Migration, Urbanisation and Evolving identities – The Story of Adedainkpo in Old Accra
By Gilbert Nii-Okai Addy December 2012
Adedainkpo in Old Accra – not many Ghanaians would know this today – was for over one hundred and fifty years, from the early 1800s to perhaps the 1950s , where nearly anyone who was anyone among the native African elite in the Gold Coast lived. It was for that entire period, effectively most of the British colonial period, the equivalent of East Legon in the scheme of the Accra of today. It was veritably the centre of economic, social , cultural and intellectual life in Accra and the British Gold Coast colony.
One may be able to catch a glimpse of this glorious history by the scale of most of the now sadly crumbling grand houses there. The houses were even bigger in some parts of Korle Wokon firther down Hansen Road from the Wesley Methodist Church and towards the old UTC Katamanto area.
Housing for most people in nearly all of the colonial Gold Coast during would have been most rudimentary – mud huts, ta few wooden or concrete houses and the like at best.
Adedainkpo , was where most of the educated elite of Accra and the Gold Coast lived and the entire area , before the later development of Adabraka and Kaneshie, was the economic, social and cultural heart of Accra.
In my primary school in Accra in the 1960s, although many if not most of the Ghanaian pupils there and then could trace their origins to Adedainkpo, I was the only one who physically lived at there because I lived with my grandmother as my own parents were out of Ghana for much of that time. As such I got to know the area very intimately. Now what most of my friends and colleagues knew as my grandmother’s house was and still is i in fact not her house at all but her great grand parents house. Yes, the house was originally owned by my grandmother’s own great grandparents. So I actually grew up in a family house in which I was in fact something like a sixth or even seventh generation resident, which coming to think of, is actually quite interesting. My roots in the area go back several generations.Now what , one may ask, is the import of all this ?
Well, what is not known by many is that most of the original Old Accra families moved out of Old Accra a long time ago with the development of new areas like Adabraka and later Kaneshie and others and Old Accra became the place for new migrants to Accra who were not Ga people. Ironically these parts of old Accra are still seen and often described as “ Ga
areas “ of Accra. Now, even back when I was a schoolboy living with my Grandma, because of decades of migration from other parts of Ghana which accelerated after the second world war with a growing economy and independence in the 1950s, the vast majority of people living in Old Accra -Adedainkpo, Korle Wokon, Swalaba, Akoto Lante, Ngleshie/Jamestown, Bukom – were in fact not Ga people at all -at least not originally, because most of the original Ga people had moved out !
The original Ga people may go back there for family social events like funerals and birth ceremonies but generally do not live there .There is an interesting book on the history of
the medical profession in Ghana by Dr MA Barnor available in Ghana. I bought a copy some years ago in Accra. The book shows that as recently as the early 1960s , before the founding of the University of Ghana Medical School, the vast majority of medical doctors in all of Ghana – not just Accra – were people with origins in Adedainkpo and Osu.
There was a huge house near my Grandma’s family house. Thus used to be referred to as the Fante house because the original owner and residents were Fante. Today – a few generations down the line- most of the original owner’s probably scattered descendants would almost certainly describe themselves as Ga.
In fact, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s-( now some forty to fifty years ago ! ) walking up from my home at Adedainkpo at the bottom of Asafoatse Nettey Road up to the Palladium Cinema and the Wesley Methodist Church and on to Swalaba and the Old Central Post Office, one would hear people speaking Ga, but one could also be sure that the vast majority of them, had only recently , that is in a generation or two, become Ga in terms of identity and culture.
Now Fast forward to today 2012. I go to Adedainkpo all the time when in Accra because of my obvious roots there and it is very obvious that there are even fewer original Ga people living there now. . Adedainkpo was the first residential development away from Jamestown/Ngleshie , the original British Accra. The two areas are contiguous and , as Accra has grown and expanded, are often conflated into one today.
Bruce Road is at the heart of Adedainkpo and Ngleshie /James Town, alongside others like Bannerman Road or Hansen Road on which is situated the iconic Wesley Methodist Church opposite the Palladium Cinema. The area also had the famous “ London Market” , not surprising for James Town ( the Ga name “Ngleshie” is really the local pronunciation of the word “ English” ) and also Royal School and Royal Park that was later transformed into the James Town Police Station.
The families who lived on Bruce Road and on nearby streets in Adedainkpo included the following :
• Addo, Addy, Akiwunmi, Amar, Amarteifio
• Baddoo, Bannerman, Barnor , Biney, Blankson, Blavo, Brown, Bruce, Brew, Bulley, Bruce Konuah,
• Chinery, Crabbe, Clegg, Devine, George,
• Hansen, Heward Mills, Hutton-Mills,
• Mills, Mould, Mettle
• Nanka-Bruce , Neequaye, Nelson, Nylander
• Odamtten, Ofosu-Amaah
• Quartey, Quartey Papafio, Quaye, Quaynor,
• Renner, Ribeiro,
• Tagoe, Thompson, Torto
These families and Adedainkpo itself, as a suburb of Ngleshie/ Jamestown , purely by accident of history and geography, produced most of the first teachers, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, judges and many of the other professional and skilled people who were instrumental in transformation of the Gold Coast to modern Ghana. From this perspective, one could argue that far too much emphasis is given to politicians and politics in the
historical narrative about modern Ghana and there has always been more to life in Ghana than just politics.
Interestingly enough, I happen to be a direct descendant on my maternal grandmother’s side, of the very first Bruce family in Accra.
A lot of people from all over Ghana – Fante, Twi, Ewe, Northern Ghanaian, Nigeria – have been moving into the area for decades and over the course of this period of fifty to a hundred years what was historically the most affluent and best educated part of Accra and Ghana has in many ways lost its original ethnic character in favour of a socio-economic class character.
Rather like much of Harlem in New York City, which was historically a middle class area and centre of education, the arts and culture generally, Adedainkpo has over the decades become a low rent , sadly run-down and decaying melting pot of various peoples of various ethnicities who invariably lose touch with their places of origin and often end up adopting Ga identity and being referred to blithely by others as Ga.
Evolving Social Identities
This brings me to the often conflation and confusion of ethnicity with identity. Especially in Accra today, due to the issues I have discussed above, a lot of people are Ga by identity and not necessarily Ga by ethnicity.
I earn my living working with facts and figures and I know this issue has not been researched ( I would happily research it if I would be paid to) but I would “guesstimate” that people who are today are Ga by identity vastly outnumber those who are Ga by ethnicity.
There are of course several conceptual and practical issues concerning the defintition and quantification of identity groups but I will leave those issues for some other time
I am however often amazed by the number of people I meet in Ghana and elsewhere who claim to be Ga but who , on getting to know them , realise that they only adopted a Ga identity fairly recently – say a generation or two ago , if even that.
An lot of “ Ga” people in Old Accra today , probably the vast majority, have non-Ga origins. Some adopt Ga names while others keep their original ones. A good friend of mine from the area who is an authority on cultural issues, tells me he knows a lady of clear non-Ga origin who is proudly called “Okailey “ and self-identifies as Ga. Well she was born in Okaishie and that is the genesis and basis of her name Okailey !! Good for her and for mankind ! Who can take her self-identity away from her or would dare try to ?
An lot of northern Ghanaians and Ewe people around Ayalolo, Korle Wokon and many other parts of the area , in the modern Odododiodoo electoral constituency have become Ga by identity chiefly because they have lost touch with much of the original ethnic cultures of their forebears.
It is the same with a lot of Akan Twi and Fante people. Historically many Akan people have become Ga over generations. Surnames like Asante, Prempeh, Acheampong, Osei are in fact fairly common among the Ga people . That is perhaps nothing new. What is definitely new I think is the increasing incidence of interesting and even bizarre hybridised Ga-Akan names reflecting the fact that increasingly many people are becoming Ga by identity if not ethnicity.
I generally don’t do Facebook though I do have an account but, possibly because of the “Nii” in my name Nii-Okai , I get many requests from people who want to be friends with me on Facebook with names like : Nii Owusu, Nii Boakye, Nii Amposah , Nii Atakora. In fact in this day of instant google searches, if you have a minute to spare just try googling the name prefix “Nii” with any Akan name you can think of and I would bet that you would find someone with that name on the net – on either Facebook or Linkedin or elsewhere.
Urban Decline , Regeneration and Development. Sadly there often a tendency to a decline in fortunes of any city area, especially what becomes known as the inner city. People move out to new areas for various reasons, and new people move in.
The old Adedainkpo and Ngleshie/Jamestown today , in line with the evolving socioeconomic dynamics of Accra, have both declined into pale and somewhat sorry shadows of their former glorious selves. Most of this former heart of Accra has seen tremendous urban decay, a decline in economic and educational opportunities and a growth in poverty.
This decline cannot be resolved by todays local residents on their own as access to resources, education and employment opportunities are very limited. There must be a joint effort by all including government to develop these neighbourhoods in the form of appropriate economic and social policies and programmes.
Worldwide, such programmes are usually formulated and implemented varying nomenclatures such as : Regeneration, Urban Renewal, Community Development, Neighbourhood Restoration. The important issue is that such programmes, in order to succeed, must essentially be partnerships between the government, the community and , critically , the private sector which is the best engine for much needed employment creation.
There is little point in developing new residential areas in a City like Accra without the development of cultures and mechanisms for maintenance since the new areas will also, in a matter of time, fall into a similar state of disrepair and decay. With the inexorable growth in urban migration from the rural areas to Accra, if the culture of maintenance and renewal is not instilled , most if not all of Accra, could end up as one giant slum. We are
already seeing sings of this in Accra and other towns and cities in Ghana and other growing cities in Africa.
This issue is in fact multidimensional with aspects such as urban development economic, social aspects. Essentially it is about housing, families, education, jobs, health, environmental management, social cohesion and all the other challenges facing modern Ghana. Addressing these issues will require a concerted multidisciplinary approach entailing the collaboration of the local residents as key stakeholders with business,
government and experts such as urban planners, economists, educationists , small business enterprise development specialists and vocational trainers.
The best time to act is now !.
©Gilbert Nii-Okai Addy
Gilbert Nii-Okai Addy manages a globetrotting work and lifestyle portfolio as (1) an
International Economist and Management Consultant ; (2) a Critic , Writer and Historian of
the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries and (3) a Classical Guitarist
You may follow him on Twitter at : https://twitter.com/gnaddy