Reflections on an encounter with Afua Akuma by Fr. Jon Kirby, SVD, Director, Office for the Missions Society for the Propagation of the Faith (San Diego, California, USA)
Good to hear from you. The material you are asking about is a compilation of the prayers and praises of Afua Kuma which I translated in the late 70s and finally published with Asempa in Ghana in 1981 under the title: “Jesus of the Deep Forest: the prayers and praises of Afua Kuma”. It has been through many reprintings both in Twi and in English. I have given away all my copies but I will send you a scanned copy.
Fr Kofi Ron Lange, another SVD priest who worked in Ghana and is a very good friend of mine and worked with me as our linguist at TICCS, was a close friend of Afua. He got to know her well and accompanied her to church jamborees and big church revivals at which she was invariably the main attraction. I was first introduced to her when I paid Fr Ron a visit in 1976. He took me to one of the wards of Holy Family Hospital in Nkawkaw, next to the church where he was pastor, and we found her there in the corner of an open ward of 30 beds praying for one of the patients. Everyone, literally everyone, including doctors, nurses and all the visitors who had come to see their relatives were gathered there around that bed. They were completely spellbound and couldn’t believe what we were hearing. Neither could I.
In the typical courtly language used by the most proficient of linguists in the royal palaces of the Asante kingdom, and in the typical machine-gun like staccato rhythm and cadences, and using proverbial snippets from Asante myths and hero-epics, and couched in the imagery of all the medicinal flora and copious fauna of Ghana’s lush forests, this little woman was totally wrapped up in her praising of Jesus.
I’ve never heard anything like it before or since. It was as if some saintly Asante ancestor had dropped from heaven and was sharing with us what the Asante saints were doing in the kingdom above. It was Asante Christianity through and through; and it was instantly recognizable to Bediako and all to Twi speakers.
What’s more, it brought on an immediate feeling of emptiness, of loss, of having been robbed – that all the ways we (in my Twi-identity) have been praying up until now, all the fine English hymns from the “Westminister Hymnal” or “Catholic Hymnal” and all the prayers from so many European prayerbooks by which we have been tutored in holiness suddenly felt like ill-fitting garments, the second-hand cast-offs, the obroni-wawu (white man is dead) clothing that has come to replace the magnificent kente cloth of our heritage. Suddenly there is this wonderful discovery and absolute certainty that this is the way God wants us to praise Him.
Kofi recorded dozens of sessions with Afua and I only translated some of them in that first book. We are now the process of doing another translation for the “global north” of the yet unpublished material with SPCK in London.
Here is a taster:
Let us run to Jesus, to be there at His side,
because no one is coming from the west
to fight and redeem us.
He is our commander—the general of the war.
We will stay with Him for He has a river[i].
He has a river that flows with milk—
a river of righteousness and great power.
The river surges with thunder;
it holds up a gun[ii] as it leads.
The priests and stars surround it.
Lightening blazes from its depths
brightly flashing and gleaming.
Fire shoots out from the front of the river;
the sun and the moon protect from behind.
The river flows from the rock of the saving mountain.
The river is flowing with the blood of Jesus.
If you drink from that river,
your life will never come to an end.
But one cannot go to drink of that water
only by one’s own power.
You need God’s permission for that!
First, you must go to the priests
who will wash you and anoint you[iii].
Only then will they let you drink.
If you go there without permission[iv],
the might of the river will turn your body to ash.
Why is it that the priests are not burnt
as they stand there before Him?
It is because the Lord has anointed them;
they are the servants of the River.
It is a royal river, and a highly honored one.
It is crystal clear as a mirror—
three times as big as the sea.
It does not flow over land or the earth.
If it were to flow on the land of this earth,
it would utterly fill the planet.
Then the earth would exist no more,
for the river would cover the earth.
The priests have made head-pads
to carry the river aloft.
The river is flowing all over the priests,
at times like a violent wind,
that churns and roars all around them.
But it does not blow over land.
When it blows over land, giant trees of the forest
are uprooted and hurled to the sea.
It blows high in the sky above all the nations,
because of its boundless power.
Sometimes it changes to fire
burning all around the priests.
But it does not burn on the land.
If it burns on the land,
all of the land will be burnt to ashes,
for it is a powerful fire.
If someone dare touch any one of the priests,
he has put his hand into fire.
Do no harm to the priests, for they are God’s people.
They are preaching the word of God.
If one simply listens, and has faith,
life everlasting, eternal peace,
and all His blessings will be yours.
If you believe, shout a loud “Amen!”
Fr. Jon P. Kirby SVD
Director: Office for the Missions
Society for the Propagation of the Faith
Diocesan Pastoral Center
San Diego CA 92117
[i] People would always establish a new village near a year around river or stream so as to guarantee the number one necessity—water. [ii] A reference to the loud fire-belching, muzzle-loading “Dane guns” or flintlock rifles that are still in use among the Akan hunters. [iii] Holy water or blessed water is often used by the Akan in the same way that they would use the medicine water of traditional practitioners—both for bathing and for drinking. [iv] Strong medicines and amulets have the power both to heal and to harm the person using them—especially if they are stolen or not used with the special knowledge and consent of their owners.
Booklet Jesus of the Deep Forest: Prayer and Praises of Afua Akuma” available for download:
Source: Email from Fr. Jon Kirby to Dr. Dana Robert, dated 1.18.2019