development
Besides the personality development and self-actualizing role of culture culture is the perfect starting point and mechanism for linking people to the national development process. Cultural heritage protection is a tool for building understanding, respect, love, cohesion, and community development. Local understandings and interpretations of a community's history feed into and partially drive the demands, aspirations, sentiments, and interests of present and future generations. Hence, by paying attention to, and incorporating these understandings and interpretations, more effective community development can be achieved. Also, culture is like the fountain of our creativity and progress. If it is carefully nurtured, our full potential in creativity and innovation will be unleashed. The creative industry is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide today.
Culture also provides a sustainable economic resource in which communities are empowered in their own economic development. Today, cultural preservation has gone global. Many landmarks, ancient structures and sites of historical importance across many countries worldwide are being catalogued and preserved as ‘world heritage sites’. These sites generate large amounts of economic resources that support local and national development. Promoting sustainable tourism as a sub-sector for investment encourages investments in infrastructure and stimulates local, sustainable development. We know that many sites and land marks have played significant roles in the history of the Bulsa but what has become of them? Similarly, many articles and artifacts of historical importance are being thrown away or sold if they still have any economic value. Investing in the conservation of these cultural sites and assets, promoting cultural activities and the traditional knowledge and skills developed by our forefathers is an effective means towards environmental sustainability and development. Tourism can be the breakthrough as a source of revenue for our poor homeland.
Undoubtedly, some of our cultural values, traditions and goals are not very useful today. This however is not an excuse to throw away the bad water and the baby together. Even the not so useful aspects serve as signposts for guarding upcoming generations and may be preserved in some form for reference and study. The preservation of culture is necessary to stimulate, excite, inspire, and drive development. Without enough effort at preserving our culture, we stand in danger of losing our identity; we and our children will forever be left wandering in the fringes of Ghana’s history, ignorant or at best, uncertain and afraid of who we are.
The Bulsa Heritage and Cultural Society (BHCS) - Help us save our heritage!
The idea of building a museum in Buluk to preserve at least some of the material dimensions of our culture is not a new one. Many possibilities have been attempted in the past but now seem to be slipping out of mind. However, the importance of a true understanding and appreciation of our culture to the individual and communal development of the Bulsa land means that such a project should not be allowed to slip out of mind.
The Bulsa Heritage and Cultural Society (BHCS) is a nascent project by concerned sons and daughters of Buluk. The idea was inspired by a small Bulsa museum put together in Germany by one of the foremost anthropologists who studied the Bulsa people and put our name on the world map; Dr. Franz Kröger. This man has written so much about and for the Bulsa in articles and books including a Buli-English Dictionary and has a large collection of Bulsa articles acquired over his many years of study (cf. Buluk 9, p. 22). He has also produced a large and comprehensive catalogue of articles and artifacts from Buluk that is guaranteed to astonish even the most disinterested observer. Many of them are no longer ordinarily seen in Buluk and may have become lost or sold. These are now being displayed in the small museum in Germany. Taking a leaf from his book, we have started something small instead of waiting for our traditional and political leaders to build us a museum which may not become a priority for them within the next half century.
The plan of the society is to unite a number of individuals who are committed to the idea of preserving our cultural heritage. Members will make voluntary contributions in cash or kind at their convenience and this money will be used to acquire materials of cultural value either new or old and stored as a private collection. It is not a business or even a community project. The society has just been introduced to the paramount chief in Sandema but as yet has no links with the political leadership of Buluk. It is hoped that, when a reasonable amount of articles are gathered, they can be exhibited during the annual Feok festival celebration in Sandema.
Procedure for Acquiring Articles
Art works and artifacts or materials may be bought or received as donations. Old and worn out things are particularly of interest but we will also buy or receive new articles. For some historical articles, permission will be sought from the Regional Museum to acquire and exhibit them. Items of questionable origin (stolen, forcefully taken or outlawed products) shall not be accepted. All items bought or received shall be named and labeled appropriately.
Some objects of the new Bulsa collection
Work Done So Far
Many sons and daughters of Buluk have already bought into the idea and have made contributions in cash and kind. A lot of labour has been spent on acquiring some materials. Dr. Franz Kröger, the aforementioned anthropologist, has consented to be a patron to advice and guide the collection and labeling of articles and has already made available his complete catalogue for the use of the society.
The society has already acquired several material objects and aim to increase the collection in the coming years: see table below.
Contact will be made with political and traditional leaders in Buluk to seek their support and blessings in due course but the project will continue to be a private collection until such a time that it becomes necessary to hand it over to a public institution to take care of.
The chief's old court
Some renovation works have been started on the 'chief’s old court' (stone structure in Sandema) and enquiries have revealed that this is the work of a group called ‘Abil dogdem’ (Sons and Daughters of Abil-yeri) who intend to present it as a Museum to the motherland. We of the BHCS commend them for this excellent initiative and call on all and sundry to support the project to succeed. We look forward to working with them.
What is Needed?
What is needed is a desire to see the heritage of Buluk preserved for future generations, a willingness to make a small donation (any amount), a little tolerance for risk and a little patience to wait for results over time. As the project is still early and developing, we are also interested in suggestions and ideas that can help direct and promote it. Please contribute constructive ideas and support to help the project succeed.
How to be Part of It
For further enquiries or to make a contribution to be part of this initiative, you may contact the following people:
John Agandin (Accra) – firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com
Martin Akandawen (Accra) – 0507176405 - firstname.lastname@example.org