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Henino Vinoko Akpalu (b.1888)

Akpalu was the greatest Ewe poet and lyricist who ever lived. He was so endowed that, he invented a complete dance and music form that has no superlative. No funeral is complete without his funeral dirges. Neither town nor village exists without an Akpalu group.

Stretching from far afield as the Volta River in the West, to the border of the republic of Benin and Nigeria in the east, with the northern borders about latitude 7.6°N in the east, and 7.20°N in the west. Several Akpalu groups also exist in the African and overseas' Diaspora.

European Missionary activity had sought to destroy this art form, as well as, all other African traditions. His tenacity enabled his craft to persist till today. Despite his isolation, his resolve and personal strength of character enabled him to preserve this invaluable asset. Akpalu had a cult following. He was a superstar, but never got the national recognition. National recognition, even after Independence, was reserved for those whose crafts were embellished with European flavours. His was a truly untainted African craft. (A very good perspective of missionary activity in Africa at this time is expressed by K.K. Amos Anti, used as a footnote to this essay.)

There was nothing in his lyrics that was pagan but it was abolished in the Christian community. He laments this situation with one of his epic creations:

Medo ha da When I commenced singing
Xosetowo de nu me yenue The Christians mocked at me
Yevuawo de ha halii The Europeans also have their songs

He was not ,necessarily, a pagan but because of his gift of African poetry and song he was precluded from converting to Christianity. He, therefore, became a lone island on the cultural landscape. He was neither a Christian nor pagan. With the rising tide of Euro-Christianity, Akpalu lamented deeply the fate of his God-given craft, and wondered whom he would bequeath it to. At that time, there was no apparent way to stem this tide, but to wait till one was consumed by its ravaging waves. Such was the fate of numerous practitioners of African astronomy, African mathematics, African metallurgy, African medicine, African engineering and so on. It would be appropriate for us to pause for a minute and reflect on the lives and talents that were gobbled without a trace by Euro-Christianity and its twin siblings, colonialism, and the slave trade.

It was the remnant of people like this that the Wovenu Mission was directed. The Apostles Revelation Society bridged this unnecessary divide between the African and his God. Whereas Euro-centricism was characterized as the norm from which all things deviated, and should return to, Wovenu debunked this myth and established a form of worship that decolorized Christianity.

This was a major paradigm shift of Copernican proportions. Copernicus was the first person who proposed, contrary to Church thinking at the time, that the sun was the center of the universe and all the planets revolved around it. He continued that it was the earth that revolves around the sun in the course of a year while rotating once every twenty-four hours about its axis. Unfortunately, out of fear that his ideas might get him into trouble with the church, Copernicus delayed publication of them.

"Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the Universe.
All this is suggested by the systematic procession of events and
the harmony of the whole Universe, if only we face the facts,
as they say, 'with both eyes open'.
— Copernicus from "De Revolutionibus Coelestibus"

Similarly, Wovenu stood up against the church and preserved African values and traditions as a necessary part of church doctrine.

When Akpalu was presented with this Christianity he was ecstatic and repented. Prior to this he had lamented what the fate of his music would be if he should die.

I will pass on Call all of them

Megbona dzodzo ge I will pass on
Ameyi makpo woxo gbe nye adadi namea I continue to seek those to bequeath voice
Megbona dzodzo ge I will pass on
Ameyi makpo woaxo hanye adadi namea I continue to seek those to bequeath my voice
Mi yowo naye de Call all of them
Miyo hafiawo naye de Call all the lead composers
Megbona dzodzo ge I will pass on
Ameyimakpo woa xo gbe I continue to seek
nyea dadi namea those to bequeath my voice
Megbona I will pass on
Ame no me gbo me sea dzodzo The sojourner leaves more suddenly than expected
Yea ye dzo And I am gone

One has to penetrate the mind of Akpalu to appreciate the loneliness and despair in these lyrics. Moreso, to know that his craft was of so much value, but was being downtrodden. In his mind this would be the proverbial case of casting pearls before swine. Indeed, with time African institutional practices would denominate world popular culture more so than now.

Akpalu and his craft persisted till it was saved by ARS because God had made provision for that.

When he visited Tadzewu he saw the fulfillment of a dream. He expressed it as follows:

Mede Tadzewua I visited Tadzewu
Nutorntu dzi vi zazea de Nutornti had a smart child
Mawunya wogblom kple gbe zaze Sermon was preached with a smart voice
Wu viawo to le vovo The traditional drummers equally so.
Henor Akpalu be yede Tadzewu Lyricist Akpalu says he visited Tadzewu
Tsadia Kponu awu dzidaa The traveler observes, more than who is atop a tree

On February 9th 1964 he was baptized into the all saving name of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at Anyako. On April 28th 1955 it was revealed to Wovenu that Akpalu would be converted in this Revelation:

Se dzidzornyasia, Akpalu, hakpala ava bia ha la fe yiyi de tewo eye bena nafia alesi woakpae azo; ke mele nyuieto wo ge ne. Mana woatro dzime le gbowo eye eyomenola gede nado dziku; gake dzi made le efo o. Ke to mo ma dzi woakpo hagbe nyuiewo na Yehowa. Eyomenola akpa gaato afli, ke wee siwo suso la, ava zu to ga, titri yeye bubu eye ame tromegbeawo nagblo "De yewoanye de." Esia ha azu dasediha nee. Gbesigbe de yeanyede tro gbo la, gbemagbe megbe-vu ha de gbe.

Soon after his conversion a big Birthday party was celebrated for him. It was very well patronized and I remember him expressing joy and gratitude to Wovenu for his salvation, and the honour done him over the celebration. He opined that he was blessed to have seen what amounted as his funeral while he was still alive, and whatever would be done after his death would be of no value to him.

Till today I relish that celebration. The preparation for it was very elaborate. We were transported from Tadzewu to Anyako to build a tent and prepare the compound for the august occasion. After the huge tent was finished with palm fronds, we white-washed the wooden pillars from the ground up to four feet.

During the celebrations I reminisce about how all the labour was worth it. From a little boy's perspective I was, however, ambivalent about Akpalu's conversion. Indeed he was a great icon and was bringing a lot of heritage to our church. His conversion, however, was one more blemish that labeled our church as a pagan institution. At the time, our society was still trapped in a mindset that begged for the validation of our traditions by Europeans. It did not have to take the BEATLES for such value added. Any 'white' person of whatever hue or morals, even the scum of the earth in his own country would have validated our church more than I had experienced from Akpalu's conversion.

That was the very time we were studying how the Europeans had 'discovered' Africa and saved it from primitivity. In our class we all assumed English names to reflect our disdain for ourselves and the institutions we inherited from our primitive parents. My name was Macgregor after Macgrgor Laird who discovered the estuary of the Niger river. We had names like Barrymore, Jimmy Baxter, Tommy Powers, Francis Drake. To express their total immersion into civilization and escape the taunts and arrows of primitivity some changed their surnames from Keledome and Kpegba to Keledomson and Stoneload, respectively. I anglised mine by substituting oo for the u that was the correct spelling of my surname.

This was the age when we opted for tinned fish(sardines, tinapa) tea, in preference to sardines that were caught by our own fisher folk in our own lagoons and oceans, and akatsa and akla that I now long for so much having been exposed to so much junk food in this so called civilized world. Beef processed by our own butchers were left to rot on the shelf as we craved for  corned beef imported from the colonial masters.

The light that flickered on the horizon, which we were ashamed of was indeed the morning sun that will enable us cherish our own values and traditions. Having experienced life in this so-called civilized world, we now long to return to our roots, to our time-tested values and ways to our food to our clothes to our marriage norms, to the way children were raised to the way we were.

Wovenu and Akpalu who carried the light that turned darkness, introduced by Euro-centrism, into Day must be given their rightful place in the annals of our great continent. Cultural Emancipation should not have played second fiddle to political independence.

African traditional practices are not an aside to add to Christianity. It is the main course. It should reinforce  and empower us as Africans to believe that what the European missionaries did not have the intellect to comprehend, they labeled us primitive and pagan. It is time for all Africans who have now accepted the African liturgy to shed their European ways and appreciate the African.  The clarion call to Africans is to dig up their traditional institutions with the tenacity and perseverance following the heels of Wovenu and Akpalu. When the dust of true civilization settles African institutions and norms will glitter as the lone pearl.


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