A boy and his shadow - Willis Bell
So many things are ready to share our PLAYTIME.
See how shadows like to play?
Sunflowers smile with happy faces,
or waves slide up to touch our feet
“Weaa” cries a tree bear,
and we answer back.
Friends are everywhere we look,
All Kinds of Friends, from Playtime in Africa(1962) by Efua Sutherland and Willis Bell, reproduced by kind permission of the Estates of Efua T. Sutherland and Willis E. Bell.  All Rights Reserved.
2012 is the 50th anniversary of Playtime in Africa, a book of superb photographs and lyrical prose-poems about children at play in Ghana.  The book’s title is the inspiration for the Playtime in Africa Initiative of Mmofra Foundation.

Josephine Mpongo, cellist
Featured in the wonderfully uplifting documentary Kinshasa Symphony from the Democratic Republic of the Congo , Josephine Mpongo trades in eggs in a Kinshasa market by day, and is a dedicated member of the Kinshasa Symphony after work.
Her husband Albert makes new instruments for the orchestra from local materials.  In the film, he reverse-engineers a double-bass with the help of local artisans.  The passion of the  members of this extraordinary orchestra transcends all the challenges of everyday life in Kinshasa. Please, if you love music – even if you don’t – see this film when you have a chance.

Sujari Britt, cellist

via: From The Top, Inc

Sujari Britt is only ten and has already made a name for herself as a cello prodigy in the United States.  She has played in Carnegie Hall and at the White House.
Cellist Kevin Olusola

via:On Point Radio

This blog is a huge fan of Kevin Olusola, an accomplished saxophonist and cellist who blends classical, jazz and hip-hop music to create a unique sound.  The world loves his beatbox adaptations. His official website will be here when it’s done, but in the meantime go on over and like his facebook page .  K.O. was an accomplished musician by age 12, and a nationally recognized performer throughout his teens.  Born in the United States to parents from Nigeria and Grenada, Olusola  is a graduate of Yale University and has studied in China.
In this beautiful contemporary dance routine,  virtuoso Yo Yo Ma collaborates with hip-hop dancer Lil Buck.
Fida Finds are random good things on the Web which we come across and post on Fridays.

Outdoor Play at Mmofra Foundation
Mmofra’s outdoor learning and playing environment means we do get rained upon occasionally, but our trees have provided shade, shelter and inspiration for children over 15 years.
We are truly part of the green core of the Dzorwulu neighborhood.
Playtime in Africa, our design project for urban playspace, is committed to maintaining trees in the landscape.  Your donation keeps a tree rooted.
Here are some tree-filled images of Mmofra activities over the years:

Children playing on Mmofra Foundation grounds

Students Performing Children of the Man-Made Lake at Open Day, 2007
Children Playing Clapping Games at Mmofra Language Club
Achimota students outdoors at Mmofra Language Club session
Dr. Abena Busia at Mmofra Language Club session

Blog note:  In our Where Books Live Series, we try to find the most inspiring pictures to educate children about the visual and literary cultures that they can access. We are doing our best to attribute these images and where possible to link back to the original pages.  If the owner of any image wishes to have work removed or more accurately credited, we will comply promptly.
The monasteries of the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and Eritrea hold some of the earliest  illuminated sacred manuscripts in the world.
Most people in these two countries belong to this Christian Tradition, which began in the 4th Century. The illustrations usually depict Biblical themes, and the writing is in the ancient Ge’ez script, the language of the Ethiopian Church.
The first two examples are via the Walters Art Museum.
An illuminated manuscript from Ethiopia

Illuminated manuscript

Credit Frank Miller


If you want to see these beautiful texts for yourself, it requires an effort. Females  might not be allowed into the monastery at all.   Getting to the library in the first place can be a bit of a challenge since the sites are “up mountains, on lakes and miles from anywhere“. To visit high, remote locations of monasteries like Debre Damo and Abuna Garima in Ethiopia, prepare to be hauled up a cliff face by a well-used leather rope!

Debre Damo monastery, Ethiopia

Via: panoramio

Part of the Abuna Gerima monastery

Credit: Hewit.com/Lester Capon

The Garima Gospels, housed in the Abuna Garima Monastery in Ethiopia, are thought to be some of the earliest Christian texts, dated between the 3rd and the 6th centuries.  These books may not have left the monastery for 1400 years!
Abba Gerima 1

Credit: Hewit.com/Lester Capon

Here are a few more examples of the many extraordinary monasteries in Ethiopia and Eritrea where ancient manuscripts live:
Debre Libanos monastery Ethiopia

Debre Libanos monastery Ethiopia, via: Africaguide.com/Phil Jeffries

Debre Bizen Monastery, Eritrea

Debre Bizen Monastery, Eritrea, via: biciklisto.de

The Church of St. George in Lalibela, Ethiopia, is one of a famous group of churches carved out of the surrounding rock.  In addition to manuscripts, the buildings have wonderful carvings, frescoes and friezes:
St. George's Church, Lalibela

via Flickr/Anthony Pappone

A young boy carries on the sacred art tradition.
Young Ethiopian boy paints in style of sacred Ethiopian texts.

Via: cnewa.org

Support the preservation of these priceless world treasures, the illuminated sacred texts of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In our “Where Books Live” series, we will be posting pictures of libraries and bookstores, some inspiring or historic, others imaginative and original, or just ordinary.
Impressive buildings, tiny hutches, animals and vehicles of all sorts, and people with knowledge, all play a part in the broadest  definition of how we keep and share books.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt

About 2,000 years ago the world’s greatest public library was the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.  Today, in almost the same location, is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina with its distinct sun-shaped roof and walls of Aswan granite on which are inscribed 120 of the world’s known writing systems.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Credit: Ibrahim Nafie / Bibliotheca Alexandrina


The Bibliotheques of Chinguetti, Mauritania

Chinguetti, in Mauritania, was a flourishing town centuries ago, along the camel caravan trade routes across the Sahara desert.  The manuscripts of Chinguetti, preserved in such desert libraries, might be up to 600 or 700 years old:

Families in Chinguetti have maintained these valuable manuscript libraries, some containing books and documents with fine calligraphy.

Photo Credit: Olivier Blaise

Boy reading ancient manuscripts in Chinguetti.

via rosemarysheel.com


The Libraries of Timbuctu

Private and public libraries contain books and manuscripts dating from as far back as the 12th century when Timbuctu was a famous center of learning and commerce.

Timbuctu Manuscript Library, Mali

via: fotolibra.com

via: Pulitzercenter.org

The new Ahmed Baba Institute is a state-of-the-art archive, named after a famous Timbuctu scholar, to house, restore and preserve 30,000 manuscripts.

Interior view of the Ahmed Baba Institute Library in Timbuktu, Mali

Via dhk.co.za/Iwan Baan

You can participate in preserving the priceless books of the Sahara!  Sponsor a manuscript.

Continuing with our random “finds” on Fridays (Fida = Friday), here is a demonstration of skill on the West African balafon or xylophone, an instrument played throughout the region.

And from our photo archive, a Mmofra Foundation member trying out the xylophone at one of our sessions last year!

Trying out the xylophone at Mmofra Foundation

Playing traditional instruments at Mmofra Foundation

Edit: This post originally used a video by activeconceptltd, found via Green Bug Adventures. That video has been made private, so we’ve switched to the one above. Green Bug are developing a good tourist website – do check them out!

Get Out of Here, Boys!
When we were children, we lived in Slip Way, Bishop
Brooks or Bassa Community, laid out, the masterpieces
of an unskilled artist. We were Turtur and Muriel and Mikey,
Comfort and Teeta, Sunday and me. Me, thin like a needle,
and my friend, Turtur, looking like she would break in half.
It was not just the houses matted into each other, not just their
zinc roofs touching, not just grass running from one door to
the other, too many pots boiling in one big kitchen. It was not
just us children in the rain, playing “Rain, Rain Come Down,”
or “Nafoot” or “I Was Passing By, My Auntie Called Me In.”
It was something, you see, just something. The boys running
around, shirtless. Little sticks for guns under skinny arms, in
between houses, chasing an enemy, playing “Cowboy War;”
but we girls, in our corners, bamboo sticks for people,
cardboard boxes for gates, playing  “Family”– Then the boys
came running, feet too big for shoes, barefoot, stomping over
our make-believe houses, our bamboo people. Sun so hot it
could set the whole world on fire, and there they were, shouting,
“Kpaw, kpaw, kpaw… WAR….. ready?”  “Yes, war ready!”
And all that shooting began, make-believe shooting, mashing
up our bamboo people in their bamboo beds. Then Auntie Vic
would shout, “get out of here, boys!” Today, here we are, all
of us now women with husbands, men with wives and children,
living in London, Manchester, waiting on the war in Abidjan,
Accra, Kalamazoo, oh, Kalamazoo, Chicago, New York, Jersey
City. Now, Monrovia’s on fire, kpaw, kpaw, kpaw. “Stop that
noise, boys, get out of here,” Mama would scream when those
boys broke through her room, hiding right under Mama’s bed.
                                                                              Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

  The Poet

Liberian Poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is a Liberian civil war survivor who emigrated to the United States. She is the author of four books of poetry and has received numerous grants and awards, including the Liberian Award 2010. Dr. Wesley is a professor of English and Creative Writing at the Pennsylvania State University in the USA. Her work has been published widely, and she reads regularly across the world.

Poem in this post by kind permission of the author from the volume:

 Becoming Ebony, Copyright: (Patricia Jabbeh Wesley & Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois, 2003.) No part of the poems should be changed, restructured, rearranged, and all web posting should conform to line breaks and stanzas as in the original arrangement of the poems here. Any changes will be deemed illegal. Unless for educational purposes, no part of the poems should be reproduced in print for resale or republishing.

“I wanted to add to the world’s store of stories.”

This year people around the world are celebrating Ama Ata Aidoo’s seventh decade as a writer and we want to be amongst the first to say on March 23rd, Wo Tsir Nkwa!

Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo

Image Credit: Nana Kofi Acquah

For young people who want to write, Ama Ata Aidoo’s story of how she became a writer is a wonderful one which is best told in her own words.

“I opened the middle of the Daily Graphic, and there was my story!”

Ama Ata AidooI had finished Form Five at Wesley Girls High School, and while waiting to go to Sixth Form, I had seen an advert in the Daily Graphic asking for Christmas Stories.  Before I saw the advert, I had seen a nice pair of pink moccasin shoes in a shop window.  The moment I saw the thing about the Christmas story, I thought why don”t I enter a story and then if I win, maybe I’ll go and buy myself the shoes. I sat up one night and wrote the story – it was all long hand – I  mailed it to the Graphic and forgot all about it.  On the 24th of December whilst blowing the fire in the kitchen, the newspaper person came through my uncle’s house..”Graphic!  Graphic!”  So we bought a copy.  I opened the middle of the Daily Graphic and there was my story!  You know since then I have published books and  have had a whole lot of other very nice things happen to me as a writer, but I have not succeeded in forgetting that moment.
Ama Ata Aidoo
My father was the chief of Abeadze Kyiakor in the Central Region of Ghana. My mother was also in a very private way, a storyteller.  At three a.m. she would be telling us stories! In my village we used to have a storyteller, Egya Amoanyi. I was also lucky to have had Teacher Baiden, who would encourage us to tell stories as a way to keep us awake, and take us around the neighboring villages to do plays and tell stories. So I had all that grounding..  at Wesley Girls, we had some brilliant literature teachers and programs – reading Jane Austen and William Shakespeare and all those British Writers.
Literature informs us about the world and inspires us to greater heights. We should encourage ourselves to read for pleasure!

"Lizard", crafted in Jamaica

Credit: Mmofra Foundation

The  Lizard by Gladys Casely-Hayford

I met a handsome lizard upon the gravel walk,
And so I stopped politely and asked him for
a talk;
He nodded once, he nodded twice to make his
meaning plain,
Glanced up at me with wee bright eyes and
nodded once again.

I said, “You live on flies. Do you eat them
alive or dead?
And when you eat them, do they still keep
buzzing in your head?”
He shrugged, then very haughtily inclined to
me his ear
Insinuating it was time I made my meaning

“I’m sorry,” I began, “but please, this
question if I may;
Do you, Sir, shake your head for no and nod
your head for aye?”
He glanced at me with cold disdain, ignoring
me, until
He slowly and deliberately climbed on the
He turned, he nodded once, twice, thrice to
make his meaning plain,
Glanced up at me, with wee bright eyes and
nodded once again.


"Lizard", crafted in Jamaica

About the author

Gladys May Casely-Hayford was born in Axim, Ghana (it was called the Gold Coast then) in 1904.  Her parents were both famous West Africans.  Her Sierra-Leonian mother, Adelaide Casely-Hayford was a writer, educator and “African Victorian feminist” of her day, and her father was the Fanti lawyer and pan-Africanist leader Joseph E. Casely-Hayford.

Gladys was taken to England as a child, and returned to Sierra Leone to teach at her mother Adelaide’s school for girls. She said that by the age of 12, she was convinced she was “meant to write for Africa”.  Growing up as a colonial British subject, she intended ” to imbue our own people with the idea of their own beauty”.

She also traveled in America and Europe.  Sometimes written under her pen name “Aquah Laluah”, her poems began to be published in some well-known monthly magazines in Harlem, New York, during the period called the Harlem Renaissance.

Gladys is recognized internationally as a poet whose work, in both English and Krio, pictured West African life and culture very vividly.  She also joined a Berlin jazz band in the 1930’s!

A brilliant person with many artistic talents, Gladys died quite young in 1950. Both she and her mother Adelaide should be remembered as cultural treasures of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Africa and the African Diaspora.

Gladys Casely-Hayford

Gladys Casely-Hayford, West African Poet


Adelaide Casely Hayford, West African educator and writer

Adelaide Casely Hayford, West African educator and writer