A Dirge Too Soon by the Ghanaian author, Peggy Appiah, is a novel ingeniously woven out of the quest for gold, commercial gold mining, traditional beliefs, intrigues and trickery. It involves four villages – Obimma, Anyinase, Okrawie, and Omanya. The first two fall under the Anyinase Paramountcy with Nana Aduam Bosompem as its chief, and the next two fall under the Omanya Paramountcy with Nana Okuku Karikari as its chief.
The key figures are: Kwadwo Ofori; Kwame Abro; Nana Kwasiedu Abokyi, Chief of Obimma; Kwasi Pobi; Messrs Kasman, the manager of Omanya Mines and Olivio, the manager of Zimcol; Nuako Akuabua; and Quao Okai. There are also two traditional institutions that play important roles in this novel: the Kaa Atta shrine of Obimma, and the Kwadwo Fofie shrine of Atabre. Both shrines eventually came under the authority of Kwasi Pobi.
Kwadwo is a farmer and money-lender from Obimma. One day, he goes to collect money owed him by an old man, Kwame Abro. The old man tells him that he has no money, and instead points him to a place where he can find gold: the forbidden part of the forest where the little people, mmotia, live. With this cue, Kwadwo goes into the forest to search for gold. He gets to a point where he does actually find two pieces of gold and pockets them. Then as he continues the search he falls into a deep, concealed pit, which turns out to be a gold mine. When the miners discover him, they are taken aback but rescue and take him to hospital.
Meanwhile in Obimma, his disappearance is noticed and a man-hunt is launched. To be rightly guided in the search which had yielded no fruit after four days, Kwasi Pobi, the fetish priest of the Kwadwo Fofie shrine of Atabre, an adjacent village is consulted. He divines that Kwadwo has been killed – he produces a skull purported to be that of Kwadwo – and the rest of his body eaten by the spirits, mmotia. For his services he is paid sheep, schnapps and some money as part payment. Being certain that Kwadwo is dead, his funeral is held. Kwasi Pobi attends.
In the hospital in Omanya, Kwadwo gradually regains his health and goes home. Arriving in his village he is welcomed by fright and flight reactions. He is bemused but not amused. The chief musters courage and receives him gingerly. Then when he eats food given to him, they are convinced that he is real and not a ghost. There’s rejoicing and he acquires a new status for having returned from the dead.
Obimma is awash with this phenomenal news and soon Kwasi Pobi learns of it too and starts to panic over the possible discovery of his ruse. He contrives to go and dig out the coffin that contained the ‘remains’ of Kwadwo – a skull essentially, so that an empty grave would explain the return. The spurious explanation for the return was that the ancestors had asked Kwadwo to come back and wait a little bit longer. But he would need the cooperation of Kwadwo in order to keep a tight lid over this lie. He owes Kwadwo some money and could help him see how to make money from his ‘return’ lie. He calls on Kwadwo early the morning after conceiving this ploy, and pays back his debt with interest and the amount he charged for his services. He also presents him with a gift- a sheep. When he rehearses the lie with Kwadwo and asks him what message he brought from the world of the dead, they both get into stitches. But Kwadwo makes up his mind to cooperate because he realizes that Kwasi knows about the gold mine, a knowledge that he wants kept secret, especially from Omanya Gold Mines. Therefore he decides to go along with the lie and they form a partnership. But he knows that Kwasi would not want the truth of the ‘return’ story to be leaked as this would be more disastrous to him Kwasi than if the knowledge of the gold mine were to be leaked. Thus he holds the trump card over Kwasi. But being wealthy, a fetish priest, and having restored the shrines of Kaa Atta and Kwadwo Fofie, Kwasi has more clout.
While Kwadwo is asleep the officials of Omanya Mines ferret through his pocket and find the two gold pieces. Upon analysis they find that it is of more superior quality than that which they mine. Their interest to discover the source is piqued and they call on Kwadwo to try to worm the secret out of him. In the delegation they send is Nuako Akuabua, one of the senior Ghanaian employees. A series of negotiations spearheaded by Nuako ensues. At around the same time, Zimcol, another mining company, comes into the country and gets interested in finding a mine.
It soon becomes known that the potential mine is located on an Island which straddles two villages – Obimma and Okrawie, which fall under the Anyinase and Omanya Paramountcy, respectively. The Island is very near the Kaa Ataa shrine which is located in Obimma. But which village and paramountcy actually owns it is a moot point that can only be resolved in the Survey Office in Accra, the capital city. Mr. Kasman, his boss and an expatriate, therefore sends Nuako to go and find out.
When Nuako goes to this office he meets an old class mate, Quao Okai who takes him out in the evening. While out, they meet Olivio, the manager of Zimcol Mining Company and they become friends. Olivio even promises to employ Nuako anytime he chooses to join him.
When he returns he falls afoul of his boss and tempers flare up. Nuako is summarily sacked. Nuako feels aggrieved and as sabotage goes to Obimma to slur Omanya Mines. Since he had already been promised a job by Zimcol he goes there and gets employed with better conditions. He now turns against his former employers and works hard to thwart their efforts to obtain the concession to mine the island.
Meanwhile, Kwadwo and Kwasi also work hard, employing intrigues and wielding their traditional clout, to ensure that Omanya Paramountcy rescinds its claim over the Island and all this contribute in paving the way for Zimcol to obtain the mining concession. They are successful in their quest and, despite being illiterates, get onto the Board of Directors of the new mining company, Sika Nsuo or Golden Waters.
The title is apt: Kwadwo is believed to have died in the forest and a funeral is held for him – a dirge is sung at the funeral. Then he suddenly appears alive to the consternation of the whole village – a dirge has been sung too soon! His search for gold and his consequent ‘premature death’ serves as the embryo from which the whole novel unfolds.
This 181-page novel was published by Ghana Publishing Corporation in 1976.