OKYEAME: GHANA’S POST-INDEPENDENCE LITERARY PUBLICATION

The immediate post-independence period in Ghana was characterized by some important literary and artistic inputs that helped define [post-colonial] Ghanaian literature in significant ways. Most people might know about the national theatre movement and the huge influence of Efua T. Sutherland, who was herself part of a network of writers, thinkers, critics and poets linked one way or another to what was known then as the Writers Workshop. The Writers Workshop will, in 1961, start publishing a literary magazine known as “Okyeame” which, like publications such as “the Ghanaian”, “Ghana Cultural Review” and “the Legon Observer”, played a significant role in defining and chronicling aspects of Ghanaian “post-colonial” literature. 

Several publications on Ghanaian literature have referenced Okyeame as an important literary publication in the 1960s but an entry on Okyeame in a 1964 publication of the “Negro Digest”–an African American magazine– provides us with some more information. The “Negro Digest” indicates that Okyeame was published twice a year by the Ghana Society of Writers in collaboration with the Institute of African Studies and the Institute of Arts and Culture. It misspells Okyeame [renders it as Ikyeame] indicating that “…Ikyeame… is a twi word whose meaning was not explained…” Okyeame is in fact the Akan word for “the chiefs spokesperson” and as Kwesi Yankah indicates in his book  Speaking for the Chief: Okyeame and the Politics of Akan Royal Oratory, the term connotes rhetorical competence par excellence. Like the griots in the Senegambian region, akyeame play significant communicative and political functions in traditional Akan societies. Thus to call Ghana’s post-independence literary magazine “Okyeame” was to suggest connections between Ghana’s oral literature and the then emerging Ghanaian written literary tradition.

The “Negro Digest”  describes “Okyeame” as  “a fascinating publication” and provides an address probably meant for those interested in submitting to [or contacting staff of the] magazine. Besides the information on Okyeame, this entry in the “Negro Digest”, in a way, points to some of the transnational alliances/linkages between writers and thinkers on continental Africa and those in the African Diaspora. Below are some images of the December 1966 issue of the magazine. The text’s multimodal aspects are very significant. This is evident in the combination of alphabets and images (e.g. the okyeame’s staff as seen in the cover below). The main sections of the magazine displays literary works and critical essays as well as images of items associated with traditional Ghanaian society (e.g. stool, oware etc). As the cover  indicates, the price of the magazine was 48p. 

COVER (1966)

COVER (1966)

“Okyeame” published poetry, short stories and drama. There seem to have been a miscellaneous section called “Writes’ Forum”. This section contains news, reviews and announcements. The December 1966 issue contains works by some of Ghana’s most influential writers and critics: Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Efua T. Sutherland, A. A. Mensah, Kofi Sey and K.B.A. Jones Quartey e.t.c.

TABLE OF CONTENT (1966)

TABLE OF CONTENT (1966)

TABLE OF CONTENT (1966)

TABLE OF CONTENT (1966)

Here is an excerpt of a short poem “Life” from the Dec. 1966 issue. Kojo Gyinaye Kyei is the poet. 

Life– the only

Wayside inn

On this

Rough-and-tumble safari

Every man jack

Of our party

Stops here overnight.

Efua Sutherland was the editor but there was also an editorial committee which was made up of George Awoonor-Williams (Kofi Awoonor), Geormbeeyi Adarli-Morrty, John O. de G. Hanson and Kojo Gyinaye Kyei.