On this day, I lower my cloth to waist level in the presence of greatness. It is the birthday of Mr Kwaw Panyin Tsir (corrupted into Paintsil) Ansah, Ghana’s definition of film, one of the fathers of African cinema, founder of TV Africa, creator of, arguably, the biggest Pan African museum in Africa.
I bow to a man who knows how high he sits in the esteem of society, walks, talks and dines with the greats of this world, is publicly celebrated, at least, twice a year – has been since 1979 – but has never esteemed anybody lower than himself. He spins yarns with the mighty in the land as well as the lowest labourer at TV Africa, Film Africa Limited, Bisa Aberwa Museum and the houseboy in his household. Why? It is because even as society bowed to him and lifted him up in their hearts for making Ghana’s first international award-winning film, “Loved Brewed in the African Pot” in 1979, and Ghana’s second international award winner, “Heritage Africa”, he knew, and he knows, that the source of that knowledge and creativity is God, not himself.
He has spent the last 40 of his life collecting artefact from across Africa – that is how he has spent his per diem during his travels – paying sculptors, carvers and painters, masons and carpenters to create life size busts and statues of Africa’s heroes and curate them in the four-storey building at Nkotumpo that is the Bisa Aberwa Museum. At least, US$4 million has gone into it.
Kwaw Ansah’s life is a lesson in personal sacrifice. Carrying those huge carvings and sculptures onto planes has broken the man’s back. Today he has lost the full use of the right arm.
People speak sneeringly about the bank loans that went into the making of ‘Love Brewed’ and ‘Heritage’, but they do not remember (or do not know) that there was a period in this country when every official government delegation from either continental Africa or the Diaspora, was entertained to ‘Heritage Africa’ with the objective of showing off Ghana’s Pan Africanist credentials.
Many have not been told the story of how he had to mortgage his father-in-law’s building in Accra for the bank loan he contracted to make “Love Brewed”. He himself seldom tells the story of how he collapsed and had to be rushed to a UK hospital because he had run out of funds to pay for the extended period that “Heritage Africa” stayed in Rank Laboratories in London.
Kwaw Ansah is unapologetically African, a passion equalled only by Nana Kobina Nketsia V and Professor Kofi Asare Opoku. In expressing his Africanness, there has never been a compromise. He rejected big money from foreigners who wanted to invest in TV Africa. Reason? Their motive was counter-African. He walked off a big film deal, which promised enough money to have distanced him from poverty forever. Reason” The story line compromised African values. He refused offers to water down the Africanness of ‘Heritage’ though the “little tweaking” would have won it international distribution.
He is violently pro-African religion. One day, in the late 1990s, there was a ceremony at ‘Daily Graphic’. During the refreshment, Ansah happened to be near the doorway when he saw a protocol officer refuse entry to three Ga priests (Wulomei). He lost his cool. Lunging forward, he barked at the protocol officer, querying why Christian and Muslim priests had been ushered inside, and not the traditional priests. The proverbial Kwaw Ansah volcanic temper!
Space will not permit me to list all his screen accomplishments. For details ask Google. But I can drop a hint. Now on the 8th floor, Ansah completed a script for his next feature.
Coming soon to a cinema house near you.
Kwaw Ansah stands in a long line of creatives, including his father, a top photographer in the 1940s through the 1950s, so good that there was no British colonial administrator in the Gold Coast who was not their personal photographer. It is a gift which the old man passed on to his eldest daughter, now Mrs Felicia Abban, who was Kwame Nkrumah’s personal photographer, down to Robert, the first son, whose photographic exploits are legendary in Monrovia, Liberia. Kwaw Ansah’s immediate elder brother, Tumi Ansah, is a musician and his late younger brother, Kofi Ansah, was an international fashion designer extraordinaire, designing for members of the British Royal Family.