Several forgotten heroes and heroines of African decent has been intentionally wiped out from African and world history, one such forgotten hero we are going to talk about on this platform was a great African sage, teacher and a scholar who through his intelligence and sacrifices liberated African continent from illiteracy and ignorance. Very unfortunately, this great personality has been rebuffed by many Africans. The sacrifices and contributions he made towards education and gender equality in Africa was unprecedented and indescribable but it seems our educational system and history are not doing much to spread his name and fame to our current technological and fourth dimensional generation. Before we would go on to dissect a little that we could about this great Pan-Africanist, there is this particular point I want us to clarify.
Africa has produced several great leaders and personalities from time immemorial, these leaders really used their knowledge and wit to grace the continent of Africa, but it seems they have been forgotten. Our Educational system, Culture, Religion and Socio-Politico affairs has all been crippled by colonialism and European ideologies, and corresponding to such instances, most of Africa’s past leaders and great personalities had been wiped out from history. One such leader that many Africans have totally refuse to acknowledge his legacy was this unsung hero of Africa,“Dr.James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey”, He was truly one of the greatest intellectuals Africa has ever produced, he was popularly known as “Aggrey of Africa”.
DR. KWEGYIR AGGREY
Dr. Emman James Kwegyir Aggrey was born on October 18 1875 in Anomabo a fishing community in the central region of Ghana, He was a teacher, orator, sociologist, a father and a preacher. He was also known to be the pioneer of Education in Africa, a Civil Right and Gender activist, a Pan-Africanist, a sage and a Theologian. His parents were Okyame (linguist) Kodwo Egyir, a chief linguist at the court of King Amonoo V of Anomabo, and Princess Abena Anowa, a daughter of a great traditional herbalist. Aggrey was said to be the seventeenth child of his father and fourth of his mother, the third wife of Okyeame egyir, Dr. Kwegir Aggrey’s father had 21 children nine by his first wife, four by his second and eight by his third wife, who happened to be Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey’s mother. Aside Dr. Kwergyir Aggrey’s name, he was given a typical Fanti name beside James, his christian name.
His Fanti name was Emman Kodwo Mensa Otsiwadu Humamfunsam Kwegyir Aggrey, which means, Emman/oman, ‘Great city or a country’, Kodwo,‘a male born on Monday’, Mensa,‘third male child’, Otsiwadu, Du means ten so he was the tenth after Otsiwa’; Humamfunsam,‘an emperor or a great ruler, Egyir was the father’s name or the family name. A little revelation about the meaning of the name Aggrey was that, it is originated from an Akan word “Opusu” in English, it means Gurgling but the name latter became Gegley, during the colonial days, the Fanti’s who were predominantly fisher-folks found it very hard to pronounce an English name or word of this sort so because of this factor the Gegley became Aggrey that we know of today.
CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
Kwegyir Aggrey as a child was very much concerned about how women were educated in Africa and the racial prejudice and injustice suffered by many Africans. During the colonial era, the system only favors those who had access to the missionaries like Kwegyir Aggrey himself or children born to wealthy people, and because of this persistent educational predicament clouding African continent, he decided to be at the van of affairs to enlighten Africans.
His dream came true when he met Rev. Dennis Kemp, a missionary of the Wesleyan (Methodist) sect, he came from Barbados in the West Indies, Rev.Kemp landed in Cape Coast around 1888, he was looking to adopt some brilliant and intelligent African children to be trained as clergies, this was part of curbing the higher illiteracy rate at that time, another factor was to train some brilliant Africans to carry on the task of the colonial masters, on the contrary, Rev.Kemp wanted to sponsor 20 boys, because only boys were educated at that time, women on the other hand, were mostly condemned to accept kitchen and house chores as their only and feasible outfit. However, through this sponsorship deal, Kwegyir Aggrey got the chance to be educated. He and other twenty three boys were taught how to read, paint and other important subjects like natural science, home science and logic at the Wesleyan School in Cape Coast, now Mfanstipim school. Kwegyir Aggrey was so intelligent and imbibed in his books so much that he was often heard saying “I want to know everything”.
It was said that Aggrey could recite whatever he was taught at school such as the Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Thirty days hath September, the Multiplication table and many more, he was also a great lover of a staple Ghanaian dish called ‘fufu’, he was also the one who wakes up early in the morning among his siblings to start house chores such as fetching water from the well, sweeping etc. Aggrey also often excels in school and not lower than fourth (4th) in class, whenever he becomes weary when learning, he would tie a soaked towel around his head and sit with his feet in a basin of cold water, this deed later became a popular sleeping antidote to student in Ghana when learning.
Kwegyir Aggrey was an intellectual and a learned man and was honored with the following; a degree in Master of Arts (Livingstone College), Doctor of Divinity (Hood Theological Seminary), Master of Arts (Columbia University,USA), Doctor of Philosophy (Columbia University U.S.A).
HIS FIRST TEACHING APPOINTMENT
With the desire and the zeal to learn, he later completed Wesleyan mission school at the age of 14 and he immediately accepted a post as a temporary pupil’s teacher at Abura-Dunkwa, a town 25 miles from Cape Coast, with a monthly salary of 35 shillings. His influence on students and women during his days at Abura-Dunkwa really helped curb many illiteracy in the central region of Ghana. He notably advocated for the education of women and a stunch supporter of equal right, justice, human right and development of the African continent. He exclaimed his affection in teaching during his days at Abura-Dunkwa, he wrote this:
“In 1889 I was sent to Abura Dunkwa to teach a village school. I was a kindergarten teacher, primary teacher, headmaster and all ”. . . and yet looking back upon my life, if I had the chance to live again, I would gladly do it (teaching) again . .
Aggrey was also allowed to preach at the age of 16 by the Wesleyan authorities, that was when they conceived that he was truly a genius, he became Assistant Headmaster at the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School at the ripe age of 20. Aggrey took all the Teacher’s Certificate examinations offered by the Department of Education at that time, he also stood first among the 119 candidates nationwide, who entered the examinations, he became the only one who gained a second class. The certificate of distinction he obtained qualified him without further examination to teach at any school in the British Colonies in Africa .”The Legislative Council voted (NC30.00) 15 pounds in his favor for the purchase of books in appreciation for his abilities.
Cape Coast, the capital city of the central region of Ghana has started developing with awesome pace, construction of schools and other amenities were on going, the colonial or European architecture style were also used to build houses such us flats, bungalows, mission houses, banks and factories. Other entertaining hubs and social clubs like the Brass bands, masquerade or fancy dress clubs as well as boys and girls scout ,boys and girls brigade and the Y.M.C.A were becoming rampant in the city. Businesses were also booming, the Europeans and other African countries were flooding in to see the Gold Coast of Africa, the emergence of railway lines, gold mines, news papers and the using of machinery are also making the town a place to be. The speaking and teaching of English Language was in high demand, everyone in Cape Coast wanted to know how to speak and write this new language so that they could also fit in the system and mingle with the Europeans especially the British. That was when Kwegyir Aggrey was posted to Cape Coast to teach at the Wesleyan Memorial School or the Mfanstipim school.
Kwegyir Aggrey helped his new school to become one of the best schools in Ghana and still is, he also traded with missionaries by giving lessons to them in the Fanti language in return for lessons in Geography, French, Latin, Psychology and many more. Kwegyir Aggrey was also fond of inventing his own vocabulary, such us “In the tropics, nature excels herself in superabundant productiveness” and the other one is the tropician is satisfied on land, the frigidian, ever on the icy waters, he also used his own word for a certain Fanti instrument called ‘Tantaba ‘but Aggrey used to call this instrument a Tantanbulator. (note:the red fonts)
Kwegyir Aggrey also served in Fanti-Ashanti war, he worked as an interpreter for Colonel Sir Francis Cunningham Scott, a veteran of the Gold Coast Constabulary. In 1896, he was conscripted to the Telegraph Unit under Lieutenant McInnes and Captain R. S. Curtis, sources suggest that, he was made the field Marshall or Tufu hen in Akan language in his hometown Anomabo when he returned from his brief and brave spell in the army. He was also a fashionista because he mostly dressed like an European or British than Fanti, so most often, the youth used to imitate how he dresses, he had this to say about how people imitate his style of dressing.
“On the Gold Coast (Ghana) I was so popular that if I wore my hat over my right brow all the young men wore theirs in the same way. I did not know then that I knew nothing. From the Gold Coast I went to America, where I obtained two doctorates. Then I perceived that I knew nothing.”
Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey also became the time keeper and Secretary of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society. He carried about a petition against the notorious Public Lands Bill (1897). On one occasion, he walked in the course of a single day, 36 miles to Assin-Manso to send an important Telegram to London on behalf of the Society.
AGGREY IN AMERICA
Kwegyir Aggrey later got assistance from Rev. John Bryan Small on the 10th of July 1898 to travel to the USA to be trained as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, when in the USA, he worked hard to pay for his fees, books and accommodation, he also faced many prejudice when searching for a job, this statement was from him during one of his searching“ When I asked for work, they told me they had no work except for a devil. I begun to black my face more, as it is easy to do when you are using these hand machines. In 3 weeks, I was moved on to be a journeyman and in another 3 weeks, I was made a proof reader.” Because of his hard work he got plenty of work as an editor during his stay in the USA, this was what one of his employers called Mr. H.E.C Bryant said about him“He’s dark as dark, but very few in America can use English as he can. His articles go in without any blue-penciling”.
In 1902, Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey graduated with B.A honors and got his doctorate degree in 1912 at the Livingstone College, and later Hood Theological Seminary for Doctorate Degree. He also won a gold medal for English composition and another gold medal for general scholarly deportment. In the same year, he delivered a Latin salutatory during Commencement which in American colleges is the close of the term. He had earlier delivered the first Greek oration ever heard in the college. Aggrey was also appointed to become the first black Registrar and Financial Secretary, he then proceeded to teach English Language, Literature, Sociology and Economics. He also acted as Treasurer of the college athletic association, in 1923, Kwegyir Aggrey obtained his Philosophy Degree in Divinity.
BACK TO AFRICA
Aggrey was said to be a close friend of Gordon Guggisburg so in 1924, Kwegyir Aggrey came back home to help lay the foundation of education in Ghana and Africa, he was appointed by his friend Governor Gordon Guggisburg to become the Assistant Vice-Principal of the newly founded Achimota college. He represented the College at the Centenary Celebrations of Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, he had this to say about Achimota college amid the celebrations :“My case reminds me of a young girl who returned home from a party and told her father that a young man had kissed her. Her father said, “how many times did he kiss you?” She looked into his face and replied:“Father, I came to confess, not to boast.” He had come, Aggrey continued,“not to boast of Achimota, but to confess what debt Achimota, Gold Coast, owed to Fourah Bay College. Fourah Bay College stands to the Gold Coast as the symbol of the African’s educational capacity.
He came back to Ghana purposely to assist Gordon Guggisburg to map out some educational development plan to help the British colonies in Africa. Later he got a very challenged job that started the foundation of education in Africa. It all started in 1909, when a widow called Miss Caroline Phelps-Stokes stated in her will that, an amount of a million dollars should be used to educate Africans and the blacks in the United States, the North American Indians, the needy and deserving white students. With this big educational project, the sponsors needed a person with deep knowledge about the people of Africa, so he was chosen to be the one to take on the mantle of educating Africa. Through this program he managed to groom some leaders who would go on to become freedom fighters of Africa, such leaders who Kwegyir Aggrey mentored were Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, then president of Malawi, Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, and those who did not become presidents but people of greater status in Africa.
With such a hefty task on his shoulders, his new project and post as a commissioner of education in Africa requires a lot of travel and surely Aggrey traveled wide to countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia (1920), the Gold Coast (Ghana, November, 1920), Nigeria and Fernando Po (November to December 1920) Cameroon (December 1920), the Belgian Congo (January 1921), Angola (January to February 1924), Kenya ( February to March 1924), Uganda (March 1924), Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Zanzibar ( March to April 192) ,Nyasaland and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe April to June 1924), South Africa (June 1924), and back to the Gold Coast (October, 1924). All these places Aggrey went, he sow a seed of enlightenment, he really did help Africa to understand and embrace Education, and through him Africa flourished in world affairs, thus academically and intellectually and indeed he led Africa away from the ignorance and maltreatment of the colonizers. For this he had this to say in a letter to his wife:
“I can bear witness that turning the right check wins ultimately. Rightly does Shakespeare make the critical Iago – Shakespeare’s consummate Satan – the critic of critics, pay sweet-soul Desdemona this most excellent tribute: She holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than is requested.… I go forth, Rose, first to serve my God, our God Who has appeared to me by the side of the mountain and asked me to go lead my people away from the Egypt of ignorance and maltreatment … I go to serve my people.”
Kwegyir Aggrey was very intelligent and genius that most of the white colonizers used to baffle about his intelligence, during one public lecture, the whites were so amazed that, they couldn’t believe black man could produce an intelligence so high, this is what they said about Aggrey:
“Damn his color, he’s a saint.”His idea of education was the “All inclusive” type Secular education” was abhorrent to him; to him education meant the full development of the human personality. “By education,” he said, ” I do not mean simply learning. I mean the training of the mind, in morals and in a hand that helps to make one socially efficient. Not simply the three R’s , but the three H’s the head, the hand and the heart.”
Kwegyir Aggrey was so hotcake that, every organization wanted him to be on board of any function, and he acted with his full capacities either as a President, Secretary or Speaker during the following programs and conferences; the School of Theology and the School of Religious Pedagogy, First Congregational Church of Jersey Conference, Eastern Union of Students Volunteers Conference, the National Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church, Foreign Missions Conference of North America, Kennedy School Mission Conference, National Conference of Canadian students and the International Convention of the Students Volunteer Movement Conference as well as the British West Africa Congress.
One could ask, did he manage to travel and performed all these task peacefully without any mishap? the answer is he suffered various degrees of problems but he manage to sail through all. Noted of these setbacks was when he escaped a shipwreck on October 17th, 1925 and also in Koforidua, Ghana, all his belongings were stolen, this was what happened from Aggrey’s own account;“all my things were stolen including 9 suits, 25 shirts, trunks, a brand new suit-case, and 6 pounds 11 shillings in cash. They left one old trunk and my visiting cards…I lost very heavily, I can never restore some of thvaluables stolen, much less those above value, I determined not to give up, but move on to success”.
Kwegyir Aggrey also faced a lot of financial hardship in the U.S.A. He mortgaged his house in America and furniture for 500 pounds, he also sold his farm together with other property at a considerable loss. He lost over NC 3,400.00 on the transaction, all this happened getting to the latter part of his years but he stood strong to execute all that he has to do for his people.
KWEGYIR AGGREY’S FAMILY
A man who traveled so extensively like Aggrey also managed to have time to raised a family, he married Miss Rosebud Douglas a black American woman from Portsmouth, he weeded his wife on November 8th, 1905 in the U.S.A, they were blessed with four children, two boys and two girls namely; Abena Azalea Aggrey (1907), Kwegyir Aggrey jnr (1908) Rosebud Aggrey (1910) and Orson Rudolf Guggisberg Aggrey (1926).
KWEGYIR AGGREY’S DEATH
As the saying goes” No man will live forever on earth”, the life of one of Africa’s greatest son came to a sad end on the 30th July, 1927, in the United State Of America. He died of pneumococcal meningitis. His funeral was attended by the great, noble and ordinary at the Livingstone College and the funeral service was presided by Bishop W. J. Walls.
8 FAMOUS QUOTES OF KWEGYIR AGGREY
1.”I don’t care what you know; show me what you can do. Many of my people who get educated don’t work, but take to drink.They see white people drink, so they think they must drink too. They imitate the weakness of the white people, but not their greatness. They won’t imitate a white man working hard… If you play only the white notes on a piano you get only sharps; if only the black keys you get flats; but if you play the two together you get harmony and beautiful music”
2. “No race or people can rise half slave, half free.The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women.If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.“
3.You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys,but for harmony you must use both the black and the white.“True co-operation,” he said “involves a certain measure of equality – equality of opportunity, if not of actual political status.It means that each side has something to contribute – something more than braun on one side, brain on the other – to the well-being of both”.
4.”I am proud of my colour; whoever is not proud of his colour is not fit to live.”
“Keep your temper and smile,” he would say, “that’s what Jesus meant when he told men to turn the other cheek.“I have no time for revenge – That’s not African.“Some white people ought to be transformed to negroes just for a few days, so as to feel what we feel and suffer what we suffer.
5. “ Some people took to war; we took to love; some people took to hate: we took to song; some people took to anger; we took to laughter; some people took to despair; we took to hope. ‘ Patrol is going to get you; the bloodhound is going to get you; you can’t run as fast as the bloodhounds; what are you going to do, black man?’. In the darkest part of the night when everybody else might have despaired, we looked and we sang, long before our white brothers thought of an airplane, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me Home.’
6.No first class educated African wants to be a White man,Every educated Negro wants to be a first class Negro,not a third class European.The superiority complex is doing a tremendous mischief in Africa,When I am worried, I go on my knees and I talk to God in my own language”.
7.”I tell the southern people of America, with whom I have lived for over twenty years, that they have a special contribution to make towards the solving of the race problem, and of the civilization of Africa. They have lived side by side with us; they know our faith, our loyalty, our honesty, our sensitiveness; they know the things we prize the most: such knowledge should be used for the extension of God’s Kingdom”
8.”I prefer to be a Spokesman for my entire country: Africa, my Africa.”You can never beat prejudice by a frontal attach. Because there is mere emotion at the root of it. Always flank it. You can catch more flies with molasses than you can with the vinegar.”