Film screening explores culture of La community in Ghana

Matthew Hart

In the La community in Ghana, a person changing his flat tire could suddenly find himself serenaded by a circle of horn players and drummers as encouragement.

The Department of Anthropology screened a film documenting the people of Accra, Ghana, a segment of society largely influenced by the La Township Drivers Union. The film is by Steven Feld, professor of anthropology and music ethnology at the University of New Mexico, and his partner Nii Yemo Nunu from the community of La in Accra. Feld was at the event, which took place at the Student Activity Center.

According to the film, the La community highly values transportation and compares the driver in their social class structure to that of a university professor. For a man to obtain his license, he must complete rituals such as consuming clay and having goats’ blood spilled onto his feet.

Feld said he started working on the film after he recorded and explored music called “Por Por” with the drivers union and realized how little attention this music and culture had been given by reporters.

“I met Nunu in 2005 and quickly found out that he was sitting on an extraordinarily unique archive,” Feld said. 

The film also focuses on the significance drivers place on inscribing their vehicles. The union drivers explain the importance of trademarks such as “The Day,” referring to the day one man was vindicated of a sugar looting crime and “Be Sure,” a phrase reflective of a man’s certainty in getting his clients from Accra to Bukom. Many of the phrases are derived from American films.

The red, gold and green of Ghana is often used as a means of celebration while the Por Por horns are sounded to symbolize alertness and importance. In the film, a member of the community explains the distinct sound each horn has and the influence it has on the La union drivers. The beating of metal and playing of Por Por can be heard when these mechanics fix each other’s vehicles as a sign of encouragement.

Anthropology graduate student Alix Chapman said he appreciates how the music itself serves as a type of archive.

“I was very interested in the relationship between the emergence of the music and the transition from colonial to an independence stage and how the music was related to the struggle of working class people there,” Chapman said. “It’s great that he is doing this work and archiving this cultural practice through creating videos and helping people to organize all of their photos and media.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 2, 2013 as: In Ghana, drivers are placed on pedestal