Sankofa – An ancient Ghanaian philosophy touching on many aspects of life, from learning for a better future to ageing and much more.
Author: Melford Ita – Environment Consultant, 26.06.2018
More than 1,500 different languages are spoken across Africa. Twi (pronounced ch-wee) is the language of the Akan people – a large West African ethnic group living in southern Ghana and Ivory Coast. Embedded in symbolism similar to the Egyptian Hieroglyphics, ‘Adinkra’ is a system of communication based on the spirituality and culture of the Akan. Historically these symbols told stories expressed through various African proverbs. Today they provide insights on how the culture viewed its societal experiences, values and ethics.
Sankofa is an ancient Ghanaian philosophy touching on many aspects of life, from learning for a better future, to ageing, and much more. The Akan believe the past serves as a guide for planning the future. Thus, Sankofa is represented by a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward, and its head turned backwards. Regrettably, for a long list of reasons, including our insatiable or so called progressive lifestyles, many ancient wisdoms and traditions are being lost. Luckily through Sankofa we can reconnect with the past, learn from it and apply ancient knowledge to ensure a better future. Sankofa’s etymology stems from a combination of three words in the Twi language: ‘san’ which means to return, ‘ko’ meaning to go, and ‘fa’ meaning to look, seek and take.
Phyllis Henrichs (AKA Mama Africa) is a Ghanaian native who migrated to Germany in 1995. Prior to the move she worked in her native land at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). After marriage to her German husband, the family settled in Ghana, and Phyllis could not imagine ever leaving her native land. “After we had settled as a family and our first child was born in Ghana, till date my husband does not even know why he decided we move to Germany” Phyllis remarked laughing.
As a child growing up in Ghana on a farm with her mother, Phyllis learnt much about herbal medicines. She was also influenced by her uncle, a renowned medicine man in the village. He had treated and cured many people of different ailments, and also revived those who had lost consciousness, due to several reasons. “In our village – when ultrasound scan was unheard of – he could examine a pregnant woman to ascertain if the fetus was well positioned in the womb. Besides his unique ability to mix herbal concoctions to aid safe delivery, he employed a special massaging technique that could stimulate and prompt a fetus to assume its rightful position in the womb.”
“For my first three years in Germany, I was a stay-at-home mother. At this point our second child was born and upon turning 3 years of age, I commenced formal studies to become a paramedic professional. During an interactive session in class, the lecturer mentioned gold and I answered we have it. What about diamonds, I said we have it, we also have crude oil. Every resource the lecturer mentioned, we have in Africa. So the lecturer asked why are you in Germany? My answer was I do not know.”
Phyllis has witnessed pivotal moments in her life, one of which manifested during the paramedic training. She discovered that over 80% of ‘everyday medicines’ produced in highly developed countries contain active ingredients sourced from Africa. In her mind, this insight gave rise to thought-provoking questions: why are African medicines or food items often relegated in the international market? What is the continent doing wrong? Subsequently, the status quo across Africa proved a source of concern warranting close and personal reflection. She deduced that the reason(s) Africa was lagging behind could in part be linked to the continent’s lack of what Germans call ‘Waarenkunde’.
Waarenkunde is the branch of medicine or commodity sciences that deals with drugs in their crude or unprepared form. The term is associated with Professor Johann Beckmann (1739-1811), a German from Göttingen. Beckmann used Waarenkunde to explain new and hitherto unknown goods - later called colonial goods. In scope it addresses the systematic organisation of goods, the most important markets, detailed description of the manufacturing processes, an explanation of the different value of the varieties, qualities and product life cycle, etc.
In 2001, Phyllis started adding value to natural resources such as the Moringa Oleifera tree, Baobab, Cocoa and the Shea tree etc. She now packages powders, oils, seeds, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, creams, baskets and even the hard woody layer of coconuts – the endocarp. Phyllis strives to improve and strengthen the entire value chain and bring African products to internationally acceptable standards. Via training and other interventions, she has engaged Ghanaian farmers, youths and other stakeholders.
Phyllis is not only talking the talk. By offering natural products sourced from her farm in Ghana, she is walking the walk.
Everything about the Moringa Oleifera tree is healthy and usable. The powder form can be derived from its dried leaves for consumption as tea, mixed with juice or yoghurt, or as spice in salad and soups. Oil could also be extracted from the seeds. The press-cake, a by-product during oil production can serve as cattle feed. Endowed with edible leaves and oils, Moringa is used to feed livestock across Africa. It is a cheap source and efficient method for feeding grazing animals. Moreover, after grinding Moringa leaves it can be used as a soil fertilizer or additive during irrigation.
Moringa is a vitamin-rich plant. Amongst other things, it contains 18 of 20 amino acids of which 11 are vital for humans. In a comparative study between Moringa and 1058 foods, Moringa scored higher proportions of vital substances (vitamins, minerals, amino acids) in almost all areas. To strengthen the immune system, ensure healthy joint function and good blood sugar levels, Moringa’s roasted seeds can be consumed in small amounts as a protein and high-energy dietary supplement.
In some regions of West Africa, many local doctors use Moringa to treat diabetes. In Senegal, some doctors prescribe Moringa powder to people suffering from weakness or dizziness. The powder is mixed with food to accelerate recovery rates. In Puerto Rico, traditionally an infusion of Moringa flowers is used as an eye wash to cleanse eye infections. Some local doctors in Guatemala crush Moringa leaves into a paste, then apply it to sores and skin infections. The bark itself can be used to accelerate healing of wounds.
"Ultimately development wished by ‘others’ is inferior and comes at a snail's pace, if it comes at all. If development is to prove sustainable across Africa, it must begin with and be driven by highly skilled and qualified Africans. Let us learn more and embrace the SANKOFA philosophy." - Melford