He is the one
who cooks his food in huge palm-oil pots.
Thousands of people have eaten,
yet the remnants fill twelve baskets.
If we leave all this, and go wandering off—
if we leave his great gift, where else shall we go?
Afua Kuma (1900-1987) was a well-known oral poet in Ghana who used her gift of language to praise the name of Jesus. Baptized into the Presbyterian Church with the name Christiana Gyan, she grew up under the teachings of Christianity, the daughter of Akan farmers. Later in life she joined a Pentecostal church, where she was encouraged to pray aloud during the services. In this setting, at the age of 70, she voiced her first spontaneous praise poem; the congregation was amazed and moved by the poetic skill and theological insightfulness coming from this elderly illiterate woman. For the next seventeen years of her life, Madam Kuma was called upon to recite her praise poetry in church and at prayer retreats and Easter rallies, leading her fellow Akan Christians in the worship of Jesus.
Twi oral literature scholar Akosua Anyidoho points out that Madam Kuma’s poetry bears many similarities in form and content to amoma, a genre of Akan praise poems recited to chiefs (75ff.). Traditionally, amoma performers are male court attendants who have been selected from specific lineages and trained in the art of fine language. Madam Kuma was one of the first women to compose in this genre, and not only do her poems break gender barriers, they also remove amoma from their court context and insert them into the realm of the church. Rather than praise earthly rulers, Madam Kuma’s poetry praises God in Christ, of whose court she is a member, and who alone deserves honor and glory. (According to her daughter Beatrice Fantoaa, Madam Kuma once refused the invitation of a chief who had invited her to perform his praises at the commissioning ceremony of a public building; she said she would not perform to honor a human being.) Continue reading