ACCRA and COTONU
FROM Freetown we flew across Liberia to Accra in the
south-east corner of Ghana, where I met two Sisters of the Medical
Mission Society, one a Doctor. The previous day they were at Osterley,
just outside London! They were going up to the Ashanti country.
We were warmly welcomed at the Mission of the Fathers of the Divine
Word, who warned us never to leave our doors unlocked, even though
our rooms were upstairs.
are some clever thieves in these parts," the Superior said.
"Our Brother's room has a barred window which he used to leave
open. One night, while he slept, thieves stole his clothes. They
used a long pole with a hook on the end."
This sounded promising! " Any other good news? " I asked.
"Well, we had riots, of course. The people expected too much
from their independence . . . Some refused to pay for their electricity:
they said it now belonged to them, so why should they pay for it?
The rioting, at one time, had been pretty serious, but," said
the Superior, "we could always go round the town safely in
our habit. No missionaries were interfered with during the riots,
except one priest who had come in from the Bush on a motor cycle
and looked like a civilian."
It was easy to see the town, for private taxis abounded. I held
up my hand for one, and three or four shot at us and pulled up with
a screech of brakes and a broad inviting smile from each driver.
The one we picked told me that he had borrowed the money to buy
his taxi and had paid it back in fourteen months. "Now it is
all mine," he smiled. These people certainly seemed to have
a business instinct. I noticed the advertisement over a hairdresser's
window: "Levi Akaba, C.S.C. Scientific Hairdresser".
Down on the shore we admired the lovely fishing boats, carved out
of solid tree trunks. The boatmen skilfully brought them in on the
crest of huge waves which kept other boats a long way from the shore.
Wherever we went down side streets, into houses and along crowded
thoroughfares, the people were all extremely friendly, greeting
us with a smile, and I remembered what the Superior at the Mission
had said about our Religious habit being a "Passe-partout".
We called on Mr. Allaseni, the Minister of Health.. He is a Catholic
and he not only welcomed us warmly, but spent a considerable time
arranging an interview for us with the Prime Minister, Mr. Nkrumah.
This was not easy, as the Prime Minister was due to leave for London
four days later and had his Budget Debate to see through before
he left. My Belgian companions were very impressed by the courtesy
we were shown.
We visited Bishop Bowers, S.V.D., of Accra. He is a West
Indian and very charming. He talked to us of his work and the ideas
he had for establishing the Church firmly at Accra. Then we went
to see the Cathedral. It was designed by a Swiss Father of the Divine
Word and built by the Brothers. I noticed an excellent example of
sensible adaptation: The baldaquin over the high altar was in the
form of a chief's umbrella, which is the symbol of rank and authority
One evening during the weekend we were taken to the open-air cinema
where we saw a Russian version of "Othello". It rained,
but the show went on and the audience remained: just like a football
crowd at home.
On Monday morning we went to a sitting of the Ghana Parliament.
It was a picturesque scene that met our eyes. Members of Parliament
were standing in little groups chatting many of them dressed
in colourful, flowing toga-like robes. Had the robes and men been
white, it could have been a picture of the Senate of Ancient Rome.
The Speaker entered, members took their seats, prayers were said
and business began. The House of Commons over again! It was small
but full of dignity. I wondered how deep it was and whether it could
last. It seemed too good to be true.
Our appointment with the Prime Minister had been fixed for the Monday
but a messenger came to us with the Prime Minister's deep regrets
that after all he would be unable to see us. This was disappointing,
but I was impressed by the courtesy of the message. Then the local
press interviewed us! They were keen to know who we were, why we
had come to Ghana, and what we thought of it.
After lunch, Brother Stephen, Bishop Bower's Secretary,
came with a baby Austin to take us to see Archbishop Porter
of the Society of African Missions. We drove along a magnificent
road and saw several police traps set to catch the overloaded Mammy-wagons.
These are usually licensed to carry fifteen passengers but we often
saw them with more than that number hanging on to the outside, with
no hope of penetrating the solid mass of humanity inside!
We found Archbishop Porter at the town of Cape Coast, the oldest
town of Ghana, where the British colonists first settled. The Archbishop
centres his hopes for the future Church in Ghana on the people.
As an example of what he meant, he said that the Government had
proposed to secularise the schools, of which one-third were mission
schools, but a storm of protest from the people made them desist.
The Government now acknowledges the fact that the mission schools
are often run better than Government schools, and are a great asset
to the country.
I was struck by the strong, healthy appearance of the people at
Cape Coast. The local industry is fishing, but there are many "foreign"
traders in the town, and these propagate Islam. There is little
Communism at present in Ghana, and, according to Archbishop Porter,
this is because the people are very individualistic and are not
too easily led by the nose. They have strong family ties and are
determined to protect family rights. They are also relatively well
off, at least here in the south. Accra itself, struck me as a prosperous
town for Africa, clean and without much of a shantytown.
Archbishop Porter, who is over 70 years of age, recently asked and
obtained from Rome the appointment of an Auxiliary. He is Monsignor
Amissah, D.C.L., a Ghanian whom Archbishop Porter ordained priest
only ten years ago. The Archbishop was looking forward with joy
to consecrating this spiritual son of his, who had taken as his
motto, "Ut manifestentur opera Dei That
the works of God be made known". Monsignor is one of thirty-four
priests of south Ghana.(Mgr. Amissah is now Archbishop of Cape Coast
and Archbishop Porter has retired. ) There are also thirty-four
senior seminarists and about a hundred juniors, so that the prospects
of a numerous African clergy in that area are very fair. Both the
seminaries made an excellent impression, and I was particularly
struck by the hard work that appears to be done at St. Teresa's,
the Junior Seminary. The boys get up at 5.30 a.m. and night prayers
are not until 9.00 p.m. The top form may then go on studying until
On our way back to Accra we called at the magnificent school for
girls run by the Sisters of the Holy Child. It stands on a hill
amid the most lovely gardens and trees I had yet seen in Africa.
There were four hundred girls here and at Takoradi the Sisters also
had a teachers' training college.
The Holy Child Sisters came to West Africa in I930, and they have
made the most remarkable progress. They not only have six fine schools,
but also an African Congregation of nuns with some sixty Professed
Sisters and Novices. The English and American Provinces combined
to make the mission foundation in Ghana.
We were due to leave Ghana next day, and I must say that it was
with great regret. We had enjoyed the courteous assistance of officials
of the Ghana Government, who gave us the strong impression that
they were anxious to co-operate with the Church in helping their
people. Fides the official news agency of the Missions in
Rome, wrote that to a greater degree than possibly any
other country, the Ghana Government has recognised the place of
religious agencies in the building of that community morale which
is so necessary for a truly successful community development programme".
On leaving, we wished God speed to Ghana, to its Government, its
missionaries and its people on their difficult path of newly
It was already June 5th when we flew out of British territory into
French territory, to Cotonu on the coast of Dahomey. It is interesting
to note on one's travels how each nation abroad manifests the characteristics
that one notices in Europe. The British, for instance, had us in
line at the airports and more or less marched us here and there
as required. The French just left us to wander around and find our
own way sometime if ever to the Customs and Immigration
Officers. The French have a multitude of questions on forms. When
you fill in an entry form to go into any of their territories you
have told practically the story of your life, and some of its future.
And if you can't guess the future or forget the past, they will
tell you very kindly, "mais mettez quelque chose". A form
with them is indeed a form: that is a matter of form. I had taken
some trouble to try to get a visa to one place and was eventually
told: "Certainly, you need a visa, but it is impossible to
get one in so short a time".
"Well, what must I do?" I asked. The man looked at me
"Do? Do? Nothing, just go!" I did and had no trouble.
The missions of Dahomey are in the able hands of the Society of
African Missions or the Peres de Lyons as they are known
here. The Fathers gave us a warm welcome and some good food in spite
of their being so very busy with various organisations. The heat
was terrific but there was a pleasant breeze from the sea, 'for
which I was truly grateful as I had a dose of prickly heat. When
the rain began to fall we were out visiting a convent. "Fall"
is hardly the word. It was hurled down. My companion was out shopping,
and when he made a move to leave he was told: "Sorry, you'll
have to stay. It's the rainy season always like this."
He saw that he was on an island. But he took off his shoes and stockings
and paddled to some dry land and set off for home. When he got to
the mission, someone called to him: "Sorry - you cannot get
in!" But he paddled home all right, wondering if he would have
to swim. Perhaps the rains are so rare they just don't bother about
We hired a little two horsepower car next day. It arrived without
a dynamo! One was fitted, and off we went to the amazing town of
Ouidah, forty miles away. We found a colony of pagan "convents"
and "monasteries". One daughter from each family must
serve six to nine months in one of these fetish communities. An
old sorceress swoops down on a house from time to time and carries
off the girl she wants. No one, of course, would dare to resist
and thus incur the anger of the "gods". I went to one
of the "convents", and I saw a great fetish that appeared
to be nothing but a heap of earth and bits of old iron. Before it
sat an old, old sorceress doing nothing. Amongst the ju-jus
hanging round her neck, was a miraculous medal of Our Lady. The
old witch had no idea what it was, and I prayed that it would bring
her a blessing in good season. A compound of a dozen huts made up
this" convent" .The sorceress occupied one of them, compulsory
servants another: a third was a store- room, and all over the place
in odd comers stood the various fetishes stained with the libations
that were poured over them, and before them were small gifts of
maize, cloth or beer.
Leaving the sorceress we went to the temple of the serpent, situated
just in front of the Catholic cathedral. The keeper of the serpents
told us that we could not see the sacred serpents as they had gone
out to the town for a walk! Later we visited the biggest and dirtiest
fetish I have ever seen. It was called Mahu which means "god".
It had its own hut and was "fed" daily with eggs, milk
and beer. It looked like a pile of dirt five feet high and had a
gaping hole as a mouth-stained yellow from the yolks of eggs. I
was told that formerly Mahu was offered human sacrifices, but his
diet is milder now.
From this dreadful place we went straight to a real convent. What
a refreshing contrast it was! I saw seven serene smiling African
nuns. They were in charge of a leper colony which we visited. There
were one hundred and fifty patients, many of whom, having come in
time, could be cured. It was a happy little village on its own,
and many patients, even when cured of leprosy, beg to remain there
On leaving, the priest, who was my host and guide, suddenly asked:
"Would you like to go to Portugal now?" "Portugal,"
I exclaimed. "Yes come along."
We were soon ringing the bell at the Portuguese Consulate which
is actually on two acres of Portuguese territory. It is a small
fortress, with a garden surrounded by a wall with muzzle-loading
cannons at each corner. In the bad old days it had served no doubt
as a centre for collecting slaves before despatch abroad. After
some time the door was opened and there was the Consul in
pyjamas and dressing gown. The poor man had been awakened from his
siesta, but showed no annoyance. He excused himself and returned
half an hour later, spick and span to do us the honours of Portugal
! His car had no number plate: it was the only car in "Portugal"
and so did not need one. What strange things there are in this modern
Later in the week, still in our two horsepower car, we went to Calavi.
Calavi is a parish on stilts in the middle of a lake and to reach
it we needed a boat. The boatman we approached was an optimist.
He said it would cost us the equivalent of £12 to hire one
of his boats. After a long argument and several feigned departures
on our part he agreed to accept ten shillings! Once that was settled,
every man in the neighbourhood offered his advice as to which boat
we should use. None of them looked very safe. They were dugout canoes
mostly half-full of water. We asked for something to sit on and
boxes were brought. When we got in, the little boat almost sank.
Out we got, and a bigger boat was brought. This was leaking in a
dozen places. The boatmen calmly stuffed the holes with cotton wool,
put in the boxes, arranged our embarkation and off we went, bailing
for our lives.
We reached the village safely, however, and it was well worth our
trouble. We sailed down the streets or rather were punted
down them with an enormously long pole, while shoals of children
swam and jumped in the water, shrieking and yelling with excitement.
The local chief invited us into his house and gave us a drink .
. . nothing stronger than lemonade, since he was a good Moslem.
Calavi is quite a town with ten thousand inhabitants, and altogether
about thirty-five thousand people live on the lake, where they took
refuge long ago from marauding enemy tribes. All the houses are
built on stilts and it was fascinating to see the tradesmen paddling
their wares from house to house. The most important of their wares
was fresh water, for the lake, alas, is salt.
Back at Cotonu in the evening, I met Bishop Gontin who looked
quite the youngest Bishop in Africa. He is the Auxiliary to the
Bishop of Cotonu, who, being away ill in France, has left a heavy
burden on the shoulders of this young Bishop, but he appeared to
me, however, quite able to carry it. (Mgr. Gontin was made Bishop
of Cotonu in 1959. )
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