When I contemplate the devastation that we have allowed galamsey to wreak up our environment, a cold shudder runs through my entire body.
How can a people whose ancestors almost literally worshipped the environment, grow up to become such dastardly wreckers of their own environment?
Did our ancestors really “almost literally worship their environment?” That’s fetishism, isn’t it? At best, it’s “animism” – that is, endowing inanimate objects, such as trees, rivers and streams, with spirits so that they could be made to satisfy the superstitious susceptibilities of a “primitive” people?
Yes. Sadly, we have the missionaries to thank for the attitude that equates respect for the environment with fetishism. Now, some of the missionaries who came to this country during the colonial era did a splendid job, utilising their training as honest individuals, to try and sincerely understand the mentality of the people they had been sent to “win for Christ”. But others were racist and regarded their mission amongst such a “primitive” people almost as a penance, to be fulfilled only when everything the “primitive” people treasured had been razed to the ground.
Take out trees, for example. Trees are the most important possession of forest dwellers because, of course, they are vital in providing not only oxygen to breathe but also, in regulating the flow of the clouds that fall back to earth as rain. Anyone who watches David Attenborough’s programmes entitled “AFRICA”, especially the episodes that touch on The Congo, The Cape, and The Future, will obtain a very full explanation of what an important role the forests play in ensuring the survival of Planet Earth:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010jc6p/episodes/guide
Now, our people – especially their social leaders – had an instinctive understanding of the vital need to protect the environment. So they deliberately set out to clothe the most vital elements of their environment in mystical observances and rituals, so that the generality of the people would be afraid to break the laws and traditions evolved to protect the environment.
Days were designated to allow rivers and streams to recover from agricultural activity. And fishing. (The missionaries defined these as “taboo days” and implied that they were only designated as such out of superstition.)
If a person wanted to cut down a particular tree (like Osese) used in carving cultural items such as stools and drums, he would have to go through a process of apostrophising the “spirit” of the tree, so as not to be harmed when he cut it down.
As the “rituals” associated with apostrophising the tree were not common knowledge, only real professionals could cut down the tree, and it was thus preserved by being spared wanton destruction. People became wary of cutting down any trees “by heart” in case any tree possessed what anthropologists call a “numinous” or sacred quality. Trees to be thus “feared” and cherished were the aforementioned Osese (Holarrhena wulfsbergii) as well as Tweneboa [Kodua] (Cordia millenii), Afromosia, Odum and Mahogany.
Unfortunately, some of these woods, especially Odum, Afromosia and Mahogany, were so beautiful that they were targeted for export by the British colonial administration. What they did was first to get the missionaries to open a frontal, philosophical attack on the idea of regarding “mere wood” as sacred objects.
Even the chiefs, who were supposed to be the custodians of the culture of their people, were bribed with the benefits arising from “indirect rule”, to offer little resistance to this psychological assault. The colonial government set the seal to its effort to devastate Ghana’s forests, by setting up a fearsome Forestry Department (mainly manned by staff drawn from the non-forest regions) to demarcate so-called “forest reserves” (known to our people by the derisive name sofeya line) to which access was denied to all except “timber contractors” licensed by the Government.
Thus, by the time an indigenous Ghanaian government took over power at independence in 1957, timber exports had been locked into the Ghana economy as a principal source of foreign exchange earnings for the government. Desirous of what it called “accelerated development” of the economy at all costs, the indigenous government was not about to protect, for “sentimental reasons”, any “natural resources” capable of earning it revenue.
So, before Ghanaians knew it, Odum Afromosia Mahogany and other precious species of hard-wood, had been felled to extinction in Ghana’s forests.
It is important to note that the destruction of the forests by excessive commercial lumbering has changed Ghana’s weather pattern – and counting. The length of the rainy season; unseasonal flooding, through a reduction in the size of the forest cover; the destruction of the canopies of foliage that preserved Rivers and Streams from direct sunlight: all these are either directly or indirectly connected to the destruction of our forests.
And now, as if all that was not enough, galamsey has descended on us like Armageddon to provide the coup de grȃce to our execution by a self-inflicted firing squad.
Our already ravaged rivers and streams are being turned upside down/inside out, from their very riverbeds!
Simultaneously, chain-saw operators are killing every young tree they can find, that can produce furniture or charcoal.
This is a combined, lethal assault on our environment that will force our children and their children’s children to dwell in near-desert conditions.
When the full nature of what we have allowed to be done hits the coming generations, they will put their hands to their mouths and ask of us: “But why were they so stupid as to allow this to have happened under their watch?”
I cannot answer that question, for stupidity existed in the world before I was born. And it will continue to exist long after I have left.
But one thing I can say is this: we the citizens of Ghana must shake off our stupidity and realise that we have the right to protect our land and its environment. If the government under whose watch our country is being turned into a potential desert won’t do it, our people must agitate for their local leaders to organise and equip them into self-defence units that will chase the galamsey operators and the chain-saw gangs out of our ancestral lands.
For there is no law that requires a people to acquiesce in their own collective suicide. And suicide it is – not just of this generation, but of the generations yet to come, which depend on us to ensure that there will be some land left worth living on, when we conclude “our watch”.
Our fathers concluded their “watch” and handed us something worthwhile. What are we going to leave our children, if we continue to be so stupid, uncaring and unworthy of the rich heritage that was bequeathed to us?
By Cameron Duodu
Source: Daily Guide
Read more: Ghanaians Have No Reason To Disrespect Their Environment