It's a baby girl!

Mwin-Bangfu Brielle Kuuyuor! The big family has a new member! Now it is the youngest.


First the chicken, then the egg, then the exhibition


After eight months and all sorts of hatching and preparations, I am showing a selection of my photos, texts and videos taken in 1989, 2019 and 2021 to a wider public. Together with the photo artist and lecturer, my good friend Oliver S. Scholten, I will open our exhibition on 2 September 2022. Everyone is cordially invited to come until 29 September. Actually, the exhibition should be on view until the end of October. Unfortunately, the space - a pop-up gallery that has been made available to artists for a good four years now - will be rented out unexpectedly from 1 October. Hence the corrections on our poster ... Forgive me. Of course we hope for numerous visitors, interesting conversations and of course a lot of fun. If you like, you can read a longer text and see some pictures in the newsletter of Photography in Berlin.


The funeral

It was a great challenge for me to document the funeral ceremony, which lasted several days. Even the 10 days beforehand were packed: all the women sat around for hours preparing tons of food for the mourners. More and more visitors from out of town arrived, and more and more helpers:inside. All the larger rooms filled with drinks, food, dishes and chairs - which were also labeled. The xylophones were repaired, as well as crumbling masonry and the dusty floor in the courtyard. Latrines were built, the field in front of the homestead was leveled. Already in Accra, Cynthia had to prepare the gifts with the domestic worker.

Nobody had time. Everybody was busy.


Das Bild ist von 1989. Als kleine Gaben für die Gäste gibt es Handgel ... Coronakonform.
Pigr's image I shot 1989. Now it is on the small presents for the guests.


Das Gel wird dann noch in ein schmuckes Säckchen in direkter Nachbarschaft zu einer Maske gelegt.
The hand gel will be placed in a neat little bag right next to a surgical mask.


In diese festlichen Tüten werden dann das Handgel, Taschentücher und Masken überreicht.
Hand gels, handkerchiefs and surgical masks are then handed over in these festive bags.


Genug Getränke für die Gäste
The many drinks for the guests are being delivered.


Der Rohbau des neuen Hauses dient als Abstellraum für die vielen Vorräte
The shell of the new house serves as a storage room for all the supplies.


Der Tonkrug gehörte einst Pigr. Er wird später zu ihrem Leichnam gestellt.
The clay jug once belonged to Pigr. It is later placed with her corpse.


Es mussten ungezählte Kilogramms an Zwiebeln geschält und geschnitten werden.
Countless kilogrammes of onions had to be peeled and cut.


Cynthia and Ruth take care of many tomatoes.


Plastikbecher werden alle mit dem Namen Kuuyuor beschriftet, nachdem sie einmal gewaschen wurden.
The young people had to wash and label the plastic cups.


Irene, Titus Frau, hat tatsächlich in fetten Kühlboxen viel gefrorenen Fisch mitgebracht aus Accra. Nun müssen die Fische gesäubert und ausgenommen werden. Eine irre Arbeit.
Irene, Titu's wife, has brought frozen fish in fat coolers from Accra. Now the fish have to be cleaned and gutted. A crazy job.


Alexis, einer von vielen Enkeln, die Pigr hatte, erneuert das Grab, wo vorher nur Kuuyuour zur Ruhe gelegt wurde. Seine Gebeine werden derzeit sicher irgendwo hier im Gehöft verwahrt, bis er zusammen mit Pigr wieder bestattet wird.
Alexis, one of many grandchildren Pigr had, renews the grave where Kuuyuour was buried in 1999. His bones are currently kept safely in the homestead until he is reburied together with Pigr.


Die Wand wurde schon für die beiden Toten geweißt. Vorher wurde sie noch einmal repariert und der Boden erneuert.
This is the place where the dead are laid out. The wall was whitewashed. Before that, it was repaired and the floor was renewed.


Das Tuch, in dem Pigr beerdigt wird, trocknet seit Tagen in der Sonne

The big shroud for Pigr has been washed and is drying on the wall since two days now.


Kuuim bereitet sich vor, um die Matte für die Tote Pigr zu knüfen.
Kuuim prepares to tie the mat for the Pigr. She is her oldest daughter and took care of her mother the last years.


It is already getting to be evening. The boys go out with the donkey cart to fetch earth for the soil remediation.


The women sit together pre-cooking almost until midnight.


Die Schuhe stehen schon geputzt bereit. Alle werden sich für die Feier von Pigr schön anziehen.
The next day, shoes are ready, shined. Everyone will dress nicely for Pigr's celebration.


Die Radiostation in Nadom, eine größere Kreisstadt, ist umgezogen. Wir gehen hin, um die Ankündigung der Beerdigung hinzu bringen.
The radio station in Nandom, a bigger district town, has moved to a new building. We go there to announce the funeral.


Die Beerdigung wird am Tag vor der Feier im regionalen Radio angekündigt. Fünf Mal.
The funeral is announced on regional radio the day before the ceremony. Five times in total. It only costs a few Cedis. The most important personalities and families are invited to come.


Die Xylophone stehen nun bereit. Sie werden fast drei Tage ohne Pause bespielt.

The xylophones are now ready. They are played at the funeral for almost three days without a break.


Surreal wirkt die nächtliche Szene kurz bevor Pigrs Leichnam ankommt.
The night scene shortly before Pigr's body arrives seems surreal.

Then came the big moment when the bodies of Pigr and Titu's cousin Gaapagr arrived at the homestead. Pognyang, Titu's sister, was buried with her husband. Just her picture will be shown. Pigr was taken into a room and laid on the floor. All the women went into the small hut and looked at the dead woman in silence. Pigr was washed, embalmed and dressed in a beautiful robe. The same took place for Gaapagr in his homestead. It was late at night when both dead bodies were laid out in the courtyard, only their silhouettes visible in the glow of many candles. Both were sitting on chairs. Then the drumming, xylophone playing and mourning began.


Die Frauen versammeln sich rund um die Tote und ehren sie still. Alle halten inne in einem Moment des großen Respekts.

The women gather around the dead woman and honour her silently.
All pause in a moment of great respect.


Vier, fünf Frauen sorgen dafür, dass Pigr schön angezogen wird. Hier zieht Kuuim aus einem großen Sack ein Oberteil. Es wird dann diskutiert, was am besten geeignet ist.
Four or five women make sure that Pigr is washed and nicely dressed. Here Kuuim pulls a top out of a large sack. The group discusses what is the most suitable cloth.


Die schon angereisten Gäste versammeln sich schon um zu trauern
All the guests and the whole family gather for the first time to mourn.


Pigr and Gaapagr are laid out in the courtyard.


Nachdem Pigr und Gaapagr angekleidet und vorbereitet wurden, werden sie im Hof hingesetzt. Das Trauern beginnt spät nachts
The women come to the dead first.


All the grandchildren light a candle for Pigr.


Viele Gäste übernachten nun im Gehöft. Ich schätze, es waren um die 50 Menschen, die hier geschlafen haben in der ersten Nacht.
Many guests stayed at the homestead for the next two nights. I estimate there were around 50 people or more. In the whole there came more than 500 people to the funeral.


No sooner had the sun risen the next morning than all the mourners gathered again in the courtyard and went back to both dead to honour them, mourn them and bid them farewell. Outside in the field, a tent was erected and decorated with great attention to detail, where Pigr and Gaapagr were placed inside from midday. Their belongings were draped around them: Suitcases, pots, fabrics for Pigr. Gapaagr had a bow and arrow, among other things. Next to the tent, the guests laid offerings for the family of the dead. Chickens and goats were tethered, bundles of millet and maize were laid down. The portraits I had taken of Pigr, Kuuyuour 1989 and of Ponyang and Gapaagr 2019 were placed in front of them. I was very touched by that.


Ein Zelt wird auf dem Feld für die beiden Toten aufgestellt und geschmückt. Hier werden sie zwei Tage bleiben.
A tent is decorated in the field for the two dead. Here they will stay for two days.




Die Gäste aus der Stadt werden im Haus verköstigt
Guests from the city are catered for in the house


Einige Frauen ruhen sich im Haus von Janet und Zumeh aus. Sie bekommen wie alle Gäste Hirsebier angeboten.
Some women are resting in the house of Janet and Zumeh. They are offered millet beer, pitó, like all the guests.

On the second day, there was dancing from the afternoon until sunset. And only on the third day were the dead buried.
The grandchildren and all the women honoured Pigr, they literally "danced" a straw mat for her until she was busted . The men finally laid Pigr in her grave. Again they danced and sang. Until the next morning. Until everyone was completely exhausted. Until all the guests went home. Only slowly did peace return.


Am nächsten Morgen sitzen schon die ersten wieder nahe am Gehöft. Hier wird Alkohol verkauft, ein übliche Szene auf Beerdigungen.
The next morning, the last and the first are back on the field. Alcohol is sold here, a common scene at funerals.


Früh morgens bleiben nur noch die Geier am Hof
Early in the morning, the vultures are the last to fly away, one by one.


The exhibition REMEMBER will be opened soon on the 2nd of September 2022. There I will how a documentary of my stay in Hiineteng, about 50 minutes long. Hopefully I can post the film soon on the blog or youtube or vimeo too.


Sheabutter - handmade

Collected - sheanuts

It can grow up to 300 years old and 15 to 25 metres high: The shea nut tree or African butternut tree. It grows in the wild and is found in 21 countries on the African continent (Guinea, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya). Where it is hot. The fruits are berries with large kernels, the shea nuts, which contain 50 percent fat. It is an important crop tree, but it does not make it easy for the beneficiaries. It is difficult to propagate, flowers at 20 years of age and does not reach its full yield until it is 50 years old.

Janet, Tina's mother, and Aayarkum are in the process of processing the shea nuts they have collected. The production is not only laborious, but incredibly exhausting. Step 1, of course, is to collect shea nuts around the homestead. There is no plantation. They free the berries from their pulp, dry the nuts, then water them, let them dry again. Then they have to be laboriously crushed. Not a pure joy at 40 degrees, even in the shade.


Watering the nuts is the first step
Janet goes with the nuts to the neighbours to pound them there in the shadow


After the pounding the nuts look like red soil

One help is that there has recently been a mill within walking distance where the crushed shea nuts can be ground. The women had to do this work themselves as well. Water is added to the flour and the women start to make a pulpy, reddish mass out of the mixture by vigorously rolling it. To free the fat from all unwanted parts, water is added again and the fat is skimmed off by hand.


The mass of the sheanuts porridge is rolled for a long time until the right consistency is reached


The mass now has the right "density"

It seems like a miracle when the lardy, tall shea butter finally turns slightly yellowish, almost white. In order to sell it or use it for cooking, the women let the fat melt in the sun, harden again and form small balls. Shea butter can be stored unprocessed for up to four years, even in tropical heat. The women here cook with shea butter, they also use the fat to care for their skin or they sell the shea butter and earn a little extra money. Compared to the effort involved, I would say it is too little.


The shea butter is almost ready. The mass is melted again in the sun, then cooled down again. The shea butter balls are then formed from this.

For a small ball they get just 2 cedis, for us it is only 0.01 Euro. It is difficult for them to calculate how many hours they need to have the shea butter ready for sale. They say they cannot sell their product more expensively because there is too much competition. "All women make shea butter," Janet says.


The women of the homestead brought their finished fat balls, the shea butter, in the late afternoon

Titus comes by and buys all the shea butter from the women and explains to me afterwards: last time, Chinese people came, took everything and didn't pay a single cedi. He will take the large quantity (difficult to estimate how many kilograms there were) back to Accra, use it himself, give it to friends and acquaintances, maybe sell it. Titus has it packed in large sacks. Unfortunately, I cannot say how much he paid.

In the interview, Titus said that he had arranged for 100 shea trees to be planted so that the women could have a more sustainable local economy in the long term. He thought out loud: There are six villages around the district town of Fielmong, including Hiineteng. If the concept he is now testing for the Kuuyuor homestead, maybe it could be scaled up to all villages. Even though it will take a lot of time. The 100 shea trees have been decimated to 67 by animals and other circumstances and, according to Titus, could bear fruit for the first time in about 5 years. Now they are to be protected with fences against greedy goats and cows. He wants to apply for funding from foundations and start his project for all villages. "But it will take a lot of time," Titus already knows.

It would be worthwhile to intensify the production of unrefined shea butter, but at the same time to organise distribution for the women. A kilo of shea butter ordered via the Etsy platform, for example, costs a good 17 euros. Here, the women get at most 1 euro for a kilo.

I am very curious to see where Titu's idea will lead. His uncle, Aloysius Denkabe, formerly an English professor at the country's largest university Legón University, is also toying with the idea of initiating a more profitable economy in the north.



Ernestina and me on a great mission

You might think that people who live in the country always have a little time to spare. Unlike stressed city dwellers. In fact, Ernestina and I had to make a great effort to do our interviews, because our chosen interviewees were very, very busy. In addition to the many daily chores, there were the intensive preparations for the funeral, the many sleeping guests and the visits to several funerals in the vicinity.


Ernestina prepares for the interviews, sitting at her mother's house. The yellow canisters will soon be filled with millet beer for the many guests who will come.


I actually wondered how it was that many of the family, especially the elders, but also Titus and younger ones often went to funeral services in Nandom, Fielmon or other neighboring villages and homesteads. I thought, hmm, maybe some Corona victims after all? Then, finally, the paper penny dropped with me: Since, after all, many relatives live in cities and regions, some in other countries, many funerals don't take place until many months later, so that everyone has a chance to come. So the deceased stay in cold storage until then their burial takes place.


Iib, Ernestina's eldest brother, is known to play the xylophone well. He just starts his motorbike and goes to a funeral to play for many hours.


The Christmas season is anyway the time when families come together. Even for those who do not belong to any church, it is the time of fellowship, when the Bagri Festival is also held in Jirapa, Lawra and Nandom, in the whole Upperwest region. Everyone finally gets together, neighbours visit each other, millet beer is drunk, food is eaten together and news is exchanged. After Christmas, there is dancing, singing and drumming. I already know it from 2019 that the xylophones are also put in shape and put to a lot of use. This year, the delicate instruments have long been repaired and retuned. Bagri, for those who worship ancestors and belong to the nature religion, is a cult that is believed to have the power to "cleanse" the earth and the people again. Above all, it is great fun.


This xylophon is in need of a good care. Perhaps it was taken to various funerals, among other places, where many musicians then play on them. They do not always come back in one piece.




The calabashes, which give the xylophone its sound through sealed small holes, are often spoiled. The thin membranes must always be tight, hence the lengthy repairs. Titus told me that often kids just Titus told me that children often drill their fingers into them for fun ...


Saatuore, Titu's eldest half-brother, is responsible for the instruments.This xylophone was still built and maintained by his father Kuuyuour until he died in 1999.


Titus watches his half-brother doing his handiwork, then checks the sound of the instrument, playing a bit. His young admirer by his side is probably one of his younger nieces or even a grandniece.


The first person we were able to interview was Dery Aadaryeb: he is now the eldest of the extended family and Titus' direct cousin. It's hard to estimate how old Dery is. Certainly in his mid to late 70s. He lives in a homestead with his two wives Lucilla and Olivia and his offspring just a few hundred metres away. Like most of the elders in the family, these three family members do not speak English and never went to school. Ernestina asked the questions in Dagara and then translated the answers to me one-to-one in English.

Dery has been a farmer all his life. But he too migrated seasonally at a young age, living for a time all the way south like many other younger Dagara. Eventually he had to return home to help his father Lanidune on the farm when he could no longer manage the work alone.



The interview situation was very relaxed. Dery felt that neither of us was pushy. That was important to us. Overall, a familiarity and closeness quickly built up: after all, I'm not a stranger here, and that certainly accounts for the quality of our research. As we talk to Dery, Baaba, a half-brother of Titus, joins us. He listens, and from time to time he contributes. Especially on the subject of agriculture. That makes the conversation all the more exciting.




I could not take my eyes off this still life "Posters and Chairs". The ensemble magically attracted me the whole time. Baaba is one of Kuuyuour's younger generation descendants who continue to live as subsistence farmers here in the north.



I ask Baaba and Dery to sit on the sofa together for a photo. Fascinating and at the same time very practical how the power lines are also used to store notes.


We spoke to Lucilla right afterwards because she happened to have time. She is Dery's first wife and has four children with him, but they all no longer live and work here. At that time, 32 years ago, she was the only Christian in the family and still remembers well how we both walked to church together on Sundays. I was very touched that she still had so many memories of the time of my fieldwork. She remembered exactly what she had cooked for me. She firmly believed that I had saved her life with a medicine. In fact, she was very sick and I was able to help her with antibiotics.


Lucilla and Ernestina right before the interview. It is the first time she meet and speak to one another.


Lucilla is a very nice person, shy. Like many of the elderly she doesn't know her age exactly. I think she is in her 70s.


Ernestina and I always went through all the question guides I had prepared, partly already in Berlin, then in Accra, again together. We openly discussed with each other what information we would like to collect and with what goal. It is very special that I know many of the members of her extended Kuuyuour family - especially the older ones who lived here in 1989 - better than she does through my stay as well as through the many interviews from back then. That makes it exciting: how will Ernestina take everything that is told? What will she think of it? There are four focal points: Life story, family, education and agriculture. We were also asked about changes, visions and happiness. What was exciting was that neither of us had ever experienced a large funeral, as had her siblings and many of her cousins from the city. So over these many days of preparation for the funeral, the curiosity, the excitement grew in all of us.

My office. Outdoor and simply furnished! The good thing was that in the dry season, mosquitoes never flew around me. And I always had all kinds of distractions during a pause for thoughts, whether animals, children, women shouting something to each other across the yard ... Quarrelling cocks that I could watch fighting over a hen ... So many wonderful still life that captivated me. Just no internet. But I didn't find it dramatic at all, rather soothing.


A simple office. But I loved to sit outside and watch around.


One afternoon, two roosters were fighting over a pretty hen. For almost two hours. I was then no longer able to follow which of the two won.


The children often went with the donkey cart to fetch heavy loads, such as new soil today, which was then needed for the farm renovation.


Ransford liked to sit a little apart to listen to music or watch YouTube, depending on how the reception was at the time. The sofa was covered with new fabric a day later.


This handbag looks really precious. I loved it.


This dogs zoo is standing upside down.


The dog got tired after learning for a test in English.


Somebody is cooking an egg and his phone in the sun since two days  :-)) Both items should be done now.


Outside in the shade it's too hot at midday. So I like to move to my cooler office - with a ceiling fan and a good desk!


Our third interlocutor was Ernestina's father, Zumeh Kuuyuour. He lived and had a large farm until a few years ago in southern Ghana, in the Afram Plains, but then moved back to Hiineteng to live again with his wife Janet and mother of Ernestina. She had returned to the north years earlier. So she had the opportunity to consider her questions, to change others.

We had to disturb Zumeh during his nap in his new chair and ask him to come inside. This was the only way to have a reasonably trouble-free interview. I was completely in love with this chair, to me it looked like something from the 1920s, Bauhaus style. I would have loved to have packed it up and taken it home.


Such a wonderful stool.


We interviewd Zumeh in his new house, where the hut once stood in which I had taken a room in 1989. In 2019 it was only a ruin. Now there is an imposing brick building with four rooms. One of them serves as a living room and meeting place for the family council, among other things. The room is empty except for a heavy set of couches and a narrow bench with dishes. The style of the seating furniture is similar throughout the country; in Accra, it can even be bought at the roadside.


This is the small house where I had a room 1989. 2019 I just found the rest of it. The cube in front is Kuuyuour's grave from 1999. It has been excavated and his remains are protected somewhere. This is because the grave is being redone for Pigr's funeral. Then the couple will be buried together.


Here you can see the big new house and the place where the new grave for Kuuyuour and Pigr will soon be built. A lot has happened on the homestead between 2019 and 2021. On the right, here is Zumeh's wifes house.
Here the eating utensils are placed, here you can see small pots with liquid millet porridge, sugar and water.


I experimented with technology, e.g. recording the interivew with the iPhone or Lumix and the recorder. Then I gave it up because I thought: No, I'm not a professional audio-slide-video-storyteller yet. It was too exhausting for me, all at once. It was better to concentrate on the stories. There are maize and millet on the table, Zumeh showed them to us to describe what the farmers grow and harvest here. After the interview, Zumeh puts on festive clothes - the smock - shines his shoes and has his picture taken in the big armchair. But because the light is nicer outside, we also took another photo in front of his house.



We were also able to lure Ernestina's mother, whose Christian name is Janet, out of her house, although she was busy. She lives in her own four walls, like all the women in the homestead. The men always have their own huts or houses. She has six children with Zumeh. Two sons, four daughters. The youngest is 16 years old.

Janet's storage room.

It was very emotional to see Ernestina interviewing her mother.

After Zumeh and Janet, we grabbed Sornyine, the next Kuuyuour brother in line: Francis is his Christian name, Sornyine is his Dagara name. We managed to do a total of 14 interviews by the time of the funeral, all of which were about an hour long. We sat together with some of those I had already interviewed in 1989. And now with their children, family members from Ernestina's generation.

Francis or Sornyine also had a lot to tell. Like Dery, he did not live here as a young man, but had migrated to the south. He too had to come home to help his father Kuuyuour on the farm, today he has taken over his father's land.


Ernestina really enjoys listening to Sornyiene. They laugh a lot after a while. Ernestina forgets to translate at the end. I just let them both talk, the moment is too beautiful to push myself to the fore. Later, Ernestina summarises Francis' stories for me in English.

We were soon able to persuade Nuo to take a break. She was sitting on the ground at her house and was finishing a straw mat. Earlier, she had also helped for a long time to tamp down the courtyard floor. In the background, her grandsons and granddaughters lie listening to what we ask Nuo and what she has to tell. Nuo, the second wife of Titu's father, is probably the oldest of the women and of the family as a whole. She is certainly over 80 years old. Sometimes she walks around the yard with a long stick, sometimes without. One thing is certain: she still works everywhere. Even when the women repaved the ground, she helped for hours and only allowed herself a bowl of millet beer during the break. Talking to her was very important because she could describe well how the funeral would take place, how life was when she was younger.


Nuo gave birth to 10 children, is still hard-working despite her old age, very reserved and rarely makes an appearance.


The children find it exciting to listen to us. Nuo is the only one we ask about the rituals and the course of the funeral. She has to laugh when she tells us that all the children, grandchildren and other female descendants of Pigr have to dance together and Ernestina has to gulp at first. "I don't know any of these dances," she says.


Cynthia, Sornyine and Aayarkum's daughter, was the youngest of our interviewees with her 18 years of age, and she was busy throughout the day: Fetching water, cooking, passing the food or millet beer, helping to renew the soil, looking after children ... Never a dull moment. She was often very tired.


Here Cynthia shows me how the 2021 harvest is stored: on the roof. You can see maize, dark and light millet, peanuts drying.

Erenstina and Cynthia take a short break together after the interview. Cynthia has great trust in her cousin, even though they don't know each other that well or have lived together in one place. What they tell each other, I don't know. They speak Dagara to each other. It is a very beautiful, peaceful sight in my room. Although there is a lot of activity outside because of the preparations for the funeral.


It is a contrast observing Cynthia in Titus' house in Accra when she is working there. But fact is: the way of cleaning the peanuts is like in the village done on the floor.

We also had to persuade Cynthia's mother Aayarkum to take time for an interview. She was busy weaving or making the basket that will serve as an ornament for her mother-in-law's funeral.


I was then able to talk to Ernestina and finally Titus in Accra only one day before my departure, at 6 am. A person with little time and always busy ... Not only before a funeral. Also in Accra, because there he has to do everything in a very short time before flying back to Harare and not coming back anytime soon. The UN transferred him from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe in 2020, which he was noticeably happy about. Life in Adis Ababa was probably not so easy. I will certainly want to write a separate post on his life and vision. Patience, please.

We have 16 interviews, two of which Ernestina has already transcribed (thanks for that!). I have a folder with photos and one with video recordings for each day in the village and then for Accra ... I-Phone and big camera ... Still sound recording atmo ... It will take time, dear readers, until this beautiful, colourful and moving mountain, if not a mountain of material, can appear before you as a panorama. In addition, I still have the more than 20 cassettes with the analogue recorded conversations from 1989 ... Goal: these are to be digitised. Vision: The blog will be continuously maintained and updated with the latest family events. A book will be created to replace my master's thesis, which was designed with photos and translated into English. A kind of living family biography. After all, we did not work scientifically, but rather journalistically and very familiarly! The freestyle will be either a photo exhibition and/or a thick photo book. I am curious myself!

At the moment, I'm very concerned with what role I actually have or want to take on. What am I allowed to show, what am I allowed to write? It is by no means a matter of course for me. I need time for that too - for an examination of myself and a dialogue with Titus, Ernestina and others from the family. What is too personal? What is suitable for the public? What remains foreign, what is familiar? These are questions that concern all ethnologists.


The cover of the book that I brought to the family in 2019.

Cracking peanuts in a big round

Now that many have arrived from near and far, the homestead and all the individual households are filling up with young, old and adult children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many other relatives of my adoptive mother. Titus gathers the younger ones in the evening. Benches and chairs are put together and again and again the round is extended. In the middle are boxes of soft drinks and two more large bowls of unshelled peanuts. A carpet of sound weaves itself from cracking bowls, giggling and murmuring. A happy gathering that night. Only the teenagers, who grew up in the city and never lived in the village, seem to have to get used to everything, are still shy. Some of them don't even know Dagara anymore, but only English. They understand Dagara, but cannot speak it. Like Ransford, Titu's son. Some are only here in the north and in the homestead for the second time ever.

Titus addresses each of the children in turn: "What's your name? In a low voice, the children answer, at first quite reservedly. Then Titus asks, "And what is your Dagara name?" Sometimes he reaps silence, asks, and it always comes out that really all of them have a Dagara name, which like mine - Nmingmale - has a special meaning. Titus later explains to me that he wants to make sure that the children and young people know the roots of their names, even though they mostly just use their Christian names. Titus' younger and older brothers all sit in the round and explain the origins of many of the names, especially if their bearers don't even know them. It remains a happy coming and going for a good hour and a half until dinner time arrives and the round disperses.
I experience Titus relaxed and fun for the first time that evening, despite all the turmoil and effort surrounding the upcoming funeral. I sense a sense of community, of everyone's joy at being a part of this large family. Especially the older ones like Zumeh and Francis are clearly enjoying having the homestead full. So much offspring. So much life.

About marches, a market day and much more

I am walking to the market in the early afternoon when suddenly a Harmatan wind gust catches me: Lots of dust! I was the dust! A bit spooky, this whirlwind. I had already walked a good three kilometres from the homestead when Baba and Vitalis, two nephews of Titus, overtake me on a moped and recognise me at once - no wonder. I am the only white person here far and wide. The three of us ride close together on the short seat for the last three kilometres to Fielmon. It's a relief to feel the wind.


I love to be a co-pilot


The dusty road, but a precious red earth


It is becoming more common to see ladies on a bike


Dense crowds at the market in the small village, which takes place every five days. For me, after four days of being with only a few people on the homestead, almost only interviewing and photographing or filming, it almost triggers a city feeling - so many people! There are noticeably more locals from Burkina Faso in Fielmon, as the border is only a stone's throw away. Noticeably more shop assistants and customers are Muslim. There are also mosques in Fielmon now. Thirty years ago there was not a single one. Many women wear headscarves and long dresses. In Ghana, about 18 percent profess Islam, between 60 and 70 percent Christianity (but there are countless African churches), and about 22 percent of the people believe in traditional religions (according to Wikipedia).


Entrance of Fielmon, the moschees always are nicely built

Hardly anyone wears a mask. Even I forgot to put one on at first. No wonder: since I've been in Ghana, I don't listen to the radio, read Twitter or watch the news. Corona has moved far away - stayed somewhere in Berlin. Hasn't been packed!

At no point during my three weeks in the country was I able to assess the state of the pandemic in Ghana. I can't listen to the radio or do any research on the internet, and no one around me knows for sure. It is only Titus, his wife Irene and his son Ransford who wear surgical masks when they leave the homestead. Ransford said that Africa, and therefore Ghana, had experienced and overcome Ebola, and that Corona was no big deal. The Ebola pandemic broke out in several West African countries in 2014 and was not overcome until early 2016. West African populations would have adjusted quickly to the pandemic during the first lockdown. In Ghana, by the way, a Chinese vaccine is being used. Ransford reports about a teacher at his school who went to China for a job. He had to stay in quarantine for a fortnight and basically this time was like a prison stay. He is simply not allowed out and is served his food through a slit ... Somewhere in China. Ransford says something very true: when you suffer, someone at the other end always benefits from your suffering. So it would be with the effects of the Corona pandemic, there would certainly be people who would have no interest at all in an end to the pandemic, because they would make quite good money from it. It was actually the first and last time I talked about Corona in the homestead.

Back to the market bustle, where I meet Ernestina and her sister Eunice and sister-in-law sitting in the shade. They are munching on Cosí, fried cakes made from bean flour. Extremely tasty and crispy. A large bowl costs only five Ghana Cedis, not even one Euro, and that almost fills four people.


That is one corner of the market where the women cook cosí and sell that delicious food


Cosí are tasty and rich of proteins


The market sells just about everything that people need for their daily needs, even tools for farming or bike repair, pots and pans and plastic dishes galore. There is electricity and even internet, motorbikes parked everywhere, tricycles used as taxis or mini-trucks and bicycles on the side. Many women sell iced water, ginger drinks or soft drinks. Even though the market looks chaotic, everything has its order: in one row only cereals - mainly rice, maize and millet - and many, many peanuts. In the next aisle, onions without end. Here and there leafy vegetables and there oranges, pineapples and maybe avocados, mangoes (but it is not the season in December). Then we follow the smells of spices to turn into the street of beans in every shape and colour. Paradise for me in parallel: lots of tomatoes. Then we find the stalls with noodles, oil, soap and fabrics as well as new and used clothes. Many, many bags with quite funny prints hang everywhere and turn in the wind. In short: a shopper's paradise for everything from A to Z.


Onions, pepper and garlic in abundance


For young and old soccer fans


A typical view on the market place


It's not easy to climp up the mountains of corn, peanuts and sorghum


Compared to 1989, the market has expanded like crazy. I remember the few stalls that offered only narrow strips of shade and advertised equally "narrow" goods. Most of it was on plastic sheets for sale. I remember being amazed that even tomatoes were scarce, onions lay in pathetic heaps. Finding powdered milk or Nescafé was a sensation. I usually had to buy it at the Sunday market in Nandom, where it was always a big market day on Sundays. There I stocked up on oatmeal and cigarettes (I was still a heavy smoker then!). I was all the more surprised one day when I saw a shiny new Aldi bag for sale at a stall, into which I fantasised about cheese, dark bread, chocolate and wine.

Surely these bags had found their way to Upper West Ghana with one of the many young Ghanaians in a van bought as cheaply as possible. He had probably been able to buy it in Germany after years of - perhaps illegal - residence. Many of these young men were and are called "burgers" in Ghana because they mostly lived and still live in Hamburg, work in the harbour or on construction sites, and then can afford a big second-hand car, load it up with plastic bags or other durable goods and ship everything as a giant package to Ghana or cover the long distance to Ghana and through the desert themselves. Most of the trottos (large-capacity taxis) that drive around Ghana come from Europe. Many from Germany, Holland and England.

Finally, my shopping fit nicely into a backpack: five plastic pots of local, ujdn delicious peanut butter for 15 cedis. a few tomatoes for around two cedis. Nothing more. The others had bought a sleeping mat, lots of leafy vegetables and tomatoes too. We slowly made our way back to cover the good six kilometre walk before sunset. In a rather spontaneously set up "pub" I invite my three companions to drink something cool with me: beer and Maltaguiness. It tastes even better here in the dusty north than in Accra or Berlin.


I am addicted to tomatoes


I had to buy huge pots of peanut butter, a order from my daughter in Berlin


We are hardly seated when an older lady in a beautiful dress joins us and immediately starts a conversation with Eunice next to her. Where did I come from, she asks in Dagara, "That white girl there." Eunice explains that I'm Kuuyuor's daughter, who came all the way from Germany for the funeral. "Oh, a white daughter," the woman marvels, stands up and stands in front of me, "Then you are my niece, because I am a relative of Pigr." I am amazed as to why I have a niece who is much older than me ... The four of us laugh a lot on the way home and are sure that everyone in the village and beyond will soon know that Kuuyuour has a white daughter. My pub bill for two large beers (there are almost only 1 litre bottles in Ghana) and two Maltaguiness is only 20 Cedis, about 3.33 Euros. I find it cheap, but certainly expensive for locals.


My "niece" and my beer

After all, a monthly average income is around 330 euros (source), but there are also figures that say it's only 2,049 euros a year, or 270 euros a month, (source). Or figures like this: A teacher earns only 100 euros per month, a doctor (entry-level salary) around 670 euros per month, and the rent for a two-room flat e.g. outside city centres between 50 and 80 euros, but in the city centre 662 euros (source among others is a blog of a student from Germany who did an internship in Accra here ). The main problem with the rents is that they have to be paid one to two years in advance. Hardly manageable for many. In short: It is not easy to find the balance between income and expenditure in a country like Ghana.

On the way home, we pass large posters announcing the funerals of a woman and a man on the road in front of the homestead of the chief of Fielmon. The many bikes, mopeds and cars testify to the fact that the funeral is big and many mourners have come. Eunice explains to Ernestina and me that respectable people must have died, so many mourners. She also suspects that her grandmother Pigr's funeral would be similarly large. She had lived to a very old age (reportedly 107 years), she said. "We are allowed to mourn and be sad, to cry and lament, but we also have to celebrate life," she says, "to sing and dance." I'm starting to think that there will be around 500 people at the three-day funeral.


This is a poster hanging nearby the road to announce the funeral. Here it is at the chiefs house of Fielmon


This was a funeral too for a lady that died in the same family


That is then a full parking place ...

We slowly walk the 6 km back home. It is a wonderful sunset. Silence. The four of us laugh and gossip a lot. Ernestina complains that she has to walk far too much and begins to take funny videoclips.


The path winds through the fields, the small stream of water as well


Ernestina's sister-in-law manages to balance the shopping on her head and make a casual phone call.

Here are some other impressions of my market day in Fielmon.


Not annually, but regularly, the floor of the courtyard is retreaded. This year it is necessary to get rid of the sand and dust before the funeral, so that the many mourners do not stir it up and so that they are received with dignity. The walls and floor of the place in the courtyard where both dead bodies are laid out must also be renovated. For this purpose, a mixture of earth, cement, cow dung and water is prepared and spread on the sand. All the women from the various households of the extended family help to pound down the spread - even those who have arrived as guests before the funeral even starts. To do this, the women stand next to each other and walk backwards, tapping. Three times this procedure is repeated in the course of a whole day. Only once does the group of women take a break and treat themselves to millet beer. Even the oldest, Nuo, who is over 80 years old, manages to do this hard work all day long. Meanwhile, Cynthia looks after the smaller children so that the mothers can help in peace. After one day, only part of the yard is finished. The women will spend a total of three days renovating the courtyard together until the "plaza" looks like new and, above all, the wind is not constantly blowing all the sand everywhere.

Short interview with Ernestina Zumeh

Verena: I would like to introduce you as my colleague. Can you tell me about your childhood, your education?

Ernestina: My name is Ernestina Zumeh. I was born in Ghana, Eastern Region and I am 23 years old. I grew up there. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies (Journalism) from the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra.

Verena: What motivates you to join me and realize ROOTS together?

Ernestina: It is a privilige to work on ROOTS with you this time around. I see it as a privilege because its enlightens me about the history of my extended family long years ago that I didn' know about. I am very excited to cooperate with you. I am willing to give in my all to make sure the project will be successfull.

Verena: Which are the topics you are interested in?

Ernestina: My area of interest about the project and research is to find out from the elders of the family how things are going with regards to managing the family. And what are the greatest challange which might hinder the development and the growth of the family and the next generation.

Verena: You think the individuals will like the idea too?

Ernestina: Yes. I am very sure that they will welcome us wholeheartedly.

Verena: Did you ever experience a funeral in the village?

Ernestina: No, I have never witnesses any funeral in the North before.

Verena: What are your expectations for the funeral?

Ernestina: I am very curious. I cannot wait to see how things are being done from bringing the body from the martuary, laying her in state and the performance of the final burial rights.

Verena: You have any ideas how the funeral will be?

Ernestina: From the look of things, a lots of people would love to attend the funeral. My uncle told me that around 500 people could come during the three days of celebration.

Verena: What are your expectations about our project?

Ernestina: I hope that at the end of this project I will be able to know more about my own family history that I did'nt know before. So I look forward to learn more of my Dagara culture and background. And how it has envolved over the years.

Verena: Thanks Ernestina.

Village life

At one o'clock in the morning, very punctually, the rooster beats his wings on the ground and crows a first time. At the latest at three o'clock and more and more often until six in the morning. Then the day and the light rise together. The cows moo and want to get out of the fence into the open air. The goats bleat, the dogs bark, the pigs grunt, the guinea fowl coo. The younger women begin to sweep the yard, and the heads of household make a first round of door-to-door checks to see if man and beast are well. The day has awakened. In December, the harmattan - the haze season - brings with it wind, desert dust and sand that settles on everything like a thin layer, creeping into the nose and irritating the eyes. Corona masks are not that bad, they protect against viruses and dust!


The sunrise is always punctual
The sunrise is always punctual


Cytnhia gets up first and sweeps the yard every morning



But by no means is everyday life at the homestead idyllic. Rather, it is laborious and tedious. It is a good 150 meters to the water well, and the younger women and children pump up the precious water in large quantities every day and haul all the water they need for the day to the farm. For cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and also for bathing. In the brick house where my room is located, there is even a shower and a toilet. But the water only flows when the big water container on the roof is filled. If it is empty: No water! To wash my long hair now and then, I had to ask for a little hot water, mix it with cold in a bucket and then shower with a calabash. Worked great and was a treat. It is a terrific development that there has been a well and clean drinking water for some time. Not so long ago, water had to be fetched from a stream, far away and of course not very clean. Thirty-two years ago, I would not have been able to use the water even to brush my teeth. And I remember that at that time I drank only unfermented millet beer without worry, because it is boiled for hours. No bacteria can survive there.


Still some families must walk long distances to get clean water
Still some families must walk long distances to get clean water


The younger children nowadays all go to school, which is in the next village, Chebogo, about a kilometer and a half away. The school looks quite desolate, almost neglected. Nevertheless, it is progress that all children now have the chance to attend school. This was not a matter of course in 1989 or until ten years ago. Of my adopted brother Titus' generation, there are some relatives who cannot read or write, speak little to no English. Even some of his nephews and nieces were not sent to school until they were eight or nine years old. That's how Vitalis, who is now 25 years old, told me. He described how he herded cattle and worked in the fields as a child until he was allowed to go to school. If Titus had not persuaded Vitalis' father, he would probably never have attended school either. Today, Vitalis is studying economics in his second semester at a technical college in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city. In the interivew with him, it became very clear: It is very difficult and it requires a lot of discipline and courage as well as, in addition to the parents, relatives who support and fully or partially finance the school education. It is a rocky road for young people in Upper West Ghana to get to university.

Until it gets dark, there is hardly a time when work is not going on here in the courtyard. The women are busy making straw mats or baskets, walking to the mill to have corn or millet ground, cooking, washing ... Very laborious is the production of shea butter, which takes a good three days. Brewing millet beer, called pitó, is no less tedious. Both activities bring the women a small income of their own, even if it is not a huge sum. Rather, one could say the effort is hardly worth it. A small scoop of shea butter costs 20 pesewa, which is not even three cents. A whole bowl hardly brings more than 50 Ghanacedis, which is less than 10,- Euro, too low a wage for the much and very exhausting work. Later, after sifting through my material, I will post a video that will show HOW MUCH work it takes to make shea butter. When it is market day in Fielmong and every five days the women bake Cosí. These are fried balls made from bean flour, really delicious. This also brings a little cash to the women.

It is not until six o'clock in the evening, when the sun dips down on the horizon in one go, that peace returns, the cows patter back into their stalls, the goats are rounded up. The pigs lie down in the puddles, where the shower water always collects and the washing-up water is poured down. So everyone has his place for the night. In the dark, the women prepare dinner: Usually there is T-zet, prepared from corn or millet flour. It looks a little grayish, has a firm consistency and is eaten with different sauces. In the morning, coco porridge is drunk, it is also made of millet or corn and, liquid and warm. The food is not particularly varied ...

The men are always served, the women continue to work until they go to bed. When neighbors still come or the men of the family sit together on narrow benches, there is still chatting, discussing or the next day or currently the upcoming big funeral. There seems to be an endless list of things to do. When the power is not out, the light from a tall lantern bathes the entire yard. The children are still romping around, playing catch or chasing the goats. The little puppy is all over the place looking for playmates and running after the kids. Out of the darkness, stomping can still be heard, one of the girls is preparing food at this late hour. The coals are still glowing on the stove. If you go out a bit, the stars shine brightly. One of the little pigs still grunts, then it becomes quiet. I could remain like this for hours and watch, simply observe, no more and no less. It is completely sufficient.

Travelling to the ROOTS

At two o'clock in the afternoon we start by Uber taxi to Accra Main Station, where the bus leaves for Nandom in the Upper West Region. The traffic jam on Saturday afternoon is again legendary. For a few miles we need an hour! On the spot, the hustle and bustle is as hectic as it is colourful. Those who travel by bus always seem to have a lot of luggage with them - wherever they are going: mattresses, televisions, huge plastic bags, cardboard boxes and much more. Everything is stuffed into the luggage compartments. You might think it all takes forever, but the bus leaves on time. The temperature of all passengers is taken, but very few wear a mask. Compared to Berlin and Germany, Covid19, Corona, vaccination and booster vaccination, incidence figures and discussions about how best to stop this fourth wave are not an issue here at all. In Accra, many people wear surgical masks, but I don't see any FFP2 masks. Well then. Strangely enough, I still feel safe.

It would have been a dream if the bus, as announced online, only ran from 4 p.m. to 2.35 a.m. to Wa. But I know that this is simply not true. To be honest, it took us 17.5 hours to cover these 800 kilometres. The worst thing was not the long drive, but the fact that a church service was transmitted via all loudspeakers - forever and ever. One of those enlightened and self-appointed pastors who shout their beliefs into the microphone. I guess they think it has to be that way to be convincing. I thought I was going to die. When it was quiet for half an hour .... A blessing. But then the TVs were switched on and a nigerian soap opera was on all night, with no less scrambling characters. It might be that this would then be interesting if I could understand Twi, but so for me it was only gibberish and loud. Sleeping was out of the question. Although I thought I would not be able to endure this drive, Ernestina and I ended up in Nandom, about 20 miles from Hiineteng. Titus and Ransford picked us up in the now red dusty Highlander. They themselves had also arrived only a few hours earlier after a long crossing. So it is not surprising that Titus is now taking a nap. I haven't even greeted everyone yet. The family is totally busy with building, cooking, washing ... I don't disturb anyone ... It's a good feeling that no one is making a fuss about me. Ernestina has also disappeared into the cottage with her parents and siblings. I go in search of a bucket of water to take a shower.

It looks like two years ago, the landscape dry, the earth scorched. On Sundays, everyone dresses up to go to church, to walk or to be driven in the three-wheeled taxis. The homestead has changed, where the little house once stood where my room was in 1989, a big house with several rooms has been built. So everything is developing here. I have already said hello here and there, but have retired to my room to catch my breath. The journey is now starting for me a second time.


Making off - the travel begins

Hiineteng is over 800 km away from Accra, but from there it is only a few miles to Burkina Faso. On German motorways, without traffic jams, you would cover this distance relatively quickly. Here it's a little different. In 2019, it took us 22 hours. This time, Ernestina and I will take the night bus to Nandom, where hopefully someone from the family will pick us up. I have never travelled such a long distance by bus here. Three days ago there was an accident, nine dead.

Titus has already left with son Ransford and niece Cynthia, the car packed to the roof. But it was pretty exciting until they left. The tonne of cargo needed for the funeral ceremony - from water, to gas stoves, all the gifts for the mourners, rice sacks and what else - was to be brought north by a hired truck plus driver. Unfortunately, the driver suddenly cancelled. From noon yesterday, we had to find another solution, i.e. a truck and a driver. The tension lasted until 11 o'clock in the evening. I felt so sorry for Titus. What a stress. But all's well that ends well. A truck plus driver left at 4 a.m., Titus and Co then around 5:30 a.m.



Yesterday the power was off. This happens almost every day, but not quite as long like more than 8 hours at daytime. So I was glad that I could recharge all my devices overnight. Today I once again draped all my technology that I think I will need as a still life on my bed. Crazy, isn't it? I am very excited to see how I will use it and if I will use at al . Sometimes I think, oh, better just try to photograph, to film and to record everything. Without much technology ... It will be difficult to have access to the internet anyway. To be on the safe side, I got myself a box  with a sim card from Ghana and a bunch of gigabites flatrate, but that won't help if there's no connection. So it may well be that I can continue my blog sparsely or even it won't be possible at all to post anything.



Ernestina arrived here yesterday - with three fat bags. She is also taking all kinds of stuff for her mother, sister and children and her father. I, on the other hand, have really small luggage.



She was very happy about the blog. We haven't got around to discussing our plans yet. The most important thing today, before we get on the bus, will be to check the recording equipment, the interviews and discuss our plans in detail once again.


How the story shall be told

A first prerequisite is that we ask all family members, neighbours and villagers on site for their permission to interview them and to record the conversations, to photograph or film them. It should be transparent and comprehensible that our material will be shown publicly and accessible to many people, including strangers. Everyone should be able to decide whether he or she wants this at all.

If everything works out, Ernestina and I will ask family members of different generations, places of residence and professions in Accra and Hiineteng to tell us their life stories, to talk about themselves. Ernestina will translate for me, because especially the older people in the village speak little or no English. They should describe how their lives have been and are going, describe their childhood and their experiences as adults. I would like to hear from them what role the family networks play for them and what holds such a large family together.

Ernestina and I will simply participate in everyday family life: observing, photographing and filming. When I come back, I will link and condense the many kilos of material from 1989, 2019 and 2021, and I will continue to work closely with Ernestina to do this: My goal is to possibly create a photo-text book. If possible in English, so that the Ghanaian family can also read it. Everything is an experiment. For sure, the funeral in the village will be an event that will be exciting and new for me. Funerals are one of the most important family and social celebrations in Ghana. Titus has been organising them for weeks, with the help of his wife Irene, his sisters and nieces.

This blog, so the plan, is to grow during my trip, and later to be further populated from Berlin. And it would be great if Ernestina and other younger family members take over my part of collecting memories and events in the future, keep the blog going, "fertilise" their roots and keep the family networks growing.

Of course, only if they wish and feel like it. There is still a long way to go.

Kuuim, my eldest adoptive sister having a look into the photobook I brought as gift for the family

A grant - a big luck for ROOTS

My journey and the project are made possible by a grant from the Neustarthilfe Kultur of the Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort (VG-Wort) and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM). It's a privilege these days to get such research funded and to be able to be creative completely independently. I am very grateful for that indeed.


Flying and arriving

It was the first long flight since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. The preparations already showed that travelling has become complicated and costly. A plane ticket and visa are not enough. There are forms to fill out online, QR codes to scan, an expensive test to take before the trip, and so on and so forth. I fulfilled these duties mostly cursing. But then the flight with transit in Brussels was almost a piece of cake. Especially as the plane was quite empty on the first leg.

But boarding and the 7-hour flight to Accra were different. Close together in the queue during boarding, then close together in the rows of seats. It was scary despite the booster vaccination, but whoever travels today has to take risks. Just push away and the pilot came in for a landing. My passport was checked about six times. And everything went quickly. It seemed to me that Corona was a job engine in Ghana. So much staff is involved in checking the vaccination certificates, forwarding them for testing, as testers, as forwarders again and then as checkers if someone is tested, then as helpers to retrieve the test results ... Wow. Finally the waving through, and everything went well. I really must say, exemplary. A safe journey.


First car that I saw in Accra! Fits to me - really!

Titus Kuuyuour and his son Ransford picked me up. Soon we were stuck in the usual Accra traffic jam again. Things were only moving forward by the metre. You can't say that the drive from the airport to the outskirts of the city in the Madina district flew by. But it was not boring. As usual, the main streets were one big department stores'. Without getting out of the car, you can buy pretty much anything wearable or edible from the street vendors at the car window in Accra. I often wonder how many kilometres these people cover a day, how much they earn - walking alongside the cars and standing in the exhaust fumes.


Even Queen Elisabeth arrived in Ghana. And Titus clock remembers me to stay positive!!!


Now it's time to settle in: It's over 30 degrees, humid. It has snowed in Berlin. I get quite drunk from the many familiar and yet again unfamiliar impressions. I was warmly welcomed. Now everyone goes about their work, especially preparing for the funeral in the north. The pile that is being taken away grows and grows every hour. It is impressive what things are being organised, bought and packed. Cynthia Kuuyuor, a niece of Titus, helps to bag everything. She has been living in Accra for a year to finish her schooling. Before that, she went to boarding school in Wa, the district capital in the northwest. Titus finances her education here. In return, she does the shopping, cooking and cleaning, and of course helps with the preparations for the funeral. Probably about 500 to 900 people are expected to come one by one on the three days of the funeral. They will be entertained, they will all get a memento ... And amazingly, on the printed silver bags it says that Pigr, my adoptive mother, turned 107 years old. Very old indeed. The portrait I made 1989, 32 years ago when I first stayed with the family.


Lot of Give-Aways for the guests of the funeral ... And in times of Corona: Tissues, masks and handdesinfection.


The portrait is from 1989, I DID IT!

A project of the heart

ROOTS is intended to continue the oral tradition of storytelling and my knowledge from previous stays and interviews from 1989 and 2019. There have always been close ties between me and my family: for Titus Kuuyuour, my adopted brother and translator in 1989, has always kept me informed about important events in the family. We both have a close friendship. He is my brother, I am his sister.

In 2019, I met Ernestina Zumeh on my first visit to the North West in exactly 30 years. She is Titu's niece and I have been her "Aunty" ever since. I will involve her in the project from the beginning and she is keen to join me in the project. She recently graduated from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Even though she is a Dagara, she only knows her father Zumeh Kuuyuour's home village from the 2019 visit, because when she was little, her father and Titu's eldest brother migrated permanently to the Eastern Region. Here, farming was more profitable and farm income more secure. Ernestina grew up as a teenager with a foster mother to complete her schooling in an urban environment. She had not seen her parents for years, from 1999 to 2919, and only recently in Hiineteng. So I am not the only one who will ask curious questions: Ernestina, now 27 years old, wants to know more about her roots, her family and life in the village.


Ernestina interviewing her uncle Soniyne, she listens a lot of interesting stories of the family


Ernestina, her father Zumeh Kuuyuor and one of her sisters. Her name is Patience


Past, present and future

Now my adoptive mother, her name is Pigr, has died. I will travel to Hiineteng to attend her funeral ceremony. A cousin of my adoptive family has also died. Both will be buried on the same day. I am sure that I will meet a large part of my Ghanaian family on this occasion. And I have a goal: I want to talk to many of the family about their roots, their experiences and visions. I will continue to piece together the family history puzzle that I started in 1989. At that time, I reconstructed the genealogy of the extended family, starting with the ancestors born before 1900 and showing the migration movement during colonialism. That was quite an adventurous undertaking. I want the family history not to be lost and to help keep memories alive and roots alive. It will be interesting to find out if and how life, work and family ties have changed from the point of view of the family members, but also what has been sustainable and remained stable over the last three decades.

That is Pigr in 1989, she put on her best cloth she had for the photo session

What ROOTS is about

ROOTS is meant to be a starting point to develop a deeper understanding of people who still live as subsistence farmers in an area where the soil has been depleted for decades. I also feel a great need to continue telling the stories of old and young family members, to learn more about farming, work and their life together, about their faith and about visions for the future.

Why do I have a family in Ghana?

I was adopted in 1989 as the daughter of the then eldest of a lineage in Hiineteng/Ghana: Kuuyuour Zinige. I lived with the family (four households) for several months to carry out a field research as part of my ethnology studies. Kuuyuor gave me a Dagara name, Nmingmale – which means I am the work of God. God sent me to them from Berlin to Hiineteng. And it was then God's work in his eyes that I stayed safe and healthy during my ethnological fieldwork with the support of the extended family.
I designed my master's thesis as a book, and my daughter Line translated it into English. My desire in 2019 was to present the family the results of my fieldwork – the genealogy of their lineage.

A really big lineage

I have a big family. I could never count how many relatives I have and many of them I have never met in my life. Some live and work in a remote village in the northwest of Ghana, Hiineteng, some in Burkina Faso. They belong to the ethnic group of the Dagara, who live in the three-country triangle of Ghana, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Traditionally, they are subsistence farmers, as they were before the colonial era. However, many now work as teachers, tailors, traders, labourers, engineers, university professors, doctors or even as disaster managers for the UN. I am very excited. Because soon I will be with them and I will meet many family members again or get to know them for the first time ... In Ghana!

By the way: I myself am a Berliner, author, photographer and ethnologist, born in Mexico, raised in Brazil and German. And I have a whole lot of other relatives, biological relatives. If I were to count them all ... My grandmother had five siblings, some of whom had many descendants. In my generation - on my mother's side - I have quite a few cousins. For the most part, I don't know them either, at most from seeing them at traditional family celebrations that were and are regularly organised. The group photos of the extended Behrend family and all the descendants are indeed extensive. A broad panorama spread over Germany and Brazil, even worldwide. In Ghana, all the Behrendts would simply be my brothers and sisters. Or cousins. Mothers and fathers. Aunts and uncles. No linguistic distinctions are made between first, second or third degrees of kinship.