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Akosua's Gift
Christian, Angela & Knowles, Kathy; Opare, Edmund (illus.) Akosua's Gift. Winnipeg: Osu Children's Library Fund, 2011. , ISBN 9780986838330 / 0986838330.

Note: Akosua, a young Ghanaian potter, makes a special gift for her sister's wedding. To order: http://www.osuchildrenslibraryfund.ca/publications/book-order-form/

Review

Akosua's Gift offers a simple story. Akosua's older sister is getting married and Akosua wants to give her something special for her wedding. As the daughter of a potter, she had already learned to make simple, small cooking pots. But she thinks that she needs to give her sister and future husband something more substantial and decides to make her a large water vessel.

Having watched her mother making larger pots, she knows all the steps, from digging the clay along the riverbank, to wedging it to make it uniform in texture, to building the vessel, to smoothing the clay and adding decoration. The final stage of firing comes after she lets the pot completely dry for five days. Setting the pot on the firewood she adds hot charcoals to build up the flames. She fans the fire so that the pot would will get extremely hot and become permanent. After the firing she was is quite pleased that her large vessel did does not have any cracks, a not uncommon factor with such firings.

The book is illustrated by Edmund Opare who delights in emphasizing the colorful textiles, typical of Asante culture, especially Kente cloth worn at the wedding. A charming element is the inclusion of Akosua's dog, Peace, which is featured in various poses on almost every page and accompanying Akosua at every step.

The book is published posthumously by Kathy Knowles who received the original story from Angela Christian, a Ghanaian who held various diplomatic posts. Akosua's Gift to my knowledge now makes three books that feature Ghanaian indigenous arts in children's literature. The other two are Brassman's Secret by Meshake Asare (1981) and Master Weaver from Ghana by Gilbert Bobbo Ahiagble and Louis Meyer, with photographs by Nestor Hernandez, 1998.

While pottery making traditions are waning in many parts of West Africa, due to pottery wares being supplanted by cheaper imported vessels, there are still active pottery villages where women continue to make vessels for everyday use which are sold in local markets. Making pottery involves hard work, especially in mining and wedging or mixing the clay, removing stones and other debris to make the clay a homogenous mixture. The forms are typically utilitarian, pots for cooking, pots for storing water, bottle shapes, large vessels for storage of grains, shallow bowls - all used in the daily household.

Indeed the history of ceramic arts in Africa is rich and offers evidence of ancient cultures throughout the continent. In some parts of West Africa, for example along the upper Benue River in Nigeria, ceramic vessels include figurative elements and are used in healing various illnesses. In Cameroon certain ceramic vessels with figurative elements are used in burial ceremonies. Also, in Ghana, ceramic vessels with portraits of a deceased individual were are made to honor the spirit of the departed ancestor.

Akosua's Gift is a delightful introduction to the art of making pottery which could lead to further exploration of the rich pottery traditions in Ghana, West Africa and Africa in general.

Published in Africa Access Review (March 12, 2012)

Copyright 2012 Africa Access



Rating: HR Grade: P / E Type: Book

Reviewed by: Veronika Jenke, Independent African Art Educator

Subject: West Africa / Ghana / Art / Pottery / CABA Notable