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Menya ntaban

 Menya ntaban

Everyone seems busy these days, so many are those who are put off by long posts, not least when the post is about obscure animals and village life. Yet, I’m banking on you reading this one to the end. Obviously, some will not read because their time could be better spent doing something else. To them, I’m wasting my time if I write with them in mind. If they wanted to be proverbial, they would tell me: Sɛ ɔha nti na worebɔ adwaa a, tutu; ɛfisɛ, ɔtu a, ɔfa soro (If you are setting a ground trap with the Pel’s scaly-tailed squirrel in mind, then you better dismantle it, because the scaly-tailed squirrel does not walk on the ground).

ƆHA is one of those animals that doesn’t lend itself for easy classification by the layperson. Is it a bird, or a rodent? Native to Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia. ƆHA (Anomalurus pelii) lives in tree holes. As they only come out at night, you’re unlikely to see one in your lifetime unless you’re a certified villager. Even if you see one, it’s likely to be the one whose upper parts are black with white underparts. This type has two rows of large scales on the underside of the base of the tail (hence the English name Pel’s scaly-tailed squirrel, although they’re not related to squirrels). The other type, which is even more rare, is called ƆHA-PANKU. They have greyish brown on the upper parts with whitish beneath and have no scales on their tales.

Both types have folds of fur-covered skin between the legs on each side. When ƆHA stretches its legs out, these skins become planes, enabling them to glide from one tree to another. They climb to a treetop and then glide to the base of the next tree. They then climb to the top of that tree and glide to another until they get to their destination. Hunters, thus, ambush them at the known target trees.

While ƆHA doesn’t fly, you toil in vain if you aim to catch it with a ground trap like ADWAA. Occasionally, grasscutters (NKRANTEƐ) raze down maize farms and to prevent this, a farmer may fence the farm, leave few entrances and set traps there. This way, if the grasscutters try to come to the farm using the few entrances, they end up in the cooking pot of the farmer. This fence with the traps is called ADWAA. The fence is usually constructed with tree barks or palm fronds. Even if there is no farm, hunters may erect such a barrier across a parcel of land for the sole purpose of setting traps and catching animals.

Given how the ƆHA moves, if you try to set up ADWAA to catch it, your efforts will come to a naught. Thus, generally, the proverb is used when someone embarking on a fruitless venture wants to count on your support. Now that you’re almost at the end of this post, I guess you’re unlikely to use the proverb on me. But you’re also unlikely to see ƆHA in your lifetime as we’ve eaten almost all of them.

Back to the earlier question: Is ƆHA a bird? Nay; it’s a rodent. It doesn’t fly; it glides from tree to tree. You may remember Kojo Antwi singing in Menya Ntaban thus, Ohia ama me adane ɔha; aboa ɔha wɔ ntaban nanso otu a ɔnkɔ soro (Poverty has turned me into ɔha; although ɔha has wings, it cannot fly). He uses ƆHA as a metaphor for his inability to ‘fly’ to his lover. Unlike Kojo, may you find the wings (of an Eagle) that lets you soar beyond reach.

By: Kwabena Antwi-Boasiako

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