BEKWAI — To be an inventor, that is, to be a scientist from Bekwai in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, from the perspectives of white colonialist, neocolonialist, imperialist and racist Western agenda, is to be a chimera. Not only is one’s critical intelligence called into question, but one is conceptualized, ontologically, as a problem, a problem whose legacy and humanity, from the perspective of white normativity and hegemony, is placed seriously in doubt.
But to be an inventor and a preacher, that is, to be a scientist and the founder of a religious sect – albeit one that is based surreptitiously on a controversial book, the Bible, especially after only a basic education at Kensere Methodist Basic School and a stint at the Ghana Technical Institute in Kumasi – from the preconceptions of white supremacist ideology, is to be a whimsical apparition of contradictions. From the telethesia of western narratives, not only are science and technology not a part of the African consciousness, but the west in general have come to believe that religion, except for a ‘dark’ pagan voodooism, has never been before dreamt, formulated and performed by Africans.
Kwadwo Safo Kantanka, born to Mrs Amoanimaa Safo and Mr Yaw Safo, is this chimera. This man, since he was outdoored in September 1948, is the embodiment of this walking contradiction. A revolution against an oppressive normativity not only in the performance of thought but in the apperception of an African consciousness in science and technology.
However, to understand the African man and to pinpoint the source of his motivation, we ought not to look elsewhere but into the doctrines that define the Kristo Asafo Church (Christ Reformed Church), which he single handedly founded. To unearth how a Ghanaian, without help, without the financial resources and without the will of a nation engineered the first authentically African made commercial automobiles, one must first peel away his skin.
One finds, the deeper one digs, how blazingly and beautifully darker it gets. Kwadwo Safo has managed within the pared down space left behind by the stripping away of Traditional African Thought – a vacuum created by the cutting away from Ghana, of the intellectual traditions of Africa’s more than 12,000 year history and experiment in civilization and a void that is vast expanding into the social, political and economic foundations of Africa’s bold past – to fashion an authentic reading of a strange book. That is, the Bible.
There is God, and there’s is no God. That is Kwadwo Safo’s reading. But I am doing the man a disservice, even a dishonor, if I end here. He proves quite effortlessly from the Genesis texts, which his church has adopted as one of the religious books of choice, that God is nowhere found but on Earth. The vision goes, that we “are all gods… nevertheless,” we “shall all die.” [Psalm 82: 6 -7].
To express this godliness, Kwadwo Safo believes strongly in happiness (in rhythm). Not just any rhythm, but soul train music. He believes that any song that moves the soul is in worship of the Almighty and a proof that the Almighty Himself resides within us. Any music that moves the soul moves God and fills the temple of God within each and every one of us. He strongly believes that those who use the Bible to restrict life and the flow of natural energy are wrong. Such restrictions in life only turn people into paupers of the soul and of the world. Such people resort only to envy others.
Kwadwo Safo’s interpretation of Genesis 2:7 is illustrative. He pleads that “When God created man and woman, He said, I have created all these things for you. Take it. However, when you have children let them take these to glorify me.” Kwadwo Safo poses the question to an attentive congregation, “Why do we become kings?” If not that we should enjoy everything that the Lord had made for our nourishment? “Some would say we shouldn’t put our hands on this, our legs on that, while in the meantime foreigners come into our nation and take our resources?”
“We allow others to come and tell us what to do in our own homes,” referring to the popular teachings of the Bible by mainstream churches. “They come and tell us we shouldn’t drink alcohol and smoke, but go to their homes on Christmas day and see for yourself. Alcohols of alcohols and smokes of smokes. Their women dress daintily with their carefully lit lipsticks, cautiously applied manicures and pedicures and come and sit in the church like angels. But they tell us that doing the same is against the will of God. Our women should dress in ankle touching skirts while their women impress their men in miniskirts and tight clothing.”
Kwadwo Safo insists that beauty is a gift of God and that our pulchritudinous African women with their callipygian physique must be adored and encouraged. He uses the story of Mary and Baby Jesus to great effect in explaining his stance on embracing African esthetics. He insists that the mother of Christ, Mary, is an example of God using the most beautiful vessels for his work – as in Mary taking seed with God. Or so says the Bible. “If God likes beautiful things, and if we are the children of God,” Kwadwo Safo continues, “then men and women are required to love beautiful things. Why allow others to come into Ghana and take all the great resources we have and leave us the crumbs from the table?”
“We deserve the best things in life. Why? Because we are the children of God,” sums up the central dogma of the Kristo Asafo movement.
Still, the most profound interpretation of the Bible by Kwadwo Safo is his reading of Mathew, chapter seventeen of the New Testament. The biblical text, although there’s no historical record to back this tale, states that Jesus went up to a mountain with Peter, James and John. It is said Jesus met with [an apparition, or a ghost of] Moses and Elias, who are well known to have been both born of man and woman (unlike Jesus Christ who the Bible claims was born of God and Mary). During this transfiguration, a voice thundered from the heavens—at this point the disciples were not sure whether this voice belonged to Moses or Elias or God.
Most Biblical readings, church leaders and scholars on this subject choose the voice to belong to God alone. But Kwadwo Safro disagrees. He contends that this is the voice from both Elias and Moses. Kwadwo Safo claims that it is the disciples who would later interpret this voice as from God. He claims the disciples were wrong.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
Now, Kwadwo Safo holds that if Moses and Elias can declare to the disciples that Jesus is their son, then Jesus must be born of man and woman and not the Holy Ghost. To bolster his reading, he asserts that even Jesus told his disciplines once: “Let us go, for the people of the Earth are coming, if it were left to me alone they wouldn’t be able to touch you, so let us run.” His clarification here is that if Jesus were God, he wouldn’t be afraid of the people of the earth.” Exactly where he finds the passage in biblical texts is debatable. Excerpts from the book of Enoch seem to corroborate his view, however.
But, it is at this very point where Kwadwo Safo deviates from the doctrines of mainstream Christian thought greatly. He argues that anyone who comes to Africa to preach anything different is a liar. Such people cannot wish for the uplift of African society. But if Christ was not born of the Holy Ghost then his transformation, on the day of baptism, is also possible for all of us. Whatever has happened, whatever we are born of, we are all capable of the sort of transfiguration Jesus experienced.
Therefore we can all become the Christ – we are all gods!
This in effect defines Kwadwo Safo and his mission. This extends his core belief about himself and his congregation. This belief sits carefully at the fulcrum of his belief that Ghana, and in fact, Africa is capable of a social, economic, scientific and cultural transfiguration that can catapult her through the canvass of soul rhythms into great and greater heights.
In many ways, Kwadwo Safo has discovered a long African interpretation of God: There is no mystery God stuck in the firmaments of Heaven. There is no God in the sky. And there is no devil under the ground. Heaven and Hell are conditions of the mind – states of existence and states of being. “So Jesus told us to stop looking for the savior in the sky, he said the kingdom of heaven is at hand – is within your grasp.” That, we are the Temples of the living God. That the living God lives in us – he inhabits the realms of the secret innermost chamber of the subconscious chamber of the soul of man.
This conviction in a higher power greater than any one individual bursts forth from Kwadwo Safo. In his commitment to innovation and excellence, he is convinced that Africa can set off a universe where the world transfigures into order, peace and beauty. All of this can be set in motion by Kwadwo Safo’s belief first in self-assertion as Africans and as Ghanaians. The savior of our motherland and our dear continent, he believes, is truly within our grasp. The divine power and the divine force for transformation is expressed in our diverse polyrhythmic consciousness of which soul music is the fine example.
For this reason, rather than boring hymns and archaic depressing gospel tunes, do not be surprised to listen to, to sing to and to dance to soul music in Kwadwo Safo’s Kristo Asafo church. Kpanlongo, High-life and the Blues are certainly his other favorites. But it seems that he has difficulty choosing between Michael Jackson and James Brown for his favorite artist.
Kwadwo Safo has a wonderful way of putting his message to his congregation. “God created the human being, otherwise he would not have given him happiness [rhythm]. God added happiness [rhythm] to humanity for a reason. That is simply why Job [another biblical figure] threw feasts for his own children. In fact, he asserts that Job threw a party for his children every Sunday. That if the congregation to him is like the children unto Job, why not throw happiness on a regular basis?
Do not be surprised to feast weekly at Kristo Asafo church.
But the joy with which Kwadwo Safo approaches life is in fact the same joy with which he approaches his scientific and technological endeavors. “He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” [Proverbs 15:15]. He does not shy away from seeing science and technology as extensions of the hand of God from within a joyous soul. He does not see why Ghana, and in fact Africa, cannot be the happiest place on Earth. That happiness, like science, requires cultivation. Nothing can be further from that truth. For this reason too Kwadwo Safo, the innovator, the entrepreneur and the religious leader, is a chimera.