Tragedy has once again hit our nation. Ghana’s most iconic writer-performer of poetry and cultural ambassador, Professor Atukwei Okai, has passed on. Media sources say Professor Okai died, aged 77, at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra on 13 July 2018 in after a short illness.
The man who, for 47 uninterrupted years, succeeded in transforming poetry from a dry, uninteresting classroom subject avoided by many a student, into one of the most widely embraced art forms pursued as a career by talented and ambitious youths. For this accomplishment, he is outstanding.
With his first collection, “The Oath of the Fontomfrom ‘, published in 1971, though, arguably, his best known collection, ‘Logorligi Logarithms’ in 1974 and later works such as ‘Mandela the Spear’, ‘A Slim Queen In A Palanquin’ and ‘A Pawpaw On A Mango Tree’, among others, he established himself as one of Africa’s most influential writers and artists.
The musicality of his poetry and his style of juxtaposing his native Ga and English made poetry come alive, endearing him to both, young and old.
The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture testify that Ghanaian culture has been made richer because of him. He Africanized the language of contemporary poetry. In the words of Professor Femi Osofisan of Nigeria, “Okai was the first to try to take African poetry back to one of its primal origins, in percussion, by deliberately violating the syntax and lexicon of English, creating his own rhythms through startling phonetic innovations.”
Indeed, Atukwei Okai was not just an extraordinary wordsmith; culturally he was an institution. In him all the beauty, the pomp and grace of poetry dwelt. Atukwei Okai became the other name for poetry in Ghana, spanning generations of younger poets who have learned to tread the path that he trod.
Ghana will forever remain indebted to him for being one of the nation’s cultural experts, an ambassador who represented Ghana in many parts of the world through the translation of his works into several languages, including Russian, Spanish, German, Arabic, French and Italian.
On the occasion of his passing, we are reminded of
Beyond the bright lights of the performance halls, Professor Okai was unapologetically Pan Africanist, a fearless social commentator, and a national critic. As a cultural activist, he was one of the pillars on whom the Ghana Culture Forum rested, a movement, whose efforts are contributing to pushing culture from the periphery into the mainstream of national development. Much earlier, in the 1980s, Atukwei invested his energies into growing the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) into a creative force. Throughout Africa, great minds were watching with admiration his works and performance. No wonder that in the fullness of time when, in 1989, writers of Africa got together under the banner of the Pan African Writers’ Association (PAWA), they did not look beyond Ghana, as its headquarters, and Professor Atukwei Okai as its first Secretary-General, a position he held till his death.
Ghana is in tears. Our hearts are broken and we would not be consoled. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Beatrice, and their five daughters.
On behalf of the government and people of Ghana, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture condoles the bereaved family and the larger family of Writers and Artists.
A great soul has passed. May his soul rest in peace.
In consultation with his family and other stakeholders in the Artistic and Cultural fraternity, the Ministry will, in the days ahead, roll out plans to give this great gift to Africa a befitting celebration of life.
V. OTTO LAGNMAGNE
AG. CHIEF DIRECTOR
Cc: Hon. Minister
Hon. Deputy Minister